Donna school board hears learning loss plan


DONNA — School district officials here discussed Wednesday its plan to address learning loss caused by the pandemic.

Rashad Rana, assistant superintendent, helmed most of the presentation. He likened learning loss from the pandemic to learning loss traditionally seen by school districts after summer break, only on a much larger scale.

“So there is a dire need of a drastic plan that can really assist teachers, all educators,” he said. “So when the students come back, how can we catch up.”

Rana said the pandemic’s impact has been felt by districts nationally, most acutely in math. After 240 days of virtual instruction, those impacts are evident in Donna as well.

STAAR test results were an indicator of that learning loss, according to Rana.

“So we already know, just looking at the score, there’s a big learning loss,” he said.

To apportion about $75 million in federal funds meant to address learning loss, the district conducted a bilingual survey that ultimately garnered 2,367 respondents, the majority parents and district employees with just over 200 students and community members.

The top priorities voiced by those respondents was to provide instructional materials and outreach to students, to purchase cleaning and sanitization supplies, to provide HVAC and facility updates, to provide technology infrastructure and connectivity updates, and to provide online learning infrastructure that can serve students in the event of a long-term closure.

The district also established a learning loss committee which recommended teacher support, creating more time for learning and engaging parents as top priorities.

The district plans on spending about $28.3 million in federal funds to address learning loss over the next three years, with most of that money going toward those top three priorities.

High dosage tutoring meant to create more learning time and adding instructional support staff to aid teachers eat up the majority of that money, about $11 million for tutoring and $9 million for support staff.

Rana’s report included several pages detailing various initiatives meant to help students catch up.

The report drew some criticism from Trustee Fernando Castillo over not focusing enough on bilingual and ESL programs. He also voiced some skepticism over how effectively the plan would be implemented.

“And yes, your plan looks pretty in here, but we’ve got to make sure that it gets taken care of in the classroom,” he said.

Castillo also grilled Rana over connectivity and technology being a priority indicated in the survey.

“Do we have a problem, or what? I don’t love problems,” he said.

Rana said there isn’t a pressing problem on that front. He said that teachers would be relying on blended learning more on campus and that some improvements are needed there.

That reply drew more pointed criticism from Castillo, who said it should have been addressed previously.

Board President Maricela Valdez asked for monthly progress reports and stressed accountability.

“I want to know how it got implemented at the district level, at the campus level; and how is it being monitored at the campuses and how is it being monitored at central office,” she said. “That’s going to be my focus, because if we can do implementation and monitoring, that’s going to definitely decrease a lot of the gaps that we’re currently going to experience.”

Rana said those concerns would be addressed.

Watch the full board meeting below: