Board Meeting: July 27, 2021

Workshop Items

COVID-19 Update: Safety Protocols

Dr. Matt Richardson from the Denton County Public Health department joined the board of trustees to provide the district with an update on the status of the COVID-19 infection rate in our community on the eve of the beginning of the 2021-22 school year. Based upon an update by the Centers for Disease Control, the wearing of masks will be recommended.

“Today, we have a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” said Dr. Richardson. “The virus has mutated because the unvaccinated keep providing the ‘fuel’ for the virus to keep spreading and changing.”  

Grow Your Own

Dr. Daniel Lopez, Executive Director of Human Resources, provided information on the district’s Teach Denton program. Former deputy superintendent, Dr. Richard Valenta, returned to provide important background information on the origin of the Teach Denton program. The program was started in 2014 with the purpose to provide an opportunity for the workforce to return back to the community they grew up in. Studies showed that in general, people wanted to work closer to their home location and this was a way to provide that opportunity for our students who have been identified as future teachers.

“I look back on the support from our stakeholders in Denton who have supported the district by approving bonds and helping us to grow the periphery of our district,” said Dr. Jim Alexander, board trustee. “It has really helped us to be intentional about adding staff members and campus leaders that reflect the demographics of our campus communities.”

Virtual Academy Update

Caleb Leath, principal of the Denton ISD K-8 Virtual Academy, provided an update to the board on the status of the K-8 Virtual Academy as the school year fast approaches. 

In March of 2021, Denton ISD announced the establishment of the Denton ISD K-8 Virtual Academy, a permanent full time online learning option for families with students who experienced success through online learning in the 2020-21 school year.

The school, the first of its kind in the district, was planned based on the request of local families who wished to continue learning virtually and in anticipation of funding from the Texas Legislature.  Last May, HB 1468, which could have funded virtual learning, died due to a legislative deadline. The district requested a waiver from the Texas Education Agency to move forward under the current state funding formula, and the waiver was denied.

Based on this decision, Denton ISD has committed Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds to support the campus. The district has estimated it will receive $22 million in state and federal support.

With the announcement from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that a vaccine for children under the age of 12 will not be approved until well after the district’s start date of Thursday, Aug. 12, the district’s local “Wait List” for students who wish to attend the Virtual Academy has grown. More than 247 students enrolled prior to the district’s deadline last April 30, and 114 in-district students are currently on a “Wait List.”

“Since March of 2020, Texas has invested $1 billion in state and federal funds to provide students the ability to learn remotely,” said State Representative Keith Bell (R-Forney). “Now in the first called special session, I filed House Bill 256, a re-file of House Bill 1468. With the school year swiftly approaching and no avenue for providing this virtual option, students, parents, and school districts are at a standstill. Giving local school districts the ability to provide this option and protecting the significant investments made over the last year is imperative to the future of a 21st Century Texas public education."

The fully remote learning option will provide an opportunity for students who thrive in the online environment to learn virtually. The staff is hand-selected from the district’s current educators who will dedicate all resources to support online instruction as well as new opportunities and offerings. The district will provide laptops for any student who opts to use a district-issued device. 

“We know that there are people in our community who are ready for a full-time online learning option, and it is garnering interest not only here in Denton but across the state,” said Dr. Jamie Wilson, superintendent of schools. “We want to meet the learning needs of all students in our community. We’re not the first district to do this in Texas, several districts are looking into it, we’re just the first district to communicate to our families that we’re going to do everything in our power to make this happen. We want the citizens in our community to stay connected to our schools.”

Adding the new virtual campus also allows the district to reconnect with families and students who may have selected homeschool or disengaged with Denton ISD for a different form of instruction amidst the pandemic to return to the district and learn virtually for the 2021-2022 school year and beyond.

Middle school students who wish to participate in traditional extra-curricular activities/athletics will participate with their peers on their traditional campus while completing their course work online.

“By enrolling in the Academy, our families are committing to learning with our educators under the guidance of local leaders in this manner,” said Dr. Jamie Wilson, superintendent of schools. “We have staffed this school with stability and longevity in mind.”