By Emily Kubisch-Sabrsula
SJNT staff writer
SHEPHERD — Holding its first completely in-person board meeting since the pandemic began last year, the Shepherd School Board met for a final summer round-up in preparation for the upcoming school year to discuss plans for the growing district.
The district boasts 100 percent online enrollment this year, which added 1,031 new students.
With school slated to start back up on Aug. 11, Dr. Jason Hewitt will resume the State of Shepherd Facebook Live programs. The July program took place after going to press, but upcoming live streams will be announced via the Shepherd ISD Facebook page.
Parents, guardians, and community members will be able to ask questions and receive live updates about changes across the district.
Taking the microphone during the cabinet report, Superintendent Jason Hewitt gave a short comparison report of SISD to Region 6 as well as other area schools like Coldspring and Livingston, finding that while Shepherd was on par in subjects like history and even algebra, students were on average 20 points down in other areas.
The school did not receive an accountability rating last year due to COVID policies, but was given a C rating during the 2018-2019 school year.
During that same school year, the district had 336 employees, a number that has been slowly shrinking since Hewitt’s start in the district, with 318 teachers and staff slated to be employed this year. The steady decline has been due to positions getting absorbed into other roles in order to help the district maintain a balanced budget, which is currently does.
This change has also made available the means to include new positions like a district librarian. This comes despite still having several positions open across campuses due to a nationwide teacher shortage. A copy of the budget will be posted online for public viewing.
Safe Return Plan
While a draft of the final Safe Return Plan is still in works for how to take on the upcoming school year, Shepherd ISD will model theirs off a similar plan from Conroe ISD on how to return to the classroom for the fall following a year’s worth of pandemic protocol.
Administrators from CISD met with region service directors to come up with a written plan to interpret TEA and the CDC’s guidelines.
TEA is asking those who test positive to report it to the school nurse who is required to then alert TEA as well as local health authorities. But otherwise, with little guidance from the Texas Education Agency, as well as Gov. Greg Abbott taking away the ability for local governments to set their own COVID mandates, Shepherd ISD will continue to encourage students and staff to pre-screen prior to coming onto campus.
Those who are sick or come into contact with someone believed to be sick will be asked to quarantine, but are not required to, as contact tracing will also not be continued. Individuals will not be sent home for displaying covid symptoms unless they have a fever of 100 degrees or higher, similar to how to school currently handles flu cases.
Those who do choose to stay home or quarantine will not be held harmless, meaning staff will have to use sick days and students will be marked as absent.
With TEA and current legislation opting not to continue funding virtual learning, students who wish to continue online will need to withdraw from the district and find a new method of schooling.
The COVID Vaccine will not be made mandatory into Texas’ Minimum State Requirements for Students Grades K-12, and while the school no longer will offer testing, talk of including the COVID vaccine at already existing community flu shot clinics could be possible in the future.
The school will also no longer enforce social distancing, but will continue to encourage community members to wash their hands and remain vigilant in the event of a surge, with current focus on watching the spread of the Delta variant.
A final copy of the guidelines will be available on the district’s website.
The next SISD board meeting will the held at 6 p.m. Aug. 19 in the Administration Building in front of the Middle School. For more information on past and future meetings, please visit the shepherdisd.net and look under the “District Information” tab.