New FBISD Superintendent Reflects First 60 Days | School news

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New Fort Bend ISD Superintendent Christie Whitbeck has only been in the post for about 60 days and already has a good idea of ​​the pandemic challenges the district faces in the future.

Of course, Whitbeck was no stranger to the district when she first took on the job.

“This has been my life’s work,” Whitbeck said. “I have spent most of my career in the Houston area.

Prior to arriving at Fort Bend in October, Whitbeck had been Bryan ISD Superintendent since 2017. But before that, she worked at FBISD for four years as Deputy Superintendent.

Whitbeck spoke to multiple media outlets last week to discuss his first 60 days on the job and explained the issues facing the district going forward.

Catch up

Starting next semester, all FBISD students will return to school in person, depending on the district. That’s because the district announced this month that it would end its virtual schooling option at the end of the semester, arguing that a majority of parents were ready for students to return to class in person.

“Most parents want to come back,” she said. “And we saw a marked difference in the lag in students who spent the most time without in-person instruction. “

The FBISD, for example, saw its most significant drop in standardized tests of the percentage of students approaching grade eight math, where the percentage fell from 85% in 2019 to 78%, according to the latest results. tests.

The trend was in line with state averages, where officials noted a 4% drop in the percentage of students reading at or above grade level and a 15% drop in those at or above grade level. grade level in mathematics, according to the latest test results.

Beyond the test data on student performance in the virtual school, district officials also noted that the current test positivity rate for students with coronavirus is extremely low, less than half a percent. , Whitbeck said.

And, as district leaders plan to return to in-person classes next semester, the data modification or the new omicron variant could alter those plans, Whitbeck said.

If that happens, the district will be prepared, Whitbeck said.

“We know how to handle it, that’s what we do,” she said. “We will be ready if we have to go back to virtual as a last resort. But the differences are huge.

FBISD has invested millions as part of the pandemic purchasing software and technology to help students learn at home and can use them again if needed, she said.

Other challenges

The district also faces financial problems as long as the student body remains lower than expected due to the pandemic, Whitbeck said.

About 77,500 students are enrolled in FBISD, and about 750 were enrolled virtually, she said.

FBISD enrollment this year was more than 2,000 students lower than forecast, but enrollment has increased in recent weeks, Whitbeck said.

“Some have decided to go the homeschool route,” Whitbeck said. “But I think we’re recovering a lot. Remember that preschool is not compulsory.

In Texas, the funding of a school district depends largely on the number of students who attend classes in person. The state typically calculates how much a district receives per student based on class attendance – a measure state leaders temporarily removed earlier in the pandemic.

The FBISD is expected to be able to overcome the $ 18 million budget deficit due to the short-term drop in attendance, Whitbeck said.

But if the problem persists, it could lead to tough decisions in the district, she said.

“If enrollment is down in some schools, are you cutting classes and moving teachers? Whitbeck asked. “It’s confusing, but we’ll have to look at this on a case-by-case basis. “

So far, the district has refrained from taking cost-cutting measures like this, she said.

Hopes for the future

In order for FBISD to remain competitive in the future, the district needs to maintain high teacher pay to recruit high quality candidates, she said.

The average salary for beginning teachers is around $ 58,000, she said.

Like many districts in the state, FBISD has around 120 vacant teaching positions, mostly in areas where it is difficult to fill positions, such as some foreign language and higher-level math courses, he said. she declared.

“The pandemic has changed people’s attitudes towards work,” she said. “You’ve seen a lot of people take early retirement and decide the risk is not worth their health. We must therefore train teachers and maintain competitive salaries. “


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