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MARK PORTERIE — Curriculum strength, student safety key for PAISD success

Welcome to the 2021-22 school year. The last 16 and a half months have been challenging and eye-opening.

In 2020, the deadly COVID-19 pandemic took the world by surprise, leaving no one with any solid answers as to what to do. We each dug deep and found our path. We accomplished things we thought were out of reach.

We provided learning devices for every student in the district. Teachers extended themselves to teach simultaneously in person and virtual. Custodians learned new ways of cleaning and disinfecting, while our child nutrition staff partnered with our transportation staff to feed the children in our community, and much more.

We have learned how to communicate from a distance, appreciate quality time with family, order groceries online and have them delivered, teach from a computer, have parent/teacher conferences on a device and some of you have even learned to cook in your own kitchens.

Most of all we have learned the importance of leaning on one another and having a true appreciation for life.

The summer of 2021 was incredible. The PAISD offered summer school activities to more than 2,300 students without incident. We opened up the minds of more than 100 employees as we provided professional development in the area of curriculum writing. Our curriculum writers have created a solid curriculum document that has been shared with other veterans, as well as new teachers.

We have incredible professional development planned for our elementary teachers, and we are not going to stop until every elementary student is reading on or above grade level. We have created a Curriculum Management Plan that tells how we are going to roll out and monitor our curriculum, and much more.

Safety measures

This year, we will provide the best education to our students as we all return to in-person learning.

First and foremost, we have to keep our staff and students safe. No matter what beliefs we hold concerning the reality of the coronavirus, this truth is known: if it is contracted there is a possibility of death.

I appreciate those of you who have gotten vaccinated; vaccines are still the best defense we have against severe illness and death. Even worse than risking our own lives by not being vaccinated or masking up is the possibility of spreading the virus to others who may have underlying issues that make them more susceptible to death.

As we were planning convocation, I was excited to have everyone come to the MHS gymnasium and yell, scream and welcome in the new year as we pause and take selfies while the song “Happy” is playing.

However, when I was crafting what I would say to our employees, I came to a point in the body of the speech that stated my expectations as to how we should care for one another. As I was writing, I had a moment where I thought, I am expecting employees to do something that I would not be practicing in asking everyone to come together.

I am well aware that everyone has not been vaccinated. I am well aware that some view wearing a mask as a political statement. I had to take a long look at what my expectations are and model what I am asking of my employees. We can no longer require masks but we can ask you to take personal responsibility to protect yourselves and each other.

I had to rethink our plans and once again PIVOT to what made more sense and what was best for the employees of this district. Whatever your thoughts are about the coronavirus, the vaccine or the wearing of masks, those are your thoughts.

I am not going to debate facts. However, I want to be clear in communicating what are the expectations of the Port Arthur Independent School District. There is an expectation that every employee and every student who enters the buildings of the PAISD will be treated fairly and respectfully.

In order for that to happen every employee and every student must respect the life of each and every person in our district. This expectation is meant for everyone, vaccinated or unvaccinated. This should not be a political decision but one of empathy and regard for your fellow man.

In order for the PAISD to keep the doors open the entire year without closure, it is going to take each of us working together to keep everyone healthy. If you have chosen not to vaccinate, I am strongly recommending that you wear a mask for not only your protection but for the protection of others.

If you have been vaccinated, I strongly recommend you wear a mask for your protection and the protection of others. We understand that there have been some breakthrough cases with people who have been vaccinated. I am also going to publicly ask parents to support the district by sending each child to school wearing a mask.

In order for us to combat this pandemic all of us will have to have the attitude that I am going to do everything in my power to help others. Even if I do not believe that there is such a thing as the coronavirus, or even if I think wearing a mask does not make sense, I will do it because I care. If we just start caring about each other we can beat this.

STAAR students

Our children will return to us with critical academic, emotional and mental needs. To succeed we are going have to exhibit a strong control over the content of instruction. Teachers, there will be no room for error when it comes to the delivery of instruction.

You are going to have to know your content in order to be able to deliver it with the rigor that is expected and necessary for students to achieve. We must stop measuring our success by the STAAR test; we have to teach our students above the STAAR test.

We cannot continue striving to reach a goal that is below the national level. We have to set our standards beyond. Yes, we have to understand the test and ensure we cover the standards that our students are tested over at the end of the year. However, we have to do a better job at teaching in a way that the STAAR test is basic and not a challenge for the majority of our students.

I want to take time to give a huge “thank you” to our PAISD Board of Trustees. The Board has worked to create a vision of excellence for the district and provided the tools necessary to assist in the success of staff and students.

Recently, our Board of Trustees voted to allow the district to support our employees by utilizing ESSER funds to compensate our employees. On Wednesday, Sept. 15, our returning employees will receive two checks — a regular and a retention check based on salaries of the 2020-21 school year.

In December, all employees will receive one half of what they received in September and the other one half in August 2022. This will happen again in the 2022-23 school year. The PAISD Board along with the PAISD Leadership Team wants you to know that we do appreciate how you have dedicated your lives to the PAISD.

To our Executive Team — Dr. Melvin Getwood, Mrs. Phyllis Geans, Dr. Kim Vine, Mrs. Robin Beaty, Ms. Kathy Londow, Mr. Anthony Jackson, Mr. Robin Rhodes, Mr. Corey Metts, Mr. Edgar Redeaux, Mr. Radermon Scypion, Dr. Tatiana Owens, and Mrs. Debra Cartwright — we thank you for leading the various departments in order to meet the needs of the district.

As we begin the new year, we still must be flexible. There is no doubt our stamina and patience will be tested. The words PIVOT and CHANGE will still be constant in our communications.

It has been a great summer! A great school year is on its way! It is going to be hard, but hard is not impossible. Remember, not everyone can do what we do. The roles that each of you play makes a difference in the lives of children and in creating our future.

At our BEST, we can pivot, keep moving and accomplish our goal of excellence.

I am wishing each of you a wonderful and blessed new school year. Let’s get excited and ready to begin!

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