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New Initiatives For The New School Year

New Initiatives For The New School Year      

            Cleburne ISD’s “Whatever it Takes” theme for the 2021-22 school year will be backed by new initiatives to support both the academic and emotional needs of students.

            Academic Interventionists and Parent/Family Engagement Liaisons will be on staff at every campus this year. At the district level, new staff appointments include a Director of Guidance and Counseling and two Student Support Counselors.

            “Our goal in expanding our support efforts is to address and assist with any issue that may be preventing a student from being engaged in learning, whether it be an academic need or one that is social or emotional,” Superintendent Dr. Kyle Heath said. “These initiatives, and individuals, will reinforce and come alongside teachers in their work with students, with everyone focused on the needs of the child and their success in the classroom.”

            The COVID pandemic has been a factor, and an additional detractor, in learning for students across the state and nation since March of 2019 when campuses closed and reverted to distance instruction.

Cleburne ISD returned to face-to-face learning in the 2020-21 school year while also conducting remote instruction for students and families who chose that option due to health concerns. All students will be in the classroom this year.

            “The ‘why’ in our new initiatives is the COVID pandemic and what it has done to impede programs, opportunities and student learning,” Heath said. “With the support of our Board of Trustees, we are expanding our support services in trying to mitigate how COVID has been a detractor for some, if not all of our students.”

            The District anticipates among the returning and new students reporting to school on August 18 will be those experiencing academic disengagement, socioemotional distress, economic challenges, health problems and related issues stemming from the impact of the pandemic.

            In a survey of CISD staff and parents conducted in early June, the social, emotional and mental health needs of students were ranked as high priority items for the 2021-2022 school year, stemming from the challenges of COVID.

            Survey participants ranked social isolation, fear and anxiety and depression highest among social and emotional issues effecting students, followed by apathy toward school and education.  Seventy percent strongly agreed/agreed providing additional social and emotional support services would make a positive and significant impact on students.

Results from the survey showed learning gaps in math and reading and academic motivation as leading educational issues--and major areas of concern. More than 60 percent indicated “strongly agree” when asked about the use of academic intervention teachers on campuses in 2021-22 as an effective measure in closing learning gaps.

            “We anticipate having students who left school—and learning engagement--in March of 2019. We could have students who were seventh graders and are now returning to learning for what should be their freshman year,” Heath said. “We are trying to get in front of that in launching these initiatives. We believe, as the year progresses, we will find additional needs to be addressed. That could lead to a Phase II effort yet to be determined.”

            Among those ready to help students is Belen Morgan, who will be an Academic Interventionist at Cooke Elementary. With years in the classroom as an English/language arts/reading teacher, followed by work with teachers and students as the District’s curriculum coordinator in those subject areas, Morgan is ready to bring her skills and experiences to the new position.

            “We will be doing a lot of small group instruction with students to hone in and focus on specific areas in which they could use individual help,” Morgan said. “We will be aided by data and progress monitoring to know how we can best help kids.”

            “I’m super excited,” she said. “As academic interventionists, we will intervene on behalf of students in helping them progress and strengthen their skills. We will also be working with and supporting teachers, especially those new to the profession, in using data from student assessments, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and learning strategies while also assisting with lesson planning. As a teacher beginning my 26th year, I’m really looking forward to what we will accomplish on behalf of students and learning.”

            Zulema Segura also feels she is prepared for her new role as a Parent/Family Engagement Liaison at Cleburne High School. Her nine years with CISD includes administrative assistant at CHS and secretary to the principal at Santa Fe Elementary.

These campus liaisons will connect and engage with parents and families in providing information, securing community/educational resources to enhance the learning abilities of their students and strengthening the bond between school and home through meaningful parental involvement.

            “When I heard about the parent/family engagement liaison program, I felt I had already been doing this and should try to take it even further in applying for the position at the high school,” Segura said. “My biggest goal is to get our parents, families and the community to feel welcome. I don’t want them to ever feel hesitant or afraid to call or come to school. I want parents to know what we are made of and what we are about.”

            Segura believes she has an established bond with many of her CHS parents and families, including those from her years at Santa Fe who now have students at the high school.

            “As a new parent liaison, I’m ready for the program to begin and grow,” Segura said. “We are going to do whatever it takes to make our schools and district more welcoming to parents. I want them to know the doors to the school aren’t just open to students, but also to parents.”

“I’m a graduate of Cleburne High School and looking back, I wished I’d been more involved,” Segura said. “But my parents didn’t have the information and didn’t know how to help guide me through the ins and outs of high school. I want to be a change agent and help our students and parents know how to be involved—and comfortable asking how.”

             Segura can also relate to the impact the campus liaisons will have on the parent-school relationship, having been an intercessory link.

            “Last year I worked with a parent who was so nervous about graduation,” she said. “Her son would be the first in the family to graduate from high school and she didn’t know anything about the process—she didn’t know what to do.”

            “She was comfortable asking me questions,” Segura said. “I was able to connect her with her son’s counselor and give her information on the graduation ceremony. That proved to have a trickle-down effect as she was able to share all that information with three other parents in the same situation. She led them to us for additional help and guidance.”

            “It made me beyond happy to know I had that kind of impact,” she said. “It didn’t seem that big at the time, but seeing the outcome gave me a lot of joy. I’m super excited about this new program--not just for myself, but even more so for our parents and students.”

            Cleburne’s parent/family engagement liaisons also include Sundi Forsythe-Adams; Courtney Nelson-Coleman; Jessica Hyatt-Cooke; Alyssa Van Winkle-Gerard; Valeria Gonzalez-Irving; Mindi Jackson-Marti; Maraelbe Velasquez-Santa Fe; Kimberly Saucedo-Smith Middle School; Isamar Velasquez-Wheat Middle School and Deidra Morgan-CHS/TEAM School.

            Gonzalez comes to Cleburne from Bonham ISD where she served as a parent/family advocate with the district’s Head Start program for early learners.

            “The liaison program is definitely a way for us to help parents be one with the school,” Gonzalez said. “We want parents to know we are here for them and to think of us as their school family.”

            “We can help them pair up with resources they need,” she said. “We’ll also be bringing parents together and involving them in school events. My two years working as a Head Start liaison showed me how important it is for parents to be, and feel, involved.”

            Gonzalez, who is a first generation college graduate, identifies with the value of liaisons in helping parents navigate their child’s education pathway.

            “Being a first generation high school and college graduate, I saw how my parents had little insight about school here,” she said. “They weren’t English speakers. We, as their children, had to do the interpreting, do the research. It would have been so wonderful to have had a resource like this for them.”

            “I’m so excited to start the school year, to see the kids and meet their parents,” she said. “I’m here to help, even it’s just as a listening ear.”

             “Every child is important—every day,” Heath said. “We are going to be doing whatever it takes to meet a student where he or she is and take them forward. It’s all about the journey of every student and helping them be the best they can be.”