Pleasanton ISD: Reflecting on COVID-19, pushing forward



Celebrating joy in the midst of chaos! Though it was unsure for a while whether or not they would be able to walk the stage like those before them, the Pleasanton High School Class of 2020 received their diplomas as planned with minor adjustments due to COVID-19. Graduation took place on the field with limited capacity, limited tickets and a mask requirement; however, graduating seniors still walked the stage. PLEASANTON EXPRSS FILE PHOTO

Celebrating joy in the midst of chaos! Though it was unsure for a while whether or not they would be able to walk the stage like those before them, the Pleasanton High School Class of 2020 received their diplomas as planned with minor adjustments due to COVID-19. Graduation took place on the field with limited capacity, limited tickets and a mask requirement; however, graduating seniors still walked the stage. PLEASANTON EXPRSS FILE PHOTO

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented some unusual challenges for schools across the nation. There are new protocols, procedures and guidelines that school districts must follow and abide by to keep their students and staff safe and to remain open. Pleasanton ISD administrative staff reflects on their COVID-19 transition, the current state of the district and their long-term plan for the future of their schools.

District Goals

Though COVID-19 may have thrown schools and the nation for quite a turn, Pleasanton ISD’s four District goals remain the same. These goals provide guidance to all campuses, staff and the school board:

1. Provide a quality education that is evident by student growth.

2. Establish a collaborative culture to create a student-centered learning environment.

3. Develop community connections that focus on effective communication and partnerships.

4. Commit to District fiscal responsibility which supports District goals and aligns with the Long-Range Planning Committee’s vision.

Back in August, the City of Pleasanton Emergency Operations Center allocated Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to Pleasanton ISD to supplement other PPE that was issued to other school districts around the state of Texas. This PPE donation included: 320 half-gallon hand sanitizers, 3,880 antibacterial wipes, 48,000 surgical masks, 220 face shields and 15,000 N95 masks. Pictured are EOC Philip Glass (left) and PISD Police Chief Danny Pitts. PLEASANTON EXPRSS FILE PHOTO

Back in August, the City of Pleasanton Emergency Operations Center allocated Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to Pleasanton ISD to supplement other PPE that was issued to other school districts around the state of Texas. This PPE donation included: 320 half-gallon hand sanitizers, 3,880 antibacterial wipes, 48,000 surgical masks, 220 face shields and 15,000 N95 masks. Pictured are EOC Philip Glass (left) and PISD Police Chief Danny Pitts. PLEASANTON EXPRSS FILE PHOTO

Reflecting on COVID-19

In the spring of 2020, Pleasanton ISD, along with other schools, were forced to conduct instruction through distance learning for the remainder of the semester and part of the fall semester.

Dr. Matthew Mann, Superintendent of Pleasanton ISD, stated, “What we really wanted to do was make sure we did not reduce down to the lowest common denominator. We wanted to make sure we put together the most robust, productive online plan.”

Fortunately, the district was working on expanding the use of technology in the classroom. Prior to the pandemic, they had ordered 1,000 Chromebooks that were waiting in the technology office to be distributed to campuses. This allowed them to expedite their transition from face-to-face to distance learning through Google Classroom.

Dr. Venus Valenta, Pleasanton ISD Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction, highlighted, “We knew this would be the only way at the beginning that instruction was still going to happen with students.” She further explained that they utilized their Google products and Google classroom to provide virtual learning to students with video recorded lessons and instructional feedback.

In December, the Pleasanton ISD Education Foundation awarded PISD teachers across all four campuses with grants. The money for these grants was raised during their first ever Eagles for Education virtual fundraiser event, which included an online auction and 12-hour pledge drive. The event raised almost $40,000 for teacher grants and senior scholarships. Pictured above are the Pleasanton Elementary Science Department faculty, students and PISD Education Foundation members. PLEASANTON EXPRSS FILE PHOTO

In December, the Pleasanton ISD Education Foundation awarded PISD teachers across all four campuses with grants. The money for these grants was raised during their first ever Eagles for Education virtual fundraiser event, which included an online auction and 12-hour pledge drive. The event raised almost $40,000 for teacher grants and senior scholarships. Pictured above are the Pleasanton Elementary Science Department faculty, students and PISD Education Foundation members. PLEASANTON EXPRSS FILE PHOTO

She further explained that teachers and administrators undertook hours of professional development to ensure they could provide quality, virtual instruction to students. However, this did provide a unique challenge to the Primary school, who did not have a virtual platform to conduct learning for pre-K-second grade students. The district introduced Primary teachers to a platform known as Seesaw, which is now their equivalent to Google Classroom.

