SISD accelerated learning recovery plans announced

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
SISD officials have released information in district plans to help catch students up on any skills they may have missed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

District working to combat COVID-19 learning setbacks

Over the past year and a half, students in Sherman and across the country have faced many hurdles that have threatened to interrupt their education. From the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced students to transition to remote-only learning, to the historic winter storms in February, local students have face many uncertainties that can distract and take away from their studies.

The Sherman Independent School District recently unveiled accelerated learning recovery plans to assist students in catching up on any learning they may have missed or fallen behind on during this of uncertainty. Through these efforts, district officials hope to bring students up to speed on topics where they may be struggling in.

"Kids have not been in school — they've missed school for a variety of reasons and their instruction has been constantly interrupted since March 2020,"said Susan Whitenack, SISD assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. "When that happens, we know we are going to have gaps."

This new plan outlines and creates a roadmap for the strategies and programs the district will use to catch students up on any skills they may have missed. In many cases, these strategies use resources that the district already had access to, but increases the frequency and rigorousness of these programs.

The new plan is the culmination of multiple resources that the district is taking advantage of following the pandemic. The district was recently accepted into the statewide Resilient Schools Support Program, which networks SISD with about 75 other districts for best practices for addressing lost learning during the pandemic.

The district is also the recipient of additional funding through the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. The district is required to create a recovery plan in order to participate in this program. New state requirements also mandate the use of structure students who are behind on their studies.

While the long-term effects of the pandemic likely will not be seen for some time, Whitenack has already seen some impacts in the form of grades and scores on standardized tests. Whitenack said educators are most worried about early learners, who are still developing the educational building blocks that will help them for future learning.

"We know from looking at scores and everything that everyone has been affected," Whitenack said. "I think that our earlier grades have been affected more than not just because they are learning basic skill sets and the basics of learning."

One of the key components of Sherman's strategy is the use of high-dosage tutoring to help struggling students. This goes well beyond what the district previous offered and is of a larger scale than what normal staffing levels will be able to support. The district will likely need to hire new tutoring staff to help students catch up.

"Are we doing anything we didn't do previously? Probably not, but the urgency there because of the economy of scale, because of the numbers," she said. "I do think it will be a time where we use the best of the best of what we have."

Whitenack said she hopes that the program may have a silver lining in that it exposes and shows which strategies work the best for students. This can then be translated into the district's approach even after the pandemic's effects have passed.

Other efforts include a heightened focus on intervention for students who may be showing signs that they are struggling with material. The district plans to roll out targeted instruction based on these student needs with a minimum of 30 minutes of continuous instruction on these topics daily.

Reading comprehension and writing skills are likely going to be a focus area for teachers and educators as it is an area where administrators expect students to have difficulties. Some lessons will be made using phonetic teaching as a way to help bridge this gap.