Dr. Ira K. Blake
Dr. Steven J. Berberich
Dr. Brenda Hellyer
Dr. Warren Nichols
Dr. Greg Smith
| Dr. DeeAnn Powell
"Friendswood ISD has right around 6,100
students. We’ve focused on the importance of connections with kids. In these
hard times, your culture is what shines through, and the culture in Friendswood
ISD has prevailed. Struggle has come out of this but so have innovation and
opportunities,” said Thad Roher, superintendent,
Friendswood Independent School District.
Roher’s comment echoed the
statements of other panelists who participated in a discussion on May 5, 2020,
as part of a series of virtual general membership meetings hosted by the Bay
Area Houston Economic Partnership. The discussion focused on how the region’s
educational institutions are responding to COVID-19. Participating in the
meeting were Dr. Ira K. Blake, president, and Dr. Steven J. Berberich, senior vice
president for Academic Affairs and provost, University of Houston-Clear Lake; Lloyd
Graham, superintendent, La Porte ISD; Dr. Brenda Hellyer, chancellor, San
Jacinto College District; Dr. Warren Nichols, president, College of the Mainland;
Dr. DeeAnn Powell, superintendent, Pasadena Independent School District; Thad
Roher, superintendent, Friendswood Independent School District; and Dr. Greg
Smith, superintendent of Schools, Clear Creek Independent School District. Harv
Hartman, chair of BAHEP’s Education and Workforce Development Committee,
moderated the panel discussion. BAHEP President Bob Mitchell and Marketing
Manager Jimmy Spence also participated.
Educators make opening
Hartman said, "We have been blessed with exceptionally good leaders
for a number of years here in the Bay Area Houston region.” He asked the
panelists to comment on their institutions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among other observations, Dr.
noted, "It is really going to be a paradigm shift once the virus is under
There are 7,200 students in La Porte ISD. Graham
said, "Our system is resilient. Our people are resilient. We know how to rise
to the moment, and I am so proud of everyone.”
Dr. Nichols reported, "Where does
face-to-face come in vs online as we move from summer into the fall? All things
considered, we’re doing remarkably well considering how things are going
elsewhere in our communities.”
Hellyer said that academic students will complete on time. She added, "It’s our
technical courses that have been really moved around as to when they will
finish. Our plan is to have all of the technical courses completed by the end
of June. It’s been a struggle. About 35 percent of our enrollment of 30,000
students is technical.”
Dr. Powell said that PISD has 53,000
students, and 86 percent were on free and reduced or low socioeconomic status
before COVID. "You can only imagine how
this has impacted our community. Staying connected with our families has been
vital. Virtual is going well for us, but it’s just not the same here in
Pasadena ISD without our kiddos.”
There are 42,000 students in Clear Creek
ISD. Dr. Smith said, "We have the opportunity to re-imagine education
differently. Perhaps it will be more of a hybrid approach. The challenge is to
make it better over time. I’m excited about the opportunities, but there’s
nothing like having your boys and girls in a classroom being taught by a kind,
caring, loving, compassionate teacher.”
Panelists answer questions
the opening comments, the panelists were asked a series of questions. Dr. Blake
answered the first question: What
challenges has the COVID-19 pandemic caused for higher education and in
particular at UHCL?
She said, "This is one of the most complex,
complicated situations I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been in a number of
emergencies. What we have to keep in mind is that the impact of this pandemic
is going to reverberate for a long, long time. It’s not about a new normal.
It’s about redesign and innovation and dealing with what this pandemic is going
to leave in its wake.
"There are four broad areas that we’ve all
had to experience. First, as most of the universities and ISDs have done, we
implemented an emergency activation team trying to manage the disruptive
impact. Second, we had to switch to other means to continue education and
operations. Faculty had to convert their courses to online, and many had not
done this before. This was a mammoth undertaking.
"The third challenge has been the impact to
budget and reserves. We depend on state appropriations. If summer enrollment is
down and fall is down, then our appropriations and funding from the state will
be down for the next two years.
