While scattered showers kept the weather cool and Katy ISD administrators gathered to excitedly cheer young students on at McElwain Elementary School, KISD’s newest elementary, students …
While scattered showers kept the weather cool and Katy ISD administrators gathered to excitedly cheer young students on at McElwain Elementary School, KISD’s newest elementary, students arriving at the school seemed to take everything in stride as they strolled into the campus. Meanwhile, McElwain’s staff and KISD administrators were on hand to make certain students transitioned smoothly back into classrooms – an event the district has been working hard to prepare for said KISD Superintendent Ken Gregorski.
“We haven’t had in person instruction since March and we’ve been planning since then,” Gregorski said. “We’ve been putting a lot of plans in place (and) we feel we have some of the best plans around. We feel very safe to return to school with protocols we put in place and we’re just super excited.”
Over the last several weeks, KISD has been making it a point to reassure parents that they have been proactive in protecting their student body of about 84,000 students. In mid-August, the district held a press conference to discuss the amount of personal protective equipment the district had stockpiled and made accessible to students, faculty and staff. That PPE included about 135,000 pairs of gloves, more than half a million reusable masks, hundreds of thermometers and tens of thousands of sanitizing wipes to keep campuses safe and sanitized.
About half of the district’s students chose to continue on with the Katy Virtual Academy, the district’s online program for parents who choose to take a more cautious approach. At McElwain, about 370 of the campus’ 811 student body began attending in-person instruction Tuesday morning.
Those students have extra precautions to take before they even reach campus though. In mid-August, the district also released various safety videos explaining the safety protocols students and parents would be asked to perform prior to showing up to class.
Some of those precautions included using hand sanitizer getting on and off school buses, prescreening for symptoms of COVID-19 at home and using hand sanitizer and sanitizing desks and other workspaces as often as was practicable. The videos are still available on the district’s Smart Restart webpage. The idea behind all of those efforts is to mitigate the risk of students contracting the novel coronavirus, said KISD Emergency Management Coordinator Ruben Martinez at the time.
“While it is not possible to eliminate all risks associated with the virus, by working together we can keep everyone as safe and healthy as possible,” Martinez said.
Gregorski said he wished the teachers could see the smiles on kids faces as they returned to school, but with the mask on that was difficult. Still, it was possible to see the happiness in their eyes to be back in school, he said.
“You’ve got to look at their eyes and you can see that kind of nonverbal expression with their eyes,” Gregorski said. “They’re really excited to be here. You can tell and you know they want to be back with their friends.”
Gregorski said he has two students in ninth and twelfth grades in the district that are excited to be back in class and see their friends.
The superintendent also praised his staff for the hard work they’ve done to plan a return to school while virtually instructing, meeting and brainstorming to get the job done. He said some teachers will continue to provide instruction virtually and have worked throughout the summer to master the skills needed to make it happen.
“It feels like seven days a week people are working,” Gregorski said. “People have really put a lot of effort into this to be able to provide the kids the safest environment possible during this pandemic that we’re in. I’m very appreciative of our staff and the hard work they’ve done all the way from our district, all the way up from our campuses and all the frontline workers. You’ve got to remember those who’ve been out there working all summer.”
McElwain Principal Euberta Lucas said the challenge of opening up a brand-new campus added to the strain for her staff as they tried to plan things virtually in Zoom meeting rooms when hands-on simply makes things easier. Teachers and staff put in extra effort to ensure they were ready to get started, she said, and she reiterated that she was proud of what McElwain’s faculty and staff had accomplished.
For his part, the school’s namesake, Peter McElwain, said he was glad students would be able to get back to the business of learning. Even with the masks it would give them a sense of normalcy and he felt that an in-person classroom setting would be more conducive to quality education than a virtual experience, though he understood why parents would be cautious given the pandemic.
Since his retirement in 2017, McElwain has turned to writing children’s books, two of which he has donated to the school, he said. McElwain hopes to one day be able to come to the school and read his books to the students to encourage them to pursue literacy. He said he felt appreciation for the district’s move in honoring him by naming the school after him.
“I can’t tell you how proud and honored I feel that the school is named that this particular school is named after me,” McElwain said.
Gregorski, Lucas and McElwain all expressed empathy for the parents and children of KISD that have faced the challenges the pandemic has put upon them since March.
“Our community’s been through a lot and I appreciate their patience and understanding. It’s great to see all of our kids in our family here again,” Gregorski said.