This year was a time of education evolution as teachers, students and administrators were forced to adapt to the onslaught of challenges brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As the world hopes for better days in the new year, the Leader-News looks at 2020’s major stories for local school districts.
The early weeks of January were like most other spring semesters for El Campo and Louise schools; students returned from Christmas break, and teachers continued preparing them for STAAR testing, which was scheduled for April.
It was not until late February that the coronavirus began to dominate Texas news headlines and eventually made its way to Wharton County. In mid March, the first Texas COVID-19-linked death was reported in nearby Matagorda County.
On March 16, El Campo ISD students were supposed to return from spring break when campuses were closed due to the pandemic.
“It’s uncharted waters,” Assistant Superintendent Dolores Trevino told ECISD trustees in March. “We’ve never had to do this.”
Louise ISD Superintendent Garth Oliver elected to close schools on March 16 after less than one-third of students attended classes.
“That, to me, is a pretty clear indication that the community really (wanted) us to do something different,” Oliver told the newspaper that week.
In the following weeks, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the cancellation of STAAR testing and Texas school districts remained closed for the rest of the semester. ECISD and LISD students continued lessons online and via take home packets.
Former ECISD superintendent Kelly Waters announced her resignation on May 4, in favor of a Vidor ISD assistant superintendent position. Waters remained with the district until June, eventually being replaced by current Superintendent Bob Callaghan.
On May 19, ECISD trustee Susan Novahitza was sworn in to replace Kevin Wied in position 7. A retired teacher and educational diagnostician of 31 years, Nohavitza ran unopposed for the position and was named a trustee in February.
Students finished the 2019-2020 semester at home in mid May. Modified graduation ceremonies were held for El Campo and Louise high school seniors on June 4 and 5, respectively. The 2020 El Campo High School Valedictorian was Ryan Williamson and the Louise High School Valedictorian was Isabel Lilie.
After the semester ended, the ECISD school board got to work finding a new district chief. After several candidates were interviewed, Callaghan was named the finalist in June and was officially hired on July 2 with a salary of $175,000 annually.
“It feels exceptional,” Callaghan told the newspaper in July. “I wanted to thank the board for their confidence and support and for the process they used hiring a new superintendent. I look forward to the direction they will give the district in the future.”
ECISD and LISD administrators prepared for months before the start of the 2020-2021 school year. School districts were expected to find a way for students to attend safely in person or remotely.
The first day of school was Aug. 19, and with the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, between one fourth and one third of students attended virtual classes at each district’s campuses.
At the end of September, LISD administrators decided, after a discussion with the school board, to end remote learning. Out of about 500 students attending LISD schools, about 25 percent were attending online before being welcomed back on Sept. 29.
“I really think it is going to be a worry off the shoulders of our teachers and our parents, who were trying to help students with remote learning,” Oliver told the newspaper in September. “It’s going to be a real positive for our kids, because they’re back in school and they’re getting the help that they need.”
ECISD trustee David Vallejo, a district alumni and parent of two current students, was sworn in on Oct. 6, replacing former trustee Rich DuBroc who resigned in September.
About one month later, three Louise locals – Chad Hajovsky, Stephen Lutringer and Ricky Wendel – were sworn in as new LISD trustees after winning spots in November’s general election. Hajovsky, Lutringer and Wendel were sworn in on Nov. 12 alongside board secretary Amanda Cox. Cox was the board incumbent up for election that won another term.
As the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year came to a close, ECISD Athletics Director Wayne Condra announced his retirement. The district is currently looking for a new head coach and hopes to fill the position by mid January.
LISD trustees spent the final month of the year considering a tax abatement and rezoning agreement for the Space City Ranch solar farm, which is planned for southeast of Louise. After listening to concerns from the community as well as details of the project, the school board unanimously rejected the agreements on Dec. 21.
With only days left before the new year, ECISD and LISD students and faculty are on Christmas break until Jan. 4 and 5, respectively.