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MARK PORTERIE — Virtual learning not working for PAISD

Over the last year our district has faced incredible challenges in providing education to our students. Virtual learning has become a part of every student’s life.

We have been forced to open, close and reopen schools because of the pandemic and weather. Yet, we strive and adapt to make sure everyone is safe while prioritizing student needs.

Our school community has experienced drastic changes that have resulted in pivoting from school to home-based learning and back again. This has required great strength and dedication of our students, parents, teachers and support staff.

It has not been easy for any of us! Decisions have been difficult and have always been made with the best interest of our students in mind. Recently, our district was forced to close because of bad weather. This, once again, has been devastating for our students.

We have asked our parents to ensure that students continue to do what is needed during times of school closures. It may require more effort to make sure that the student’s laptop is charged, to plug up the hotspot, or turn on the cell phone hotspot to ensure that the student still has the opportunity to learn and keep moving forward.

Total virtual learning has not been a successful experience for most of our students. Parents have been asked during times of school closure to make sure that students go online and engage in school assignments, if possible. Everyone’s circumstances are different.

We have found that some students do not have the family support at home or the individual motivation to fully engage in the virtual process. On the other hand, there are some parents who have done an excellent job in motivating and encouraging their students to engage in the learning process.

Overall, we have found that a significant number of our students do not have the support needed to be successful in this learning platform.

A parent’s role in the success of a student is critical. I have seen parents post on Facebook that their child has no access to a computer to be able to connect to the virtual class, and yet, the parent has enough access to participate on social media.

How can we teach our children to be responsible for their own education when parents lack the initiative to do what is necessary to guarantee their children’s success? Those of us from my generation understand the importance our parents placed on education, above all.

Our parents found ‘a way out of no way’ for us to be at school with the attitude that we were there to learn. Parental values and the emphasis on education should, once again, be focal points in today’s society. We need parents to have the mindset that educating children of this community is the most important thing we do.

The District is preparing some non-negotiables needed in order to ensure we raise a generation of educated young adults who have a future that is based in common sense and pride in themselves. In order to achieve this goal, I believe our students must return to the classroom.

Pre-COVID, our district was striving and making progress in addressing the educational gaps of our students. Due to the challenges we have faced over the last year and the issues with virtual learning, this gap has widened exponentially.

We have to work together to ensure that the deficits our children have suffered the past two school years will not hold them back as a generation. I ask parents to make sure their children attempt to remain engaged with instruction, even when closures are due to weather; our children cannot afford to lose one day of instruction.

The reasons for our decisions are not based on funding – they are based on the desire to make sure the next generation is educated and able to compete in a world that will require more from them than any generation before.

Student preparation cannot be determined based on whether the state is going to require a state mandated test. It has to be based on the needs of the children and their required educational milestones.

We ask our parents to assist in our plan for all students to return to campuses for testing. Social media has promulgated false information to our parents and students that the state has said students are relieved from all testing requirements.

This is not true; secondary students must still earn credits to graduate. Students are still required to have passed five End-of-Course exams to graduate. We are asking that all students return for testing so that the district can diagnose their academic strengths and weaknesses and appropriately plan for instruction for the 2021-22 school year.

Our academic recovery will require accelerated learning and more commitment from our students, parents and teachers than ever before. We need parents to reinforce the district’s goal of returning all students to the classroom by supporting testing and the brief return of all students to campuses for testing.

The district is making plans for the return of all students for on-campus learning beginning August 2021. We are addressing safety concerns for students and staff. The district has made vaccines available for all employees, and currently, over 800 employees have received vaccines.

The district has been successful in maintaining safe school environments and addressing issues of exposure immediately. We are cleaning and disinfecting our facilities like never before. Our children must return to a school environment, which is the ideal environment for learning.

Continued remote virtual learning compromises the education of the majority of our children. I have asked our parents and community to champion academic success for our district as we do our athletic teams.

We must come together and create a narrative that shows that academic success is the most important success in the Port Arthur Independent School District.

Dr. Mark Porterie is superintendent of schools for the Port Arthur Independent School District. He can be reached at mporterie@paisd.org.