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Mark Porterie — Lessons of last year will fuel PAISD in 2021-22

It seems like summer has just begun, but PAISD has been diligently preparing for the 2021-22 school year. Planning the return to a full, in-person, educational system in the Port Arthur Independent School District is one of the most exciting transitions we have ever experienced.

One word that would describe the 2020-21 school year would be “Eye-Opening,” because it brought opportunities to our students that we had thought about but had not been executed.

For the 2021-22 school year, the buzz word will be “EXPECTATIONS.” The 2021-22 school will be exciting, instructionally challenging and successful for all students.

With a new school year, we have the expectations that normalcy will return, new ways of learning will benefit our students and staff and that the avenues we have explored this past year and a half will take us to new heights and academic successes.

No longer will we foster children to become dependent learners, rather we will foster them to become independent learners. With innovative practices, virtual learning, hybrid learning, asynchronous learning and much more, we have gained a surge of ideas and thoughts that will benefit the children of Port Arthur.

This summer our curriculum writers were trained on writing curriculum that will not only transform the delivery of instruction, but will be cognitively challenging, engaging and culturally responsive.

When we refer to cognitively engaging instruction, we mean classrooms where the emphasis is on meaningful, challenging student learning that makes kids think and involves them in their own academic progress.

We will help our children transition to independent learning and strengthen our focus on culturally responsive teaching (CRT). CRT is an educator’s ability to recognize students’ cultural displays of learning and meaning, and respond positively and constructively with techniques that use cultural knowledge as a way to connect what the student knows to new concepts and content.

The PAISD serves students who speak more than seven languages. In addition, there are 17 countries represented in our district. In order to meet the needs of each child, we must not only recognize the differences but include the differences in our instructional delivery.

We have discovered our biggest challenge in the PAISD is overcoming low expectations for our children. The 8,000 PAISD students makeup is 85% economically disadvantaged and 49.28% at-risk.

Our demographic makeup is 48.96% Hispanic, 41.94% African American, 3% Asian, 2.6% White, 2.1% American Native and other. For some, these percentages are frightening.

When you see a demographic make-up of students in a district such as ours, do you automatically think that these children can’t learn? Do you feel that students from poverty, Hispanic students, African American students and students that are at-risk can’t learn because of what we perceive to be barriers?

Is it possible that some of us believe children from less affluent communities cannot learn as well as students from more affluent communities?

Is it fair to say that some walk into classrooms believing that certain students cannot learn or achieve above grade level because of who they are?

Because of these beliefs sometimes educators do not bring the same rigor, consistency and serious implementation to the classroom, and therefore students are never given the opportunity to experience high quality instruction.

We are addressing those beliefs and ensuring that the education in PAISD is the gold standard and expectations for success are higher than they have ever been before.

PAISD has some of the best teachers and staff members in the state. When you come to work for PAISD you not only have to have a heart for children, but you take on, what I consider to be the biggest and best career challenge of your life, positively changing the lives of children for life.

PAISD is rich in history, over 123 years in existence, rich in diversity, and has withstood the challenges of Hurricanes Rita, Humberto, Ike, Harvey, ice storms and most recently COVID. The district is still STRONG.

Our employees are dedicated and sincerely care about the district and the students who attend PAISD. Our students come to us with unknown experiences and a great deal of creativity. We will put those experiences and creativity to work in ways that help us achieve academic excellence.

Believe it or not, the school year 2021-22 is almost here. We are ready and look forward to it with great expectations.  We will continue to plan and put innovative ideas into motion to place our children on the best road to successful learning. In 2021-22, the PAISD will return to in-person learning with all of the bells and whistles.

We do understand that the Coronavirus has not gone away. We will continue to clean and disinfect our facilities. Desk shields have been installed on all students’ and teachers’ desks and sanitizer will remain accessible and available.

Masks will be encouraged for those who have not been vaccinated and for those who just want to continue to utilize the masks.

We have upgraded the cameras on our buses and added Wi-Fi to the buses. We have computers ready to be issued to every child in our district and a curriculum that is to be delivered to each student with fidelity and on grade level.

We will continue to utilize Schoology, the district’s learning management system, to continue communication with students and parents.

Our Child Nutrition Department is working on new menus and will serve delicious breakfast and lunch FREE OF CHARGE to each child in the District.

Due to all that we have endured during the last school year our Board of Trustees have approved financial compensation for all employees. We will unveil our plans on how we will compensate our staff for the upcoming school year.

I am sure everyone will be happy with the incentives and other financial awards we have planned.

The final “Expectation” is our community will support our district in moving toward the success of all children. We encourage our parents to be a part of the academic success of their children by reaching out to teachers and schools, by asking questions concerning homework, grades, behavior and overall safety of every child.

It will be critical for every parent to be a voice for not only their child but for all children in the PAISD.

We encourage our community and parents to push us to academic excellence. We welcome your thoughts and your concerns.

It is our Expectation that the 2021-22 school year will be the best school year, ever.

 

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