MISD discusses virtual learning changes

Smith replaces Sanders as board president; incumbents sworn in

Bill Spinks
Midlothian Mirror

Virtual learners in Midlothian Independent School District who are struggling to participate in classes or make passing grades may soon be required to return to face-to-face learning.

As the number of cases of COVID-19 rise in MISD and elsewhere, a number of recommendations were presented to the MISD board of trustees at their Nov. 16 regular monthly meting.

Dr. Courtney Carpenter, MISD chief administrative officer, said the district continues to provide remote learning to students, even though the Texas Education Agency doesn’t require them to do so. Carpenter said a recent TEA guidance change now allows grades and attendance to be factors in allowing virtual learning.

Carpenter said feedback received from teachers indicated they are concerned about the academic, social and emotional progress of virtual students. Almost across the board, virtual learners in MISD are showing a higher failure rate than face-to-face learners, the numbers show.

The recommendation Carpenter made was that all virtual learners must meet grade and attendance requirements, and that those students who can’t meet either requirement will be required to return to classrooms unless there is a medical reason to remain virtual.

In the event the COVID situation improves, Carpenter presented other options, including bringing back to campus all students who have any face-to-face course or activity and later, going back to face-to-face for all students and keeping a virtual option for medically-qualifying students only.

Carpenter said this change could be placed on the agenda for the board’s Dec. 1 workshop if there is a desire to make a change rom the current dual learning platform. Any changes, if made, would take effect in the second semester and could be phased-in as the COVID situation evolves.

Both Carpenter and superintendent Dr. Lane Ledbetter emphasized that MISD will keep virtual learning as an option and will not be requiring all students across the board to return to face-to-face learning.

“As I have had conversations with teachers, the biggest concern is the academic progress of our virtual learners,” Ledbetter said. “So that to me is our priority … We feel like at a minimum, we need to get those kids back in school who are struggling and don’t have a medical need to be home.”

Ledbetter said student attendance has remained strong, with all campuses reporting less than 2 percent absent.

But Ledbetter added that almost 80 faculty and staff members across the district were absent, about 60 of which were because of COVID-19 reasons, whether because of positive tests or because of self-quarantining through close contact. If that number continues to increase, the district will have to look at platform changes just from a staffing perspective, Ledbetter said.

Board changes

Also at last week’s meeting, newly-re-elected incumbent trustees Tami Tobey and Andrea Walton were sworn in to their new terms by 443rd Judicial District Court Judge Cindy Ermatinger. The board canvassed and certified the Nov. 3 votes at a special meeting previously.

The board also reorganized, with Carl Smith and Matt Sanders swapping positions to become president and vice-president respectively. Sanders said the board’s standard operating procedures, as they stand, preclude him from remaining as board president. After the vote, Smith took over as board president.

Bobby Soto is the new board secretary, taking the place of Heather Prather.

All board members were present. Following her swearing-in, Tobey left the meeting room but continued to participate virtually.

Other items

• Assistant superintendent for finance Jim Norris presented the district’s Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST) score. As of the 2018-2019 school year, MISD received a perfect 100 score for the 15th time in the last 18 years, Norris said.

• Heritage High School principal Krista Tipton and Midlothian High School interim principal Dr. Carolyn Spain reported on accelerated instruction at each campus.

• Deputy superintendent Judy Walling reported on MISD students receiving recognition in College Board national programs. These include Gabriel Bell, Catherine Larson, Elliott Moore and Lauren Sims (National Rural & Small Town Recognition Program); Amanda Omehe and Jaylon Palmer (National African American Recognition Program); David Salazar (National Hispanic Recognition Program).

• The HHS tennis team was recognized for its advance to the Class 4A region semifinals.

• Assistant superintendent of engagement & strategic innovation Karen Fitzgerald outlined changes to school attendance boundary policies, saying representatives have been added to the committee that should help keep neighborhoods from being split or help keep students near one school from having to attend a school much farther away.

• Fitzgerald also recommended parameters and timeline for strategic planning and a long-range plan for the district, which were approved unanimously.

• The board approved Norris’ proposal of a $1,000 supplement for full-time employees and $500 for part-time employees. Norris said the $142,000 for this supplement will come from the enrichment penny that was approved this past summer and won’t come out of the district’s fund balance.

• Preliminary courses for the 2021-2022 school year were discussed, including the possible establishment of a Junior ROTC program at both high schools.

• Other information items that were discussed but not acted on included retiree daily rate for paid leave; a policy suspension for community service hours for 2021 senior students; community engagement opportunities; and departmental updates on special programs and dyslexia, and college, career and military readiness.

• Rola Fadel, MISD’s director of architecture and facilities, presented a list of campus improvements for the summer of 2021, which includes roof projects and parking improvements at Meadows Library. These projects may be paid for through interest savings from the 2016 bond, Norris added.