"Finally, as we continue to deal with the
pandemic, we have to be looking at longer term goals. We have an anxious eye on
strategic planning not only as to how we’re going to deal with the pandemic but
also how we’re going to continue delivering high quality education and
Hellyer answered the question: What is
your current take on whether colleges will be fully up and running by the fall
semester? Dr. Hellyer said that San Jacinto College
District has 32,000 students registered for the fall semester. She continued, "San
Jac is reassessing for the fall. All of the community colleges are designing
their plans for the fall around modified face-to-face taking into consideration
social distancing. We’ve had small class sizes. We’ve been proud of that, but
that’s going to change to even smaller classes. We’ve learned a lot of things
during this process. Maybe we need to do things differently.
"We’re also building our modeling similar
to what we had this spring. We start face-to-face and then we have to move
online. I think we’re all anxious to see what happens through this transition
of restarting business and how that impacts us. Is there a likelihood that we
might not be back at all in the fall face-to-face?
"We’re looking at a lot of different
scenarios. I think we’re in such a critical stage right now of what happens
over this next month. As Ira said, we’re in a critical funding year. Our
funding for higher education comes out of contact hours and enrollment. I don’t
see enrollment being what it was before. In a recession, community colleges
normally grow in enrollment. We’ve never had this kind of recession –
potentially depression. I think a lot of the jobs are going to change also.
What do we really need to be offering?
"We’ve been working with the lieutenant
governor and some of our senators. Sen. Larry Taylor has been a huge supporter
of helping us look at some potential items we need to be addressing in the
"I wish I could say that everything is going
to be back to what it was. There are a lot of challenges including end of
course testing and dual credit students. Changes have been made to allow some
flexibility. I just worry about what happens after the fall. Students in our
ISDs have had a lot of changes in their lives. There are a lot of conversations
that need to keep happening no matter what the fall semester looks like.”
Nichols answered the question: How do you mange the labs and the clinical kinds
of activities with social distancing in place? He explained, "The College of the Mainland
has about 6,000 students currently. That number has been rising for the past
four or five years until now. We’re not sure what’s going to happen this fall.
"Just like everyone else, we decided that
we were not going to be able to go back to traditional classrooms after Spring
Break. I personally had a lot of concern as to how we were going to take our
science labs to an online format. With the purchase of some additional
simulation software, I was very pleased to find out that the majority of our
sciences classes were able and are able to teach in an online format. We are
not able to do that with microbiology and organic chemistry. The problem is
that many of our allied health programs, such as our nursing program, need
those particular courses. Until we get back into a face-to-face setting, I’m
not sure how we can accomplish that.
"One of the issues of particular concern to
us right now is in our workforce program, specifically in our allied health
programs. It’s the clinical component. So many of these health programs require
students to be in a hospital or clinic where they can obtain certain requisite
skills that the accreditation agencies require. Right now in this environment,
the hospitals and clinics have not been in a position to allow any students to
come into their settings. We’re not going to be able to take care of the
essential needs of our health profession if we can’t get back into these
settings. We don’t know what the future holds, but if there is a troublesome
spot, this is what it would be at the moment.”
answered the question: Can you give a
story about the resilience of your teachers, students, or families? Graham said, "Alcohol, pain, and stress
don’t alter personalities. They magnify them. Our counseling staff stepped up
in spades. We put together video clips. We’ve been to homes reaching out. I
wouldn’t say we have drive-through counseling, but we’re available if you need
to talk to us.
"My food service folks have really stepped
up, too. We’re feeding thousands of children every day and will continue to do
"Access equity has been the largest
challenge. My Transportation Department showed up to help us with our One to
One initiative to distribute computers, to distribute hot spots. We had 4,000
of our 7,200 parents respond to our technology survey needing access and
needing help. We spent another million and a half dollars for the devises and
pushed them out.
