Salado ISD

One in an occasional series.

Many Salado ISD students excelled during the coronavirus crisis, but not remote learners.

Despite an evident decline in student performance during the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exams this past spring, Salado ISD Superintendent Michael Novotny said his district’s student body still tested above the state’s scores — a challenge he stressed was overcome during an era of pandemic-related learning loss.

“Our STAAR scores took a dip from two years ago, like all districts statewide did, but thankfully we were still above state scores,” he told the Telegram. “But remote learners … did have the greatest decrease in scores.”

Novotny said that underperformance led district administrators to suspend remote instruction for the 2021-22 school year.

“We had about 10% of our kids remote and about 90% in person … and the majority of the kids that were remote had more of a decrease in score than the kids who were face-to-face,” he said. “Some remote learners did do well, but — as a whole — it was not the best option.”

Those results are what Salado ISD anticipated.

In late June, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath credited school districts such as Salado that are prioritizing the availability of in-person instruction.

“When students come into Texas public schools, they are well-served by Texas educators — a fact that these (STAAR) scores confirm,” Morath said.

The Salado ISD superintendent emphasized how teachers are excited for a number of reasons to return entirely to in-person instruction.

“One is mainly because we know that it’s more effective for kids face-to-face,” he said. “But the second is that it’s been a hard year for teachers having to navigate both those learning methods at the same time. While it will make their job easier, more importantly, it’ll be more effective for students as well.”

With the upcoming school year quickly approaching, Novotny said administrators are working tirelessly to get students up to speed through hiring more teachers, offering increased tutoring and hiring interventionists.

“We’ve also hired a licensed specialist in school psychology … that can not only do psychological evaluations and counseling, but also do testing for kids that may qualify for special education,” Novotny said. “Those are the things we can do to help get the students back on track again.”

An additional priority includes managing class sizes.

“The one potential downside of bringing everybody back to face-to-face classes is that those 10% of learners that were remote will be returning to the classroom,” Novotny said. “So we have to make sure that we have enough staff in regular classes.”

Although Salado ISD is still looking to staff a few open positions across its campuses, a majority have of those sought have been filled — a few thanks to funding granted through Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding.

The total amount Salado ISD is eligible for is $1,098,900, according to district information.

“(Texas Education Agency) will release two-thirds of these funds after we complete the required application and submit a ‘safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of services plan,’” according to Salado ISD. “The additional third of the funds are scheduled for release at a later date once TEA receives approval from the federal granting agency.”

Salado ISD stated that those plans required stakeholder input from staff, parents, community members and students on how awarded funds should be utilized.

However, Novotny said the community was in favor of adding new positions to campuses across the district — staff members he said administrators plan to keep once emergency relief funding runs out.

“We are a growing district and growing in enrollment … so that has helped us budget-wise over the last couple of years,” he said. “Even as these federal funds run over the next couple of years, the increase in enrollment that we’ll experience the next couple years should allow us to keep those positions.”

Although Novotny said his school district is comfortable with the plan currently for when students return to school this fall, he stressed how the district’s staff is prepared to make changes on a moment’s notice — just as they did when the COVID-19 pandemic first reached Bell County.

“We certainly can adjust that plan throughout the year … if an opportunity to do something comes up,” he said. “But we’re just looking forward to a great school year.”

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