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Rural school districts face technological challenges in first week back

‘You prepare and prepare and prepare and things still don’t go the way you exactly want them to.‘

DEVINE, Texas – Two rural school districts in Medina County are relieved the first week of school is behind them. Officials said it was what they expected, full of the unexpected no matter how much they prepared.

Devine ISD Superintendent Todd Grandjean said technology was their biggest challenge.

“We did not realize that we would be answering so many questions in terms of passwords,” he said.

Fifty-six percent of their 1,938 student population decided to do face to face learning. Some of those who chose to do remote learning were forced to share devices with other siblings in the same household because the district did not have enough computer devices for all students.

About 1,058 Chromebooks are expected by the first week of October, says Grandjean.

But he says the week was exciting, because teachers and students were eager to be in the classroom although it was a lot of work. The scenario was very different than what they faced towards the end of the school year when they went remote.

“It’s intense. New instruction, that’s what they’re facing,” Grandjean said.

Grandjean was hired as the superintendent just a few months before the pandemic hit, so he had to jump right into his new role at Devine, he says. He says they have three full-time IT staff and expect to hire another person full-time to keep up with the technology demand.

Next door at Natalia ISD Interim Superintendent Dr. Lana Collavo says waiting on back ordered hotspots and technology hiccups has been their main challenge.

“You have trouble with passwords and logging on and getting knocked off internet access during the week,” Collavo said.

The district’s roughly 1,000 students are all doing remote learning until after Labor Day, when she says about half of the student population has decided they want to do in-person learning. She says it was important to get the technology hiccups out of the way now, in case they have to do all remote learning again later down the line. With only one IT person on staff, everyone had to pitch in.

“We are learning a lot of new things,” she says. “How to use new equipment, how to use the learning management system, how to use new software, so it’s a learning process for not just the students, but for our staff as well.”

Both Collavo and Grandjean say they’re proud of how flexible and helpful the entire staff has been during this difficult transition. Parents and families have also been graceful, they add.

They encourage districts set to open in the coming weeks to be flexible and not to be tied to one plan because it likely won’t go accordingly.

“You prepare and prepare and prepare and things still don’t go the way you exactly want them to,” Collavo said.

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