‘Our Hallways May Be Empty, But Our Hearts Are Full’

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While public schools across the United States closed to protect the health and safety of students, Harlingen CISD educators swiftly began preparing in the event a case of COVID-19 emerged in South Texas.

Although there had been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in South Texas before Spring Break, HCISD launched an emergency plan and webpage to inform the public about its systems in place.

Harlingen CISD quickly escalated its plan from level one to level two March 19. The following day, the district implemented level three of the emergency plan to include the closure of campuses, cancelation of school-related and staff travel, and the redesign of instructional and meal distribution programs.

The true spirit of Harlingen CISD was not broken by the news of school closures. Rather, the HCISD family came together to support its students and community.

HCISD played an essential part in operating its instructional and food programs immediately following Spring Break. Throughout Spring Break, however, staff members committed their holiday to prepare for what instruction would look like while schools remained closed.

Responding to change

Alicia Noyola, Ed.D., Chief Academic Officer for Harlingen CISD: “We’re a school district of about 18,000 students and 3,000 staff members. Everybody mobilized within a week to meet the needs of all students. I’m really proud of our staff because it took people rolling up their sleeves and investing long hours to ensure our students would be learning at home. During our 2019-20 school year kickoff, you could feel a sense of unity. It’s developed over time, and we really saw that unity in action as we came together this month.”

Joseph Villarreal, Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education at Harlingen CISD: “During Spring Break, we helped define and set parameters as it pertained to online and offline instruction. Within five days, 317 courses were created and designed at the secondary level. Twenty-nine courses were created at the middle schools, while 288 courses were created across the three high schools, including Cano Freshman Academy. Also, 160 elective courses were created in Microsoft One Drive across both high schools.”

Lori Romero, Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education: “Our main focus was to make sure our students continued learning even though they are not inside our classrooms. We’ve really seen our teachers step up to the plate to continue making connections with their students. These bonds are so important to our children, and it’s been great to see the videos of teachers interacting with students. The kids know we’re there for them no matter what.”

Veronica Kortan, Administrator for Organizational Development at HCISD: “Before we launched our School@Home program, we assessed the technology needs of our families. In one week, we transitioned about 2,500 families to utilize the online learning platform. We issued about 800 technology devices to students as of March 27. The district set up a call center where technicians and staff answer technology questions called in by students, parents, and staff. We could not accomplish all this in such a short amount of time with the support of everyone involved.”

Shane Strubhart, Administrator for Public Relations and Community Engagement at HCISD: “Before Spring Break, our district began preparing to educate the community about our emergency response plan. At the beginning of March, while students were in school, Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos began communicating with parents and staff about our systems in place. As soon as we became aware of a case of COVID-19 in our region, we notified parents and the community about our plans and systems in place through emails, text messages, phone calls, and social media. We launched a webpage, hcisd.org/health, to provide around-the-clock and the most up-to-date information for our HCISD families. We look forward to continuing open communication between the district and the community.”

Launching School@Home Program  

Superintendent Art Cavazos, Ph.D., met virtually with principals and made behind the scenes and collaborative decisions for the best interest of all HCISD students.

During the first two days of the Good to Go meals program, the child nutrition staff and other essential staff members served 15,000 meals.

“Our hallways may be empty, but our hearts are full,” Cavazos said. “I am confident that HCISD will emerge from this more united and stronger than ever.”

How has your family been doing with distance learning? #JoinTheConversation at facebook.com/rgvisionmagazine.