Leaders from far-flung school districts share lessons learned during coronavirus pandemic

As educators and school districts prepare for the 2021-2022 school year, Harris County Department of Education’s Center for Safe and Secure Schools held its second “Chat with the Chiefs” event. Leaders from four outlying Harris County school districts participated in the virtual discussion panel to discuss how to move schools forward safely after a year of teaching during a global pandemic.

The hourlong roundtable featured Bennie Mayes, Secondary Chief of Schools for Waller ISD; Hector Herrera, Assistant Superintendent of Support Services for Dayton ISD; Steve Corry, Assistant Superintendent for Administration at Deer Park ISD; and Robert Cobb, Assistant Superintendent for Administration at Dickinson ISD.

Image of Janice Owolabi leads school leaders participating in the April 7, 2021, virtual "Chat with the Chiefs" discussion.

“The benefit of bringing school leaders from different districts is that they can share their lived experiences,” said Janice Owolabi from the CSSS. “All school districts are under the same coronavirus restrictions, but each school district has responded differently to them. The leaders who participated in this discussion panel represent districts in the outer rim of Harris County. They often don’t get a lot of support and have to pull magic tricks out of their hat to cover a lot of territory – they make it happen. They don’t have a big staff like Cy-Fair, Katy, or Houston ISD. It was important to us to have these school districts share their perspectives on what it’s been like for them so others can learn from it, but also so that HCDE can find where we can add value and give them the support they need to help them build a safe school environment.”

Fifty-seven attendees from local nonprofits, Region 4, and public, private and charter schools listened as the four school leaders discussed the challenges that arose at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the lessons learned in the year after, and what they will do to keep students and staff safe next year.

“As we look back, we learned how to be flexible and how to listen,” said Cobb. “[Before the pandemic], we were very focused on physical safety – things that we could see and things that we had seen before – and what we were dealing with [last March] were things that we could not see and had not really experienced before.”

Panelists expressed that not making assumptions and building trust in their relationships with parents, students, and staff was crucial.

“As a district, we felt it was important not to let anyone make assumptions about what protocols they had to follow or what their obligations were.” Said Mayes. “We didn’t want to have any major issues because of poor communication; we wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page. We didn’t want to make assumptions that they knew what they had to do.”

The most important consideration that school leaders expressed is their desire for students and staff to feel safe upon returning to campus.

For more information about HCDE's Center for Safe and Secure Schools, check out their main page: https://www.hcde-texas.org/safe-secure-schools