For educators, students and parents alike, the fall semester has been very different. Half of the way through its third year as a separate campus, CHS9 has implemented several new systems this year, such as a new advisory program and plans for a school garden. Principal Cody Koontz discusses the past semester, goals for the next one and more below.
What challenges did CHS9 face at the beginning of the school year and what has changed since then?
I wouldn’t say [the challenges have] all gone away, but we’re trying to continue to adapt and get better. I think just learning how to provide instruction simultaneously to in-person and virtual learners has been a challenge. When you’re sitting in front of someone in a classroom, the natural tendency is that they’re going to get more of your attention, even if the number of students might be actually higher for being online. There’s something about proximity that just tends to draw attention, so inadvertently, we’re not able to attune to our online learners’ needs as much. What we’ve been able to do is try to find that balance. In different subject areas, you probably have different needs, [such as] for a language acquisition class, [such as] Spanish, French or American Sign Language. So, I don’t know that we’ve cracked the code. I wish I could say that we have, but I do think with some practice and feedback from students and parents, it’s helped our teachers to find that balance between how they can best address the needs of both sets of students.
What has been the biggest success for CHS9 in this semester?
This might sound crazy, but I would say the anxiety level of our staff specifically has gone down tremendously from the beginning of the year, when they are able to better be comfortable with the way that they’re having to provide instruction. The thing about teachers that most people don’t know is that they are their own worst critics. There may be times where there’s frustrations or concerns with a student or with a parent. Oftentimes, teachers have already been hard on themselves about those [concerns]. We have a fantastic staff, and everything that they’ve known has turned on its head. Just seeing the way that they’ve adapted, and been able to kind of find, again, that balance, has been a success. The reason I focus on the teachers is because if the teachers aren’t at their best, our students aren’t going to get what they deserve as well, but I think them being in the place they are now has been a good thing because I think our students are getting the resulting impact that they need.
What are your goals for the spring semester?
The biggest thing is just to maximize the impact of our instruction. We are still looking at our students having to take the STAAR [State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness] exams. That’s not an exam that I try to put a lot of pressure on our teachers or our kids for, but it is a graduation requirement. There’s probably going to be a little bit of anxiety around that and hoping that our kids are prepared. There’ll be an intentional laser focus on that. The first semester, we knew we were gonna have to close some gaps from the spring because everybody finished the spring [semester] virtually. It’s kind of a dual focus: there’s the focus that all kids are making the appropriate academic progress in the spring to finish ninth grade where they should be and be ready for 10th grade, as well as [efforts] for those who have fallen behind.
What advice would you give to students who have been struggling to keep up with instruction?
Please just communicate with us. In the situations where we know the needs, we’re able to make some adjustments and help [the student] to still be successful. I think the ones that we’re seeing the biggest struggle are the ones that we’re not hearing from as well. What we don’t want to lose is the connection that we have. And as challenging as it is to build connections right now, any communication that we can get will open that door and allow us to continue to interact; we don’t want to lose touch with anybody. But as long as we can communicate, we will be able to find some ways to help students get back on track. So if students are struggling, I absolutely want them to communicate with their teachers first, because that’s going to be the first point of contact. I just want [students] to reach out and understand that we just want to connect with them. And as long as we can connect and continue to work together, there’s always hope.
Are there any plans for events during the spring semester like the May 2019 Cowboy Fest to promote school unity?
We don’t have anything detailed yet, but we have started the conversations because we want to do something. We had so much fun with Cowboy Fest. Our students and staff both seem to really have a good time. Everybody got a well deserved break and got to enjoy each other. Last year, the group [of students] didn’t get that opportunity. Obviously, it won’t look the same this year, but we’re working on it. We’re having those conversations now and trying to find ways that we can celebrate this class of students and the work and time that they put in this year.
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