It will take additional school days, increased teacher pay, and millions of dollars to get San Antonio Independent School District students back to where they need to be academically and emotionally, according to Superintendent Pedro Martinez’s three-year pandemic response plan.

Martinez outlined his long-term vision for addressing pandemic-related learning gaps to the school board over the past several meetings, culminating in Monday’s meeting in which Chief Financial Officer Larry Garza laid out a new employee compensation plan for the extended school year. The school board will vote on the superintendent’s plan in late June, when it adopts the 2021-22 school year budget.

But much of the superintendent’s plan relies on the state releasing at least some of the federal stimulus funds meant to help schools address learning loss and purchase personal protective equipment. Texas is one of a handful of states that has not initiated the process to release $17.9 billion in federal aid to schools.

SAISD stands to receive about $300 million from the second and third rounds of stimulus funds, according to estimates from the education advocacy nonprofit Raise Your Hand Texas (RYHT). Schools have until Sept. 30, 2024, to spend the third round of funds, which amount to about $208 million for SAISD. Martinez said he was optimistic the school district would receive about $170 million of the $208 million, once the state has taken its share.

Calling his plan “ambitious” and “progressive,” Martinez said it would require buy-in from students, families, and staff to implement each phase over the next three school years, including summer school. The plan may change each year, depending on what works and what doesn’t, Martinez said.

SAISD plans to bring back 10 percent of the student population every two weeks – to a maximum of 50 percent – as long as the positivity rate is 5 percent or lower.
SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez estimated SAISD would need to spend between $3 million and $4 million on items such as face masks, shields, and enhanced HVAC filters. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

“We’ll continue to build on it for the next three years and four summers because we believe that’s what it takes to really recover the learning loss that our children have experienced because of COVID,” he said.

SAISD plans to add 10 intersession days to the school calendar in July, five in January, and five to be held on Saturdays throughout next school year as determined by each campus, Deputy Superintendent Patti Salzmann said. Campuses do not have to use the Saturday intersession days, which are for students who need extra time in the classroom.

“These intersession dates are a place that we can ensure that we provide students with support when they need it,” she said. “We refer to that time as a jump-start. It’s a time that we’re working with our kids to give them an advantage to either continue to prepare for next year or begin reviewing some material.”

Class will be held in person for the July 19-30 intersession days. SAISD will aim to have 15 students per teacher and to offer enrichment programs, such as dual language, art, and robotics classes.

SAISD has proposed a pay raise for teachers who want to work the extra days, an increase between 19% and 39% depending on experience. The daily rate would rise to between $285.56 and $333.19, Garza said. The district also proposed a 2% raise for all full-time, permanent employees and an increased minimum pay rate of $16 per hour, up from $15 per hour.

Additionally, the district wants to recruit a cohort of teachers dedicated to providing instruction for remote learners so teachers don’t have to do both, Garza said. That also requires more funding.

The other staffing component of the response plan is to hire more licensed therapists and social workers to help students and their families with social and emotional needs. Martinez said he wants to leverage partnerships with organizations like Communities in Schools to get a licensed clinical social worker on every campus possible. Currently, SAISD has eight licensed master social workers, and the district wants to help expand that number to 20 licensed clinical social workers who can diagnose and treat mental health problems.

The final cog in the plan is providing adequate personal protective equipment and cleaning products for students and staff to feel safe. Martinez said the district recently spent more than $500,000 on Plexiglas shields as SAISD schools prepare for more students to return to in-person instruction next week. He estimated SAISD would need to spend between $3 million and $4 million on items such as face masks, shields, and enhanced HVAC filters.

“There are no shortcuts to education,” Martinez said. “This is the academic response that we have for what we expect the needs are going to be for children, especially as we are all trying to get out of” the pandemic.

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Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.