"Right now we’re focused on the hybrid
start to the year, and I don’t know when that will start. I will end by saying
that we are all blessed with fine people, and we are all blessed with complex
responded to the question: How has
instruction changed in Pasadena ISD? She related, "We have a large personalized
learning program with about 10,000 kids enrolled, and they honestly didn’t miss
a beat. We monitor that, and about 96 percent of those kids are online daily
being successful in the platform that they’re used to.
"We have 43,000 other students who didn’t
have that format of day-in day-out instruction. Thinking had to change as to
how we interact with students and how we do assignments and how we receive
those assignments back. We got over 900 devices out to homes that didn’t have
"Our board has been super supportive by
buying additional devices and approving emergency purchases of items that we
need to stay safe and keep working. Our Education Foundation has helped out in
a big way.
"The school year ends on May 28th.
We plan to extend instruction into the summer for students who didn’t complete
their coursework successfully. We are going to hold them accountable by
supporting them and by supporting their parents to make sure we don’t leave
huge gaps in their learning.”
answered the question: We’ve heard a lot
about online learning. Have you had a chance to step back and look at what this
probably means in the future for schools? Roher noted, "We’ve had 10 weeks of
professional development about virtual learning not by choice but by necessity.
It’s provided opportunities for globalization - reaching out to resources in
other places. It’s broadened the authentic learning experience.
"It’s opened our eyes to a blended approach.
Especially if we have to cut down budgets, what are the opportunities that we
can use for larger numbers in a blended approach?
"I don’t know that we’ll ever have to worry
about interruptions from hurricanes or weather days again. If we have
electricity, hopefully the funding formula will allow us to just go online. For homebound students, it’s provided us
the opportunity to see a different path that may be better and more efficient.
"We’re also going to be doing a virtual
summer school, and this gives us an opportunity to try that out and see what it
might look like in the future.
"When I talked to my senior leadership
group about their concerns and what was important to them, number one was
graduation and number two was seeing their teachers again before they moved on.
There’s no substitute for that face-to-face teacher connection and relationship
and what that means for students.”
responded to the question: What is your
take on the financial impact as a result of sales taxes being way down and oil
revenues being way down? What is your sense of where that is all headed? He said, "The greatest thing to remember is
that as human beings, we are the most adaptive species on earth. I think
financially we all have to work strategically. We should not ask for anything
in this budget that we can’t sustain past this session. I believe cuts are on
the way. We’re going to have to restrain and show discipline in areas that have
just gotten back to some sense of normalcy from 2011. We’re going to have to
reprioritize once again and strategically either abandon things or repurpose staff
members in order to make that kids have what they need.
"Financially it’s a difficult picture. We
have work to do. We need to look at those options to ensure that we’re able to
sustain past this next legislative session even if it means tapping into the
state’s Rainy Day Fund as well as our own funding balances.”
question asked was: If classes resume in
the fall, what will that look like?
answered, "It’s tough to socially distance kids especially when you have 1,000
kids in an elementary school and 3,000 kids in a high school unless you’re
willing to take a look at doing some split schedules – some in the morning,
some in the afternoon, some in the evening. All of these are on the table,
because I don’t believe that distance learning long term is the best way for
our students to learn. We know that it creates a bigger gap in those who need
direct teaching and learning.
"Everybody wants to play football.
Everybody wants the pep rally. Everybody wants the prom, but we have to make
sure that everybody is safe and healthy.”
UHCL’s Dr. Berberich said, "Seventy-five
percent of my courses are in-person. How do we look at bringing students back
in a setting with the issues that we’re likely going to face? I think it’s
doable. What I think we’ve learned in coming through the crisis are the
creative, innovative ways in which we’ve come up with solutions. We need to be
prepared to be flexible as we go into the fall. We all recognize that until a
vaccine is present, this is not going to leave us.”
Mitchell makes final statement
President Bob Mitchell closed the meeting by stating, "I’ve said for many, many
years as long as I’ve been associated with this job that the strength of this
community is our educational system. As I sat here listening to everyone on the
panel, I feel even more deeply that you all are the strength of this community,
and I am so proud and honored to be associated with every one of you.”
(The video of the meeting is shown below. Click on the white headline to view it on full screen.)