Original article can be found at Jacksboro Herald-Gazette.

By Nathan Lawson; April 21, 2020

Jacksboro ISD assistant superintendent Brad Burnett updated the school board Monday, April 13, on the how district is continuing education and its revised grading standard during the COVID-19 school closure.

The assistant superintendent said the district has continued to meet with the Texas Education Agency for guidance on how to proceed during this time.

“Instructional continuity is a term that the commissioner (of education) started using early on in this whole process as schools began to close down,” Burnett said. “He’s really had a strong emphasis that schools continue to provide some measure of instruction. We’ve taken that very seriously in this district.”

He said he has encouraged staff members to show grace to students and understand they are facing a lot of challenges during these times.

“Also, we have got parents who are facing financial challenges and they’ve got stress in their life and the last thing we want to do is burden them with more stress with mounds and mounds of homework for their children to do,” Burnett said. “Finding that balance has been a little bit of a challenge for our teachers.”

The assistant superintendent said the teachers have gone above and beyond to keep lines of communication open with their students and their parents.

“We’re providing instruction in two primary ways, electronically through the use of Google Classroom and through some type of virtual meeting room,” Burnett said. “A lot of teachers are using Zoom as their platform. Another options for teachers is called Google Hangout Meets.”

He said the biggest barrier for electronic delivery of instruction has been internet access. However, thanks to a donation from The Vision Group, JISD placed an order for 50 Kajeet internet hotspots which were delivered on Monday, April 13.

“So, 20 of these devices will go to the middle school to be deployed out to students we have surveyed, students who didn’t have internet access,” Burnett said. “Another 20 devices will be going to the elementary to be deployed and then 10 more devices will go to the high school. The high school originally started the year with about 25 of these devices. Our cost is about $183 to get the device and a four month service plan.”

He added the device does have some limitations on data, so caps are put on how much usage is allowed in a day and month. He said the devices are also installed with software which allows them to monitor and block websites.

Burnett said the district also had paper packets which are being ran on bus routes or made available for pick up at their respective schools.

“We ask teachers to have their assignments ready for copies to be made by Wednesday at noon in the campus offices,” Burnett said. “The packets are prepared on Thursday to go out on the following Monday. (…) A lot of the elementary parents are picking up packets between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Mondays. The high school just has tables set up in their front foyer with students name on file folders.”

He said the majority of students have been completing and returning assignments.

“Some more consistently than others, it has been somewhat of a struggle to get some work back from certain students and certain families,” Burnett said.

He said the new grading standard put in place by the district will hold students accountable while not allowing for their grade to worsen.

“We are not going to penalize for any late work during the duration of this closure,” Burnett sad. “Essentially, if a student puts forth the effort to complete an assignment and it gets returned either electronically or in a paper format, it’s going to graded and they will be giving credit for it.”

The assistant superintendent said the district outlined some minimum expectations and subjects for elementary teachers to focus on.

“Essentially what we set up with this grading scale is a student at the high school campus, their average or GPA, at the end of this whole COVID-19 situation, will not be lower than what their forth sixth weeks average was,” Burnett said. “We just recently finished the fifth sixth weeks and there is quite a few incompletes for students at the high school campus.”

He added it is still possible for students to raise their GPA if they put forth some effort.

“We are going to give them every piece of credit we can and award them for their effort,” Burnett said. “But, their grade will not go down. If we are not getting anything from students, what I’m advising teachers to do is enter an incomplete or an INC code in their grade book. Once we have an idea of when we’re going to be able to come back, we will hold those students accountable to a certain extent to get some work completed and turned in before we award them their credit.”

He said if a student was failing when the closure began and continued to put forth no effort then they will continue to fail for the rest of the semester and will need to complete credit retrieval.

Superintendent Dwain Milam said he did not want to move to a pass fail concept for a grading policy like some other districts are doing.

“I think a pass/fail sometimes those kids are going to shut off, I know that as I student I really didn’t want to do that work if it wasn’t going to be graded,” he said. “That’s why we spent so much time trying to develop the grading policy.”

The JISD school board will meet again on Monday,  May 11.

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