Despite change and challenge, district begins to resume normalcy (10/15/2020)

*This columm was submitted for publication in the October 15, 2020 edition of the Lake Travis View; column may differ from final, edited version.

Despite a few early hiccups, and taking into consideration the myriad of challenges presented by the pandemic, I am pleased how well the 2020-2021 school year has started. On October 13, we began the second of four grading periods of the school year. Approximately, 60% of our total enrollment is onsite while 40% of our students continue to learn at home. No matter the location, we will continue to do everything possible to support learning for all students. Outside our classrooms and our homes, students have resumed their participation in a number of extracurricular programs including athletics, band and fine arts. In particular, our football and volleyball programs are off to a great start, with volleyball having beat rival Westlake on ‘Senior Night’ last week.

While we have successfully resumed some sense of normalcy, we cannot let our guard down. All decisions during the school year will continue to be guided by the highest concern and care for staff and student safety. Since opening our schools on September 8, we have had nine members of the Lake Travis family test positive for COVID-19. Considering our total enrollment of approximately 11,000 students and workforce of roughly 1,200 employees, the positivity rate is remarkably low. In accordance with applicable laws, Lake Travis ISD officials must notify the local health authority and the Texas Education Agency of an individual who is lab-confirmed to have COVID-19. In addition to the required notification, we have created a dashboard to provide our staff and families with transparent communication. A positive case indicates that a staff member or student who was onsite in a district facility has tested positive for COVID-19. Individuals who test positive are excluded from participation in any in-person/on-campus activity until the school nurse or personal medical provider verifies that the individual meets the return criteria set by local and state health authorities. Once the individual is cleared to return, their case is removed from the dashboard. The dashboard is posted on our district website and will be updated as needed. Rest assured, we will continue to operate within the guidelines and requirements mandated by Governor Greg Abbott, the Texas Education Agency, and Austin Public Health, taking all precautions available to us to operate our schools and programs safely and effectively.

Speaking of school operations, later this month, our school board will host a brief ribbon cutting ceremony to commemorate the official opening of our newest campus, Rough Hollow Elementary. The $33 million facility was designed by Pfluger Architects and built by Bartlett Cocke General Contractors. The school encompasses more than 102,000 square feet and has the capacity to house 850 students. Special features include a high-efficient, Energy Star building envelope that makes use of geothermal wells that will conserve operating costs for heating and cooling; a full-size basketball court inside the gym with cushioned vinyl flooring; outdoor learning and story areas at the library’s exterior; outdoor dining areas adjacent to playscapes, play fields and basketball courts; and storm water drainage directed to bioretention basins that support site landscaping. The project is part of the district’s $253 million bond program approved by voters in November 2017. Due to COVID-19, attendance at the ribbon cutting will be limited to our local elected officials and other individuals who were directly involved in the project. However, the event will be recorded and shared with our community. We are also planning an open house for our parents and families to be held in the very near future.

We appreciate your understanding and patience as we continue to work through the challenges and unique circumstances presented by the pandemic.

Aside from opening new schools, another unique opportunity I have the pleasure to take part in as superintendent is the hiring of new district leadership. Last week, I announced the selection of Pam Sanchez as our new Assistant Superintendent for Business and Operations. Ms. Sanchez replaces Johnny Hill who accepted a position with the Allen Independent School District in September. She possesses nearly 30 years of experience in business and financial services having served as a consultant, administrator and programmer with the Texas Association of School Boards before joining the Georgetown Independent School District in 2008 as Director of Budget and Finance. Presently, Ms. Sanchez serves as the District’s Chief Financial Officer. When the senior staff and I began to consider proven business professionals with school finance experience, her name quickly surfaced in our recruitment process. I am excited to have Ms. Sanchez join the Lake Travis family and help us build on the stellar reputation of prudent fiscal management and investment in our schools.

One thing is for certain, the pandemic has taught us to expect change, to be flexible and to adapt. I love our theme for the year, “Learning. Transformed,” because that is exactly what is happening and it is what we must continue to support. I believe that despite the uncertainty, stress, and hardships created by the pandemic, there are wonderful things to come. As we continue to progress through the 2020-2021 school year, we are seeing those wonderful things come to fruition. Circumstances will continue to change rapidly. However, together, we will adapt and we will succeed because we are Lake Travis ISD!