District Seeking Input for a Proposed Virtual High School

By George Slaughter

The Katy Independent School District is seeking public input about establishing a virtual high school for the upcoming school year. The district this week will send a virtual high school interest survey by email to parents of current eighth through 11th grade students to gauge interest and get feedback.

At Monday’s board of trustees meeting, Superintendent Dr. Ken Gregorski said the “firm belief” was that all students should return to in-person learning for the next school year. He said it was the best way for teachers to instruct and for students to learn.

This is not the case for elementary and junior high school students, however. Gregorski said he does not recommend either a virtual elementary or virtual junior high school, and he’d need board guidance should it decide to pursue those options.

But he added that some high school students have had success in a virtual learning environment, and if online learning is to continue the planning must begin now.

“We can’t wait until the legislature finishes,” Gregorski said.

A virtual high school would be a stand-alone operation, with its own principal, staff, and teachers who would focus exclusively on those particular classes and students. Students would not be able to participate in University Interscholastic League activities—for instance, no sports. Gregorski said an entire plan has not been mapped out, and the feedback will help the district decide how best to proceed.

Gregorski said the Katy Virtual Academy would incorporate some of the lessons learned from the Katy Virtual Academy. The district created the academy to provide virtual learning opportunities to district students during the pandemic. For the 2020-21 school year, students were given the option of attending school either face-to-face or through the academy.

Gregorski said 16 bills have been filed in the Texas Legislature that involve virtual education, and what the legislature decides to do remains to be seen.

Updates on Transportation and Storm Damage

A district official said 80 of 84 district facilities sustained damage from February’s winter storms. Estimated repair and replacement costs run between $2.6 and $2.9 million.

Building damage came from broken pipes and power outages. Damaged chillers at Cimarron Elementary School and Paetow High School were the most expensive items, together costing $814,947. Frozen and damaged HVAC coils at 22 campuses have a total repair or replacement cost of $734,689.

The update was one of two presentations given Monday. The other involved transportation issues, including GPS trackers, on-bus cameras, and the district’s partnership with Gold Star Transit.

The district began working with Gold Star Transit, which provides school bus transportation services, in 2020. The partnership came about as the district has a shortage of school bus drivers. Gold Star Transit presently provides its services to Paetow High School and several elementary schools that feed into Paetow.

Other Actions Taken

In other action Monday, the board:

  • Approved the January 2021 financial reports.
  • Extended the district’s bank depository contract.
  • Approved the March 2021 budget amendments.
  • Renewed the Texas Association of School Boards Risk Management Fund Casualty Program.
  • Approved a Missed School Day waiver.
  • Approved a “other” waiver for select campuses that engaged in asynchronous learning.
  • Approved the replacement of gym bleachers at three campuses.
  • Approved the replacement of the main gym floor at Katy High School.
  • Approved the replacement of the air-cooled chillers at Cimarron Elementary School.
  • Approved the replacement of a HVAC chiller at Paetow High School.
  • Approved the replacement of the building management control system at several campuses.
  • Approved three interlocal agreements with municipal utility districts for Bryant Elementary School.
  • Approved the plat for Elementary School #44.
  • Approved an updated contract with Region 3 Education Service Center for participation in the Purchasing Cooperative of America.
  • Approved the February 2021 meeting minutes.
  • Adopted Board Policy Update 116, which covers cybersecurity, employment, health service, and conduct policy changes.
  • Approved the campus staffing plan for the 2021-2022 school year.

The next board meeting is set for April 26.