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Port Neches-Groves ISD completing full year of in-person learning in face of “all the doubters”

With 15 days left until graduation, the only Southeast Texas school district to not offer virtual learning in August is celebrating a successful school year.

“Not only have our administrators done a fabulous job, but our teachers and support staff have done an awesome job,” Port Neches-Groves Independent School District Superintendent Mike Gonzales said Monday at the district’s board meeting.

“I want to make sure that everybody understands that it hasn’t been easy this year. It’s been tough. We’ve been beat up. But you know what we haven’t done? We haven’t given up. We’ve done a great job. And who would have thought — all the doubters out there? I love it. I love it. All the doubters, here we are at the end.”

Gonzales then credited everyone from the staff and students to the parents.

“All the people that said we couldn’t educate our kids during this pandemic, we proved them wrong. And I love it,” he said. “But it’s not because of something I’ve done; it’s something that our staff has done — our administrators, our teachers, our support staff, our community. Our community bought in. And so the courage that not only PNGISD staff but the courage that this community showed the entire area was unbelievable.”

The district was met with backlash last summer when it announced that, following virtual learning March through May, the 2020-2021 school year would not include a virtual option.

While the Texas Education Agency at the time required every district to provide in-person learning, it did not require distance learning.

“To reiterate (Gonzales’) point, who’d have thought, sitting here in July when we were getting hammered on social media and everything, that we’d be sitting here today,” Board President Scott Bartlett said. “In my line of work, I deal with a lot of people outside of our district who go to neighboring districts. And I’d love to tell you all the administrators and teachers that came to my chair and said, ‘Y’all did it right. We didn’t.’”

According to TEA records last updated on April 27, PNG reported all students on campus with an enrollment of 5,153.

Nederland ISD reported 4,155 of 4,985 on campus. Port Arthur ISD reported 4,120 of 7,869 on campus. And Beaumont ISD reported 7,054 of 17,156 on campus.

“I’m just pumped that we’re in May and we’re just a few weeks away from graduating our 2021 students,” Gonzales said. “We’ve given them an awesome school year. They’ve gotten to come back and participate in extra-curricular. They’ve had a real school year.”

In April, Governor Greg Abbott announced that $11.2 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds would be made available to Texas schools.

Gonzales said PNG is expecting about $5 million, and administrators are working on a plan that would send most of it to the educators after reimbursing schools for COVID-related costs.

“We’re going to invest money back into our teaching staff,” he said. “Give them stipends to teach kids after school. That’s what’s important. They are the ones on the front lines. They are the ones working with kids. They’re the ones working with parents. So I think it’s important to give back to them. This money does not belong to PNGISD. This money’s going to come in here and we’re going to pay ourselves back, then we’re going to push it to our teachers so they can help our students.”