Guest view: Helping our children learn through the pandemic

Starting March 13, 2020, the educational world that we knew in the Hollister School District changed forever. Our Superintendent, Diego Ochoa, and our staff at both the district and site levels worked all through the weekend to get food packets and learning materials put together by each grade level so education could continue while we were locked down. Many of our students were receiving breakfast and lunch seven days a week starting March 16, 2020.

In no time at all, all of our students were getting connected to the internet through hot spots and using their district-issued Chromebooks. It did take our district some time for our staff to work through changing out old Chromebooks for new models, but our staff persevered and so did our students and parents. The time that our children spent at home with their teachers online and their parents/guardians or older siblings helping our students get through the instructional day was no easy task. 

As the weeks continued, many felt we would never see students in the classroom again. Due to the leadership and staff efforts, we were able to start a hybrid schedule and students were back at school part time. As Hollister School District board members, we knew learning was taking place. We were hearing how hard all site staff were working to make sure student needs were being met at school and district staff were doing incredible work assisting sites to help teachers, parents and students.

So how do you measure success in such an unusual school year as we have had? How do we measure growth or a job well done when we spent much of the year trying to pay our bills or worry about a loved one who became ill with Covid? Where can we find some sense of comfort that things will be OK? Our lives will be different, but will we be OK? 

We look at the small things. Hollister School District had a very high attendance rate last year. So kids were not missing school. Our students in TK-3rd grade read 406,647 books! Fifty-four percent of our eighth-graders are at grade level or above in reading going into high school. This is our usual percentage for students going to high school. So there was no learning loss in reading.

However, math is a totally different story. Our district brought in a new math program called Eureka Math that, combined with the hard work from our staff, students and parents, increased our students’ success going into high school with a grade level or above the grade level of 63%. This is totally new territory for our students in the Hollister School District. When the board members were given the data of these test scores, we immediately thought that these scores represented the hard work of our entire school community. When everyone else is moaning and groaning about learning loss, we managed to stay status quo in reading and make a huge jump in math. This represents our staff’s efforts from maintenance worker to superintendent, student to parent, teacher to board member. 

We all had one goal during this historical crisis—help our children learn. So thank you, Hollister. Everyone put children first, and the Hollister School District demonstrated what they can do with all of the support from our wonderful Hollister community.

This column was written by Hollister School District Trustees Jan Grist, Carla Torres-DeLuna, Elizabeth Martinez and Lisa Marks.