San Antonio’s public school crisis, fueled by pandemic and politics

While the omicron variant may finally be peaking locally, the pandemic-triggered crisis in public education, as well as the politicization of curricula, runs deep and isn’t even close to abating.

He will be with us for years, say the worried and somewhat overwhelmed educators. The loss of learning, up to two or three school years for some students, and the exodus of professionals from public schools indicate long-term consequences.

Teachers, principals and superintendents struggle to keep local schools running smoothly as the pandemic nears two years and educators increasingly say political pressure is preventing them from doing their best .

Education leaders I have spoken with say nearly two years of the pandemic and an increasingly divisive political environment are driving teacher and administrator burnout, causing people to leave the profession.

The growing challenge of teacher retention was chronicled in this 2021 report from the University of Houston and the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. An article published Friday in the Texas Tribune documented nine public school superintendents in the Dallas-Fort Worth area who recently resigned.

A study released in December by the National Association of Secondary School Principals found that four in 10 principals say they are likely to leave their jobs in the next three years.

“We are concerned that all of this will negatively impact our search for a new superintendent,” Ed Garza, longtime administrator of the San Antonio Independent School District, said in a recent conversation. “People don’t realize that the aftermath of the pandemic on students and staff will take years to overcome.”

The Bexar County Public School District‘s COVID-19 report from January 17-23, although several of the 14 districts did not provide complete data, shows that 4,912 students and staff have tested positive for COVID- 19 that week. This number does not include those who have already been out because they or a family member contracted the virus, or students kept at home because parents fear contracting COVID-19 in the classroom.

High absenteeism rates have administrators concerned that the state’s attendance-based funding formula could cost Bexar County school districts millions dollars in badly needed funds just as they struggle to retain talent and stabilize class and support operations. The Texas Education Agency suspended practice for the 2020-2021 school year but did not extend the relief for the current school year.

Kevin Brown, the former superintendent of the Alamo Heights Independent School District who is now executive director of the Texas Association of School Administrators, wrote in a November 2021 blog post.

“At the best of times, being superintendent is barely sustainable, though the intrinsic rewards are remarkable. As of March 2020, ‘sustainable’ is not a word I would use to describe your work,” Brown wrote. I felt enormous empathy and appreciation for those in public schools who have endured COVID-19, multiple hurricanes, Snowmageddon, and the divisions that have spread from national and state politics to local communities.

“Texas educators and administrators have been nothing short of heroic during this difficult time, going far beyond normal expectations of their work as they put their own lives on the line to help our children and our communities through a historically difficult.”

The annual statewide survey of attitudes toward Texas public schools conducted by the Charles Butt Foundation found that parents of public school students rate academic performance high during the pandemic, while that adults without children in schools gave lower grades.

“The impact of COVID on our schools and everyone working in education will be felt for years to come,” said Lindsay Whorton, president of the Holdsworth Center in Austin, the public education leadership center founded in 2017 by HEB Chairman and CEO Charles Butt. , a big supporter of public schools. “The crisis is distressing and highlights the importance of investing in people. We cannot sit idly by and expect educators to do their job, accomplish their mission without support.

Vaccination rates among school-aged children are still lower than those of the general adult population. According to city figures released on January 31, only 17.5% of children aged 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated; 58% for children aged 12 to 15; and 62% for children aged 12 to 18.

A key step for parents of school-age children to help public schools normalize operations is to get their children fully vaccinated as soon as possible.

Many students facing prolonged learning losses will need significant support to graduate on time and be ready for college. It is a challenge that educators say they will have to take up in the years to come.

It’s a case for year-round learning, adequately funded by the Texas Legislature, and for state leaders to address a crisis they rarely talk about publicly.

Disclosure: The Charles Butt Foundation and HEB support the San Antonio report.

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