SAN AUGUSTINE, Texas (KTRE) - Unlike many other East Texas school districts, San Augustine ISD’s leadership opted to go the virtual learning route for the first few weeks of the 2020-2021 school year. Their students and teachers returned to in-class instruction on Sept. 9.
“It’s gone really well,” said Dr. Virginia Liepman, San Augustine ISD’s superintendent, told East Texas Now host Kayla Lyons on Tuesday. “We were supposed to return to school on Aug. 17, but the Friday before we were supposed to start, we have several COVID-19 cases in our student body and a couple among our faculty. So … we decided – full stop; we can’t go back now.”
Liepman said San Augustine ISD chose to go with full virtual learning the first few weeks and added that she was grateful that the Texas Education Agency gave them that option.
SAISD’s leadership monitored the situation closely, and they didn’t have any new cases for several weeks. As a result, they decided to resume classroom learning about a week early. Most of San Augustine ISD’s students returned to their classrooms on Sept. 9.
“We’re very fortunate to be back in person,” Liepman said. "We missed our kids, and I think they missed us, too. “There’s nothing like being person to person, face to face in the classroom to remind you how much you missed in-person learning.”
Liepman said that about 150 of the school district’s 697 students chose to continue with the distance learning. She said the students who opted to take the virtual learning route will be required to continue doing so for the first grading period, or nine weeks.
In response to a question about connectivity issues, Liepman said San Augustine ISD had purchased 600 Chromebooks over the past few years, and the school district recently bought 300 more.
“We were very fortunate that we bought 600 Chromebooks in the last few years, and we bought 300 more,” Liepman said.
San Augustine ISD teachers use virtually the same lesson plans with their in-class and virtual learning students. Liepman said while many SAISD teachers have to do double duty, they have groups of teachers that focus on in-class instruction and others who are mainly teaching students who are distance learning.
“Our teachers and parents are doing an incredible job,” Liepman said.
The San Augustine ISD superintendent said they are confident their teachers will be able to make the transition if and when all of the students return to their classrooms. They already do instruction that is about 80 percent technology-based and 20 percent teacher lectures.
“Most superintendents think virtual learning is here to stay,” Liepman said.
The San Augustine ISD superintendent said their website has a parent portal with how-to videos, and their instructional technology experts and paraprofessionals work hard to prevent SAISD teachers from becoming too overwhelmed by everything that they have to do.
“We’ve tried to figure out the best way to do things, but there’s no playbook for any of this,” Liepman said. “We’re figuring things out as we go.”
Liepman said San Augustine’s first two football games were canceled because of weather, but Wolves played their first game last Friday night. This week, they have an away game with Elkhart.
The San Augustine ISD superintendent added that they are working hard to make sure the safety protocols like social distancing are followed at their football games.
The start of football was just one step toward getting back to normal, Liepman said. She said another was seeing all those school buses show up with students on Sept. 9.
“I thought, buses, buses everywhere. What a beautiful sight,” Liepman said.
To watch the entire interview, click the video above.