Strong Start 2020: IDEA Public Schools Back to School Plan for 2020–21

IDEA Public School distance learning Pflugerville

In a school year like no other, classes are back in session and campuses are starting to reopen. The San Antonio Charter Moms team has gone from thinking through contingency plans to researching COVID resources and school calendars. Now we are looking at how charter schools and schools of choice in the San Antonio region are planning to safely reopen their campuses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, we are looking at IDEA Public Schools and their Back to School Plan for 2020-21. The plan puts safety first and reflects IDEA’s goals of serving students from underprivileged backgrounds and preparing them for college.

Strong Start 2020

Over summer, when we spoke with Rolando Posada, Regional Superintendent for San Antonio, he said, “Things are changing rapidly, at every level. It has kept us busy trying to respond and react.”

IDEA Public Schools kept the same start date—August 11, 2020 was the first day of school for the San Antonio region—but started all students with distance learning. “The first thing for me is safety,” said Posada.

The Family Guide offers information for parents about the start of the 2020-21 school year. The plan emphasizes technology for keeping students learning, as well as communication between parents and teachers. Once campuses reopen, new procedures like social distancing and mask wearing will keep students and faculty safe. Families will have the choice of bringing their children to campus or continuing distance learning. “Parents are making decisions that are in the best interest of the health of their children,” Posada said.

A Strong Start for Distance Learning

Before the pandemic, students at IDEA Public Schools were already using academic resources such as Accelerated Reader and Hotspot for personalized learning in reading and math, respectively. In March, with the rapid shift to distance learning, school leaders realized what they needed to do to keep students connected with their lessons. Posada noted that one of the first things they did was make sure students had access to meals. Then, they made sure they called everyone. In the spring, in the San Antonio region, “within three weeks, we had contacted 100 percent of our students.” Every week, teachers in the region had contact with at least 95 percent of students. “Wellness checks are absolutely essential,” he added. “We set up systems and plans to make connections with every family.”

The next step was a major push to upgrade student technology. Posada said they learned that “not every family had access to the internet or had a device to access the lessons.” As quickly as possible, they ordered a device for every single child. High school students get Windows laptops, students in grades 1-8 get Chromebook laptops, and students in pre-K and kindergarten get Chromebook tablets with a case and a stylus.

Going into the fall, Posada said, “we will execute on the 1:1 approach, making sure everybody gets their lessons.” They will continue to support teachers checking in on students every day: While students are at home, the school has less control over what students are doing, but the teachers can do whatever it takes to make sure students are getting their lessons done every day.

Parent communication is essential for keeping students engaged. The Remind app is widely used, and some campuses use ClassDojo. Students have been accessing live classes through Microsoft Teams, and some lessons are recorded. Parents know that they can contact their children’s teachers with questions. IDEA Public Schools teachers have a “Whatever It Takes” mentality. They will look after every student to make sure they stay connected.

“Our mantra is ‘No Excuses,’ and never has that been more true than now,” said Posada. “It challenges us to think new things in a new environment.”

A Strong Start on Campus

When it comes to bringing students back on campus, “we see everything that we’re thinking right now through a filter of safety,” said Posada. The return to campus plan includes health and safety information, including procedures for entering the building and for keeping students and faculty safe on campus. “I’m blessed to be in an organization that took this seriously from the very beginning,” added Posada.

before students enter IDEA Public Schools strong start 2020

Here are some strategies for getting on campus safely:

  • Dropoff times will be staggered to avoid crowds. Each campus and grade level may have slightly different schedules.
  • Students need to wear their masks during the morning screening and transition procedure. They can bring one from home (as long as it has no inappropriate language or symbols), or IDEA will provide two cloth masks per student.
  • When entering campus, every student will have their temperature checked by an IDEA staff member.
  • Students will be asked to clean their hands before entering the building at a hand hygiene station.
  • As they walk to their classrooms, they will keep wearing their masks—either one provided by IDEA or brought from home.

For keeping students and staff safe on campus, schools are adding these new procedures:

  • In class, all students will wear masks.
  • All students will have assigned seats and will sit behind a plexiglass guard for safety.
  • Students will stay in their classrooms for lessons and meals, and not rotate among different rooms.
  • Teachers will wear masks, too, and will teach the students about safety protocols.
  • Students will have multiple hand hygiene breaks throughout the day.

in classroom students IDEA Public Schools strong start 2020

These visible signs around the campuses, including the hand hygiene stations and plexiglass shields, will “build confidence that we can minimize the transmittal of the virus,” said Posada

Building hygiene breaks into the day “changes the pace at which we normally function,” Posada said. The network is delegating authority to principals at each campus to set schedules, such as staggered start times. Every campus will be a little different, depending on factors such as how many students choose to come back to campus, how much outdoor open space does the campus have, and whether the campus is fully built out (K-12 or PK-12) or has room to grow. “We are going to adjust to the needs of each campus,” said Posada. “The principal has discretion to make changes”

IDEA Public Schools will follow procedures for isolating anyone who may have COVID-19. “If there is anyone who is showing symptoms or has tested positive, we will take all the necessary precautions to ensure that the spread is kept down,” said Posada. They are prepared to go fully remote again if that is mandated for safety.

Family Involvement in a Strong Start

All of the elements of the Family Guide—from providing meals, computers, and masks to procedures for transportation and social distancing—are designed with the goal of keeping students and faculty safe and learning. The plan also offers social emotional support for helping children and families find words for their feelings and manage the stress and trauma of the pandemic.

The Back to School Plan from IDEA Public Schools covers the important elements for keeping students engaged in learning: taking care of basic needs like food and safety, and keeping students connected to energetic teachers and rigorous lessons, while staying true to the school culture of high expectations for everyone. That is a recipe for a strong start to the school year.

Charter Moms Chats

Watch Rolando Posada, Regional Superintendent of IDEA San Antonio, speak with Inga Cotton on Charter Moms Chats on September 8, 2020 at 4:00 PM Central live on Facebook and YouTube.

Rolando Posada is the Regional Superintendent of IDEA Public Schools in San Antonio. Rolando moved his family to San Antonio in 2012. He grew the region from one to 20 schools in five years; by 2022, IDEA will have a total of 36 schools in the San Antonio region.

Prior to this role, Rolando was a VP of Schools for IDEA in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where he led his high schools to national recognition and 100 percent college acceptance for several years, while serving a predominantly Latino population, of which more than 85 percent of students qualified for free or reduced lunch. In 2016, IDEA was named America’s Best Charter School Network, winning the coveted Broad Prize for Charter Schools Award, and boasts national rankings on The Washington Post and U.S. News & World Report’s top high schools lists.

In 2007, Rolando was promoted into the principal role where he led the turnaround of IDEA Frontier College Prep from academically unacceptable to an exemplary Texas Education Agency rating, in two years. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston and his MBA from the University of Sioux Falls. He holds teacher, principal, and superintendent certificates.

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