DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Since the official closure of the Dallas Independent School District on March 16 to try and slow the spread of the coronavirus Superintendent Michael Hinojosa has given regular updates on their commitment to at-home schooling and educator support.
During a morning press conference the Superintendent said he was very proud that administrators and educators had been able to make contact with 99% of students in the district. Some were contacted by phone, others through some type of video conference, but most all had been reached.
When asked if this online learning system was the new normal and how long the district closure was expected to last the Hinojosa said, “We called it indefinite…. as information kept changing almost on an hourly-basis, as you were reporting, as I was watching your reports it became very evident to me that this could go on for a while and we have not hit the peak yet.”
The Superintendent went on to say, “The likelihood that we’ll have regular school this school year is very doubtful. It’s very doubtful, that’s why we’re making contingency plans. We’ve already canceled just about everything in April, that we know of, and in May we’re gonna be making those decisions in the next couple weeks. So it looks very unlikely that we’ll come back to school this school year.
As far as getting students the digital devices and capabilities to receive at-home education, Hinojosa said there had been few devices for the primary grades, but that orders were being expedited.
The Superintendent said secondary level students were more high tech and that they have been using a lot more digital devices to tap into the online learning platform and that they are making internet access available to more as fast as they could. Hinojosa said nearly 9,000 hotspots were already in place, that another 13,000 were being deployed and that there were thousands more on order.
“On a daily basis I would say that over 90,000 of our students are connected with their devices virtually,” he said.
The forced closure of the district has also resulted in a learning experience for teachers. Hinojosa said, “We had 2,500 of our 10,000 teachers participate in webinars this week on how best to use Microsoft teams or other video conferencing opportunities.”
In addition to access to a development team, there is also a help desk available to help those in need of technological assistance.
Superintendent Hinojosa took special time to thank the local PBS station — KERA — for delivering a variety of educational services to families via television. Some of which included virtual field trips to the Dallas Symphony and San Diego Zoo.
The district also focusing on social and emotional learning — that helps students with anxiety issues or who are feeling anxious during this health crisis. There is an entire department within the DISD that deals with this everyday and Hinojosa said, “We’re deploying those services and those tips to parents and adults as to how to deal with kids during this very difficult period of time.”
As for high school seniors the district is working to ensure they are fulfilling all of the assignments and requirements for graduation. Hinojosa said that post secondary access is important and that Dallas College is up and running after working closely with the County Community College District.
“This is the biggest class that we’ve ever had that are going to be graduating with an associates degrees,” he said.
As for making sure students who would normally be in school were being fed Hinojosa thanked the thousands of teachers, substitute teachers, volunteers, custodians and security personnel who helped distribute almost 1,000,000 meals for students and families over the last two weeks.
“Our homeless department has gone and taken some of our buses and they’re gone out to a couple of these centers, and a couple of locations, and a couple of hotels — that had high demand — to take food to the students there.”
The Dallas Mavericks also gave $10,000 worth of Kroger gift cards that the district is deploying to students in need.
Near the end of the press conference Hinojosa answered the question that would undoubtedly by asked soon — How did they pay for everything?
“Well, we’re very fortunate that we’re going to get at least $50 million from the stimulus package,” he said, adding that the distinct was also very lucky to, “Have a healthy reserve and hopefully we won’t have to tape into that too much.”
Hinojosa said he is expecting the money from the stimulus package to arrive in the next few months.