© 2020 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Laptop Distribution Helps Boost Student Interactions To 91% At San Antonio ISD

SAISD families line up at Woodlawn Academy on April 9 to pick up laptops for their children to use while schools are closed.
File Photo | Paul Flahive | Texas Public Radio
SAISD families line up at Woodlawn Academy on April 9 to pick up laptops for their children to use while schools are closed.

The San Antonio Independent School District regained contact with more than 5,000 students this past week, cutting the number of students it hasn’t heard from since spring break in half.

In an update to trustees during Monday night’s virtual board meeting, district officials said they’ve now had at least one interaction with 88% of elementary students. That’s up from 75% a week ago.

All told, SAISD has now heard from 91% of their students since schools closed to help limit the spread of COVID-19, up from 80% a week ago.

“I’ve been checking other urban districts across the country — the best ones right now are reaching just over 90%, 91%,” Superintendent Pedro Martinez told trustees. “Miami-Dade for example is at 91% and they’re one of the highest. But, again, we want to reach 100%.”

The district counts a phone call or laptop pickup as an interaction. It distributed devices to elementary students last week.

Trustee Christina Martinez said she appreciated the progress but she wanted to know what more could be done.

“It’s not a lack of teachers trying (to reach out),” Christina Martinez said. “Can I go out and knock on doors and try to find kids? I really am genuinely very worried.”

Superintendent Pedro Martinez said he’s discouraged staff from knocking on students’ doors because the number of SAISD families with COVID-19 is growing.

“We’re just starting to get more and more cases of our individual families that have the virus. We’re now over 10. We were at zero two weeks ago,” the superintendent said. “But some of our community partners I think want to go out there, and with the right protective gear it might be appropriate.”

The superintendent said his first priority was to ensure that all seniors had been reached, and to determine how many of the elementary students out of contact were in preschool.

“In the high schools we’re at 96%, which makes me feel better,” Pedro Martinez said. “My guess is — and this is what we’re seeing in other districts — is that the reason that elementary is so low is because of the preschool numbers.”

SAISD’s student interaction tracker counts the number of students in touch with the district. The superintendent said the next step is to determine how many students are participating in the district’s distance learning program.

“By the end of this week we should have some good data on how many of them are actually logging in academically, how many of them are receiving materials and packets, because that’s my other concern,” Pedro Martinez said.

The Texas Education Agency isn’t requiring school districts to take attendance during distance learning, so Bexar County school districts are tracking their interactions with students as they see fit.

Northside, San Antonio’s largest school district, is basing its count on the number of students who have made contact with all of their teachers through their online classroom portal.

Northside spokesman Barry Perez said Monday that 85% of Northside’s 107,000+ students have met that threshold. Perez said that some of the remaining 15% likely were participating in some of their classes. If middle school and high school students log into their math class but not their band class they’re excluded from the count. Perez said Northside is not including students using paper packets because families are not returning them due to safety concerns.

San Antonio’s second largest school district, North East ISD, is counting the number of students who have either logged onto an online platform for at least one class, picked up a paper packet from their school or turned in a paper packet that was dropped off at their house.

North East spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor said Monday that 96 – 98% of North East’s 64,000+ students have met that threshold.

Chancellor said North East has dropped off paper packets at homes where students haven’t been in touch. The district “knocks and drops” the paper packet, and considers the students engaged if they return the packet to the school. Chancellor said around 7,000 students are using paper packets. They drop off their packets on Mondays and teachers wait 24 hours before grading them to give the potential virus time to die off.

Northside and North East have a lower percentage of students living in poverty than SAISD, with around 50% of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch compared to around 90% at SAISD.

San Antonio ISD is the third largest school district in Bexar County. It serves around 48,000 students.

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter at @cmpcamille.

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.