The COVID-19 pandemic forced radical changes to Fort Worth’s education system, many of which are likely to outlive the pandemic itself, Superintendent Kent Scribner said Wednesday during a panel discussion.
Scribner spoke during a conversation on the state of education hosted by the Fort Worth Chamber. The pandemic has been hugely disruptive to education, Scribner said. But not all those disruptions have been negative, he said.
When schools shut down in March 2020, the district shifted to online learning. Many of the district’s parents were essential workers, he said, so the district had to find a way to reach its students who were working at home without their parents’ supervision.
Before the pandemic, the district had already provided laptops to all of its older students, which allowed them to participate in online learning.
But many younger students didn’t have a way of connecting, he said. So the district bought thousands of internet-enabled devices and distributed them to students who needed them. Now, every student across all grades has a district-provided device, he said.
But district leaders quickly realized simply providing an internet-equipped device didn’t solve the problem if students didn’t have internet access at home, Scribner said.
“A device without wifi is like an anchor without a boat,” he said.
So the district, like many other school districts nationwide, scrambled to buy wifi hotspots to send home with students who needed them to stay engaged in remote learning during school shutdowns.
Since then, the district has invested in wifi towers to provide broadband access to students in underserved parts of the city. Four of those towers came online shortly before the beginning of the school year.
The district plans to bring eight more online in December and January, he said.
The district has also been able to use federal relief money to extend the school day and year, offering enhanced summer school and Saturday academies to help students make up ground they lost last year.
“We really feel like the pandemic has been a wake-up call,” Scribner said. “We certainly don’t want to go back to the way things have always been.”