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Serving Irving, Coppell and Grand Prairie

Irving—Over the past 18 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on every area of society including education. On Tuesday, Sept. 14, the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce hosted its third annual State of Public Education, a virtual program, which included three local superintendents discussing the current state of education.

Dr. John Chapman, superintendent at Carrollton Farmers Branch (CFB) ISD; Magda Hernandez, Irving ISD’s superintendent, and Dr. Brad Hunt, superintendent at Coppell ISD, spoke during the event.Each superintendent discussed their district’s latest initiatives to help bridge the learning gap caused by the pandemic and virtual learning.

Jean McCarty with Out Teach, a non-profit organization which provides professional development for elementary school teachers, served as the presentation’s moderator.

“Our newest initiative, the Night OWL (Opportunities Without Limits) Academy, will give our students who have dropped out or are in danger of dropping an opportunity to earn their high school diploma by taking classes in the evening,” Hernandez said. “Many of our students must work during the day to help support their families. This program will allow them to still support their families while pursuing their education. [The program is] staffed by full-time teachers Monday through Thursday, and students can earn a full credit in nine weeks.”

Coppell ISD’s four core values are authentic relationships, collective engagement, redefining success, and great teaching.

“Great teaching is the core value we are going to be focusing heavily on this year as it segues into our work with learning loss, or as we call it unfinished learning,” Hunt said. “That unfinished learning piece is a key priority to us.”

However, Coppell ISD is also attending to the needs of its staff and teachers.

“We want to make sure as we focus on our students’ needs, we also focus on our staff, because they have been through a lot,” Hunt said. “We know there is a teacher shortage, and we want to make sure we’re retaining our high-quality staff.

“Our third focus is our community-based accountability system. We believe in continuous improvement.It is critical to growth, learning and innovation.”

One big question currently facing the education field is how to retain quality staff as many left the field during the pandemic.

At Irving ISD, these efforts have seen the district place a bigger emphasis on wellness for its employees.

“This past year, we expanded our employee wellness program by adding three licensed professional counselors who will provide short-term professional counseling, tips on how to relax, the importance of self-care and how to reduce anxiety,” Hernandez said. “We have also added three employee wellness leads who will provide wellness workshops, classes and presentations to campuses and departments, including fitness, nutritional and wellness events like health screenings and exercise opportunities to all employees at no cost including yoga and high-intensity training.”

Chapman takes pride in CFB ISD continuing to meet the needs of its students through the district’s Giving House, which gives students basic resourceswhether they need shoes, deodorant, clothing or other things.

“The counselor calls the warehouse, and this item [the student needs] is in their office within 24 hours. We were able to provide 3,200 backpacks full of school supplies for all our elementary and middle school students that needed one,” Chapman said.

Each district has been helped by funding from the Elementary Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) program.

Coppell ISD received $1.9 million, which was used for a summer bridge program to bring students back in person to help alleviate unfinished learning. Half of those funds went to curriculum and learning, 25 percent to improving social and mental health for students and staff.

Funds were also used to hire additional support counselors and staff, hand sanitizers, and air filtration.

“Our ultimate goal is high expectations for all, and if we’re not serving all, we’re not doing our job,” Chapman said.