The 2020-21 school year starts off virtually on Monday, Aug. 17. As opposed to the 2019-20 spring semester, the 2020-21 school year will have in-depth and rigorous instruction virtually for students. CHS9 principal Cody Koontz provides his thoughts and opinions on the upcoming school year below.
What are your goals for the first day and week of school?
Our primary goal is to establish the connection and build the relationship between the kids. Their first year in high school, certainly, they didn’t imagine it would be like this, and [building relationships is] our goal every year anyways with a new group of students that comes to us. But they’re not able to come to the building right away and for some, we may not see them in person for a long time or even the year. But we’ve just been really intentional about finding ways to establish a connection and build relationships and build a community inside the classroom, the “virtual classroom,” as quickly as possible because we thrive on that anyways, it’s one of the things that our staff really believes [in]. As a school, when we opened we believed that [building relationships] was one of the more important pieces of our purposes to invest in because we just don’t get [students] for very long. So that’s definitely still a focus, that hasn’t changed.
This year, we’re providing in-depth and rigorous instruction that has come to be the norm in Coppell ISD. The root of everything we do is always going to be [that], in the first week especially, we want our kids to know who we are, we want to know who they are and we want them to know that this is a staff that loves them and they can trust to not only help them improve with their academic goals, but help them find their passions [and] where [they] fit. The most important thing we can do this week is to connect and build relationships and let them know that we care about them and that no matter what, whether they’re in person or virtual for the rest of the year, that we’re gonna take care of them.
What advice would you give to incoming freshmen who are struggling with entering high school during a pandemic?
It’s a struggle in many ways because it’s such a tough transition here, it’s so different [from] middle school. My advice would be to be just as open and honest as you can with your teachers who are working to get to know you and support you in the way you need to be supported. It is definitely not a time to try and do it all by yourself, and I would offer encouragement to all of our freshmen because the feeling, a lot of times, when you get to high school, [is] that everybody else knows what they’re doing and you’re the only one who doesn’t know where to expect or where to go or doesnt know how things work. And the reality is, all of our freshmen are in the same boat. Everybody’s in the same boat, none of us know where we’re going. My advice is to just remember that everybody’s in the same boat and our primary function, like I mentioned before, is to support our kids. Nobody’s going to laugh at you or make fun of you for anything you might be worried about, especially now, in this pandemic. Everybody has fears and they’re all valid. Nobody’s in a position to say, “Well, you shouldn’t think that way.” The best we can do is to honor and recognize that and do whatever we can to support.
What advice would you give to new teachers at CHS9?
What we’ve really told them is to rely on your teammates. One thing we’ve worked really hard to establish as a staff is the fundamental unit of our campus when it comes to staff is not the individual teacher, it’s the team. So we have organized all of our teachers into teams, we used a professional learning community’s model, and what that means ultimately, is we’re going to learn and grow together.
How is the school planning to organize events to promote school unity, such as pep rallies and the Cowboy Fest [May 2019]?
It’s a challenge because we had all of these grand plans. Last year, we didn’t do the Cowboy Fest because we shut down in March, and we had already been working on how to make it better than the year before. Each year with pep rallies, we try to make them better than before; try to connect even more with CHS. I just don’t think with the current guidelines [that] we can do a pep rally. But some things we learned in the spring were just trying to find some different ways to connect. Something new we’re doing this year is [that] we’ve kind of moved away [from doing advisory and Habitudes on Wednesday] and changed it to Friday. This year, we’re going to change it up even more, where we’ve created what we call Family Fridays, and we’ve kind of shifted the focus of that time instead of it just being a curriculum that we take everybody through. We’ve divided that into four areas and made it so that one of those is what we call
student personal development, and that’s going to be some skill-building [and] development of emotional intelligence. We will still have what we call “advisory”, where we do a grade check, a wellness check and [teach] them how to plan their week. So on that Friday, they’re going to take some time to look at the week ahead and see, “Am I struggling in this class? Well, I’m going to put it on my calendar to go to tutoring on Tuesday.” We’re also going to introduce some service learning projects during that time that each advisory period will be able to conduct as a part of a bigger project we’re doing, and then some community building. So that’s one way we’re going to try and embed it into the regular week. We’re also still talking as a team about what are some ways we can build community as a whole.
What are the guidelines CHS9 has put in place for virtual learning?
A lot of this comes straight from the TEA (Texas Education Agency). They put in place guidelines for what the school year needs to look like and a lot of it revolves around equitable access for kids. Essentially, given the global pandemic, we don’t want anybody to feel penalized for choosing to stay home and learn virtually. So what we’ve been working really hard on is creating a virtual alignment especially for after September 8, where we have some students [at CHS9] and at home. There are some things that are challenging; being in the physical building gives access to materials that are not necessarily available for individual students at home. But what we then do is that we work to design that instruction in a way that even if a student cant put their hands on those materials, they’re able to interact with and engage in any type of learning experience, whether it’s through Zoom or any other [method] that will allow them to experience the same thing. We have submitted to the TEA that we are an asynchronous model, which means that [learning] doesn’t necessarily have to happen on a set schedule, but what we’re encouraging now in the fall that we didn’t as so much in the spring is that [the learning should be] as synchronous as possible.
What has been the biggest success in planning for the school year?
You know, I don’t have teachers running out of the building right now ripping their hair out, which is a good thing. I think the biggest success is we have said from the beginning that we are a #CHS9Family, and we’ve always said that’s not just a hashtag. We want to live that out and we want our students to feel that. But one thing I can say for our staff is they have really lived [#CHS9Family] out these past two weeks. I have just been blown away by their flexibility, [and] I think we’ve all adopted this “whatever it takes” mentality because [students] matter to us and are the most important thing about what we do. It’s why we have a job. A lot of what we’re asking our teachers to do with our students the first week, we did with our teachers the first week, which was continuing to build relationships, to build community, to be open and honest and vulnerable. I think as a result, because we’ve allowed people to articulate what they’ve been dealing with, it’s lifted a burden a little bit. I’ve been really proud of our staff for their attitude and approach, because in spite of everything, they have just been awesome. I have really felt what it means to be a family and this group is united by our common purpose, and that’s to serve our kids. We know that we’ll be able to accomplish that together.
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