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BY DR. ALLEN MOSS, SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT

It is unbelievable that we are now only days away from the start of school.  Are we excited? Absolutely. Will the year start like what we envisioned back in April and May? Probably not. 

We are faced with another COVID surge here in Texas County. Some of our close neighbors and friends have struggled with this virus and some seriously. 

However, it is imperative that we have our kids in school for learning and social growth. 

COVID: As we draw closer to the start of school, we will continue  having regular discussions with the Texas County Health Department and local medical officials. We will begin a full five day a week of school for all students. We will strongly recommend masking. If our number of positives and quarantines reach a threshold of 9 percent we will look to move toward requiring masks for at least grades 6-12 until we get back below that threshold. If the numbers get too high it puts an enormous strain on staff to keep up with seated and quarantined students. This also makes it more difficult for students to keep up.

We will follow our health department protocol on quarantines. What we do not want is to have a school shutdown. We want all of our kids here every day. Our Work-In Progress “Proposed Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan”(SRCSP) is on our website. This will be changing as we near the start of school so please keep up with any new information. The Houston School District also plans to follow the current federal mandate requiring all bus riders to be masked to start the year. 

Currently, quarantine guidelines include:

  1. Exposure within 3 feet for more than 15 minutes to someone who tests positive.
  2. If both parties are masked, then the person would not have to be quarantined
  3. If a person has been vaccinated and is showing no symptoms they would not have to be quarantined. 
  4. Quarantine times remain similar to when the 2020-2021 school year ended. If a student shows no symptoms and clears a test afterward on day 5, 6 or 7  they can return from quarantine on day 8 while wearing a mask until the normal quarantine days are up.  We have ordered new tests to be administered by the Texas County Health Department specifically for Houston students and staff for free. Those are ready to go.

Certainly these guidelines can change at any time. For vaccination the only vaccine cleared for students age 12-18 is the Pfizer vaccine. While we will not mandate or push anyone to receive the vaccine, we do want to make you aware of opportunities and locations where the vaccine can be obtained. Currently the Pfizer vaccine is available at Forbes(Walgreens) Pharmacy in Houston. There are also locations in Rolla, Willow Springs and West Plains where the Pfizer vaccine is available should you choose to do that. Texas County Memorial Hospital will also be on hand at open house night with the Pfizer vaccine for students age 12 and up with parent presence and permission. 

Water Fountains: We will begin the year with our drinking fountains turned off again. Each station has a water bottle filling station available. Please send a water bottle with your student for refilling. We will have some reusable bottles available when needed and are in the process of ordering one for each student, but will not hand out disposable bottles like we finished up in the spring. We will monitor virus status through the year to determine when we might open up the drinking fountains. 

The Houston School will continue to provide regular cleaning and sanitizing of buildings, particularly heavily used areas. Hand sanitizer will be located in each room as well as in high traffic common areas.

The interior of the Houston School District’s new high school gymnasium is now all but finished, as numerous fixtures are in place, including bleachers, basketball goals, sound system speakers, a scoreboard and more. Credit: DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

New Opportunities: There are a lot of exciting things happening for this school year at Houston. Our new gymnasium complex will be opening up around the first week or two of September. Finishing touches are occurring on the exterior ground work, the gym floor and electrical.  As we draw closer to the date of our first home volleyball game in the new gym, we will plan a ribbon-cutting ceremony for that date. 

The roofing project for the Houston School District is complete. Every roof in the district now has a new roof covering. We are expanding CTE(Career and Technical Education) offerings by increasing our health science offering from a half day to a full day. We are adding a full day welding program with morning and afternoon courses. We are also expanding our early childhood work with an increase to our ECSE(Early Childhood Special Ed) 3 year old program and moving our 4 year old preschool to 3 full day classes. 

In addition to the projects listed, additional new doors and windows will be installed. HVAC upgrades are in planning. We will be adding two new buses to the fleet in September. Other plans in the works include a new track(timing subject to grant status), shade structure for the elementary school playground, other improvements to the elementary play area, renovations to the Hiett Gymnasium and fine art classrooms in the building, as well as renovations to the middle school and gym. Those projects will be happening over the next couple of years. 

Meal Form: While the base meals are set to be free to everyone this year, it is imperative that we receive a free/reduced lunch form from every family. This is critical to several forms of funding the school receives. Those forms will be available in each building office. 

A special section appears in this week’s Houston Herald.

Open House: Open House will be held on Aug. 19. Due to the current state of our area regarding COVID, we will utilize the same procedures of last year to avoid overcrowding of our buildings right before the start of school. The 3-year-old ECSE and 4-year-old preschool will still have open house. Kindergarten will have its own transition night. Sixth and 9th grade will have its orientation meetings. CTE students in health science and welding will be able to attend at their location in the Piney River Technical Center. All students new to the district will also participate in open house. All other students will wait until the first day of school. Schedules are available online as is registration. Chromebooks will be handed out after school has begun. 

If you have any questions please contact your child’s building office. 

CSIP: We begin the school year with a new Comprehensive School Improvement Plan. Over the last several months, the CSIP committee including staff, board members and community members worked to develop goals and objectives for the Houston School District. Buildings will begin working on more detailed means to meet those objectives. 

Again it is exciting to start another school year. When we look at the news and events happening around us, we often see a lot of turmoil and uncertainty. The start of school tends to put us back in a sense of normalcy. We could all use a dose of that. 

Thank you again for trusting us with the education of your children. 

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