In addition to online learning, the district knew that they were going to have major expenditures in response to COVID-19. However, the district did not know the amount of federal funds they would be receiving to help with these major expenditures, if any at all.

Jennifer Donato, Pleasanton ISD Chief Financial Officer, pointed out, “We were able to pivot and be flexible through all of this because we were in a good financial place. Even though we were making these big purchases, we knew that we were not spending in other areas.”

Graduation was also a major concern in the spring of 2020. It was important to students to keep it as close to tradition as possible, and that is what the district did. Graduation took place on the field with limited capacity, limited tickets and a mask requirement; however, graduating seniors still walked the stage.

“It was a great team effort not just from the maintenance department, but also from the high school. We had great feedback from students and parents who were just so excited to do it as we normally do, at the football field,” said Pleasanton ISD Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Barron.

As the district planned to start the school year with face-to-face and distance learning in the fall, they purchased Clorox 360 machines. After the initial cleaning of the school is done each day, they bring in these machines to further spray and disinfect.

Barron pointed out, “We jumped on board fast, and we were able to buy 15 machines. Dr. Mann saw them and said buy them.” The district was able to receive these machines by August, before the start of the school year.

PISD also had a great partnership with the city who helped provide free PPE gear for students and staff. The district is still currently on a list to receive materials.

Before starting the school year, the district decided to push off their initial start date to after Labor Day. This allowed administrators more time to work with teachers and staff and get everyone comfortable with new procedures, be better prepared and gain the staff’s trust.

Dr. Mann highlighted, “Trust takes a couple of things. Obviously, it takes communication, but it also takes time. So, one of the things we needed was to get more time.” Dr. Mann further explained that the school board was extremely generous and supportive of this decision, as they prepared to walk into uncharted territory.

“I think this is probably one of the best decisions that we made, to push that off and get ourselves together. Then, when school started, we were able to hit the ground running,” said Dr. Mann.

Current State of the

District, long-term plan

PISD is back face-to-face with only 5% or less of their students still using distance learning. They have kept up their mask mandate, social distancing requirements and sanitation procedures from the fall semester.

Barron said, “When we go back and look at case contact tracing, we can say right now it has not been spread on our campuses. When we look back at the people that have gotten it, it has been from outside events, family and other places, but it has not been at our school.”

Dr. Mann further explained, “We really wanted to take a big approach to mitigation efforts. We are probably a little more rigorous in our definition of masking and those types of things, so we can stay open and aren’t shutting down programs.

The real reasons why we are here is to educate, and we did not want our extra curriculars to impede that.”

The district is still having their reading academies with literacy specialist, Shannon Greer, who works with teachers at all campuses. Greer acts as a literacy coach with the teachers and staff. Teachers have had several 90-minute professional development sessions throughout the semester, which does not interfere with classroom instructional time.

PISD recently expanded this to include math academies with a recently hired math coordinator, Kayce Warden. “While the TEA does not have math academies right now. We are still able to work with grade level teams during our collaborative team planning times,” said Dr. Valenta.

In addition to academia, the district and school board also made teacher and staff salaries a priority by giving them a 6% raise. Dr. Mann highlighted, “My goal since becoming Superintendent is to get our starting teacher salary to $50,000, which we were able to accomplish this year. This was a team effort to try and compensate our teachers and staff appropriately and give them competitive wages.”

He further explained that the school board felt that, now more than ever, it was important to show gratitude to teachers and staff to remind them that their work is valued.

The district is still working with The Marzano Resources High Reliability Schools and High Reliability Teacher program. The district recently received their HRS Level 1 certification, and the HRT program has doubled in size.

They are also working on their Emergency Operations and safety protocols and technology. They have purchased new radios with an Emergency channel for situations ranging from bad weather to lockdowns. This allows for quick, easy and immediate communication across the district.

Barron said, “We also wanted to make sure that we had an internal system set in place, so that in the event of a crisis of any kind we had very quick communication.”

The district has a longterm plan for students who may be missing information or are behind academically due to COVID-19. They are creating and planning for a response to intervention.

“What keeps me up at night is the kids that I don’t have. It is the ones that are going to move in here and did not have the resources,” said Dr. Mann.

PISD acknowledges that this response to intervention and academic gap is something they will have to manage for a very long time. Therefore, they are looking to expand their summer learning to range from first grade to high school level teachings.

As schools across the nation still deal with COVID-19 daily, it does not change their mission.

Dr. Mann stated, “I really challenged everyone to not allow this COVID pandemic to define us. We really were not going to allow this to be an excuse. We did not want this to be anything, but just something we are dealing with. This is just another variable, another obstacle that challenges us that we are going to overcome. We are not going to lessen our expectations or slow down on our training.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *