DR. MARK PORTERIE — Spring changes outlook on COVID, STARR testing & Project Graduation

Published 12:30 am Sunday, March 6, 2022

Can you believe Spring is right around the corner already?!

This change in the season brings opportunities for new beginnings, another fresh start and a sense that we have broken through the dark cloud of COVID that has been looming over us for the past two years.

On Feb. 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the wearing of facemasks would be relaxed. For me, the concern came when our schools were included in this announcement. It was a weird feeling to think about what life will be like once we return to not wearing facemasks in public places and in our schools.

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Around the same time the CDC made its announcement, local news outlets released information stating only 52% of Jefferson County is reportedly vaccinated, versus the 48% who are potentially unvaccinated against COVID.

The hopefulness in this report is that the number of positive cases in our area has decreased. It is encouraging to learn that people in our community are continuing to get the vaccine, including our children.

With that being said, I am a realist and know we have to “spring” or move forward– vaccinated or not, masked or not.

I viewed President Biden’s State of the Union address and it was great to see both Republicans and Democrats were on one accord with removing the masks. It brought a sense of relief to me as I witnessed unity between two typically opposing parties that truly need to join forces for the good of our country.

Dr. Mark L. Porterie,
superintendent of schools

• As I walked through the grocery store this past week, I paused and looked around at people who were freely browsing the shelves, pushing children in baskets, talking in the aisles and standing in line to check out. I could not help but appreciate the many freedoms we take for granted everyday.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the country of Ukraine. When I think of Ukrainians who have had to leave their homes and their country in a matter of hours, including parents who are trying to protect their children from death.

It is unbelievable that these events are unfolding in our world today. We should all take a moment to appreciate what we have in our country and do everything we can not to risk losing what we take for granted everyday.

• With Spring comes liberation, as well. We are about to enter into our annual state assessments testing season. Our students and teachers are working diligently to meet the goal of a successful academic school year.

You should have heard our children speaking positively of “interims” recently.

Interims are what we referred to as “mock STAAR tests” in the past. They are test prep instruments created by the Texas Education Agency that allow us to better evaluate our students’ academic progress thus far, before the actual STAAR is administered later on in the Spring.

In addition to our preparations for STAAR, our high school seniors are preparing to return to “normal,” pre-COVID prom, senior week and graduation activities. I commend our seniors for insisting their parents and community are allowed to come out to the Civic Center and help them celebrate their prom by watching the grand arrivals of our students.

The arrival to prom has always been a major event for our community, and I am excited that we will return back to that type of community-wide engagement and excitement this year.

Prom is a magical and memorable event. The more people celebrating with our students, the brighter the red carpet and flashing camera lights will be.

• Speaking of senior class activities, we are also returning to Project Graduation, a safe and secure, all-night graduation party for our students. Project Graduation began in PAISD with the Abraham Lincoln High School graduating class of 1992 over 30 years ago.

The event is one our students and their families look forward to because it provides one location for safe fun, lots of food, and at least one gift for every senior participant. The gift can range from a basket of college supplies to luggage, clothing or shoes, and other items our graduates can take with them as they transition to college or the workforce.

The desire to provide a gift to every participant must be followed up with action to solicit and secure donations of items that can be appropriate gifts for our students. It takes hard work and dedication for parents to volunteer their time to solicit donations from local businesses, organizations and individual supporters.

A memorable and successful Project Graduation requires major fundraising and even more major support of all fundraising efforts. This is no small task for a small group of the “faithful few” parents of seniors who have been actively engaged in parental involvement at our campuses over the past 12+ years.

Project Graduation needs EVERY parent of EVERY student who plans to participate in the event to actively and physically work hard to help solicit donations of food, gifts, and other items and resources necessary to execute an event of this magnitude. In addition, helping hands are needed throughout the entire night to chaperone and facilitate activities and gift distribution.

If your child is graduating high school this year, and he or she plans to attend Project Graduation, we wholeheartedly welcome all parents to work together to help make this event a success. Our students deserve it and more.

• Public Schools Week was celebrated this week. I will always support a public school education and the plethora of opportunities, activities and teachable moments it provides for our children.

Public Education has been the foundation for students for centuries. We must do whatever it takes to continue to strengthen the public education system by working together as a united team of families, community members and educators, with the shared goal of ensuring the success of every child that walks into our classrooms.

We look forward to relaxing, resting, recharging and exploring during our Spring Break, March 14-21, this year.

We encourage our students and families to travel safe, engage in enjoyable activities, and take every precaution to prevent the spread of COVID.

With Spring comes a renewed mind and spirit. We look forward to ending our fourth and final quarter of this school year on a high note.

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