Athens Independent School District Janie Sims told the Kiwanis Tuesday about some of the achievements of the students and teachers during the current school year despite the hardships they faced because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m really proud of the kiddoes,” Sims said.
The fall 2021 term began with a surge in COVID cases in Texas and Henderson County. That has improved dramatically over the past few weeks. Sims said there were about eight cases during the first school week, which jumped to 52 the next. After hitting 56 the third week, the numbers began to decrease.
“We’ve had zero, the last two weeks,” she said. “I was told Tuesday morning we have one.”
The district has purchased an ionizer for each of the classrooms and officers that attaches itself to whatever allergens are in the air and causes them to drop, so they can be vacuumed or wiped away.
“We’ll see if that helps. We think it will,” Sims said.
Sims has more than 25 years in education, with more than 20 in Athens. She became superintendent in July 2020, but found her first year at the helm challenging due to the uncertainties brought about by the pandemic.
Sims said Athens isn’t just where her job is. She has decided to make it her permanent home.
“Any decision I make that involves the school district and involves the community is very personal to me,” she said.
Sims said that in March 2020, the COVID shutdown came and the district had to find a way to teach students at home. The graduation had to be moved outside from the gym because of COVID restrictions.
Not long after Sims became superintendent, the district was hit with a ransomware attack.
“We worked our way through that and were a little late getting started,"
Sims said. “Thanks to TVCC, our teachers got training.”
The fall of 2021 began with many students not on campus because they were given the option of having their children learn at home.
“It didn’t take us very long to find out that it wasn’t working so the board made the decision that we return to class,” she said.
Around Thanksgiving, last year, the AISD board voted to give their overworked teachers a COVID stipend.
“It’s a wonder we have any teachers left at all,” Sims said. “It’s much like the health care profession. They were so burned out. They were teaching all day long for the kids that were in front of them and they were teaching at night trying to catch those up who were at home learning remotely.”
February 2021 brought a new crisis, when the temperature plunged below zero, freezing water pipes and outages causing power problems.
“Trying to get truck loads of water in here to have school when we couldn’t get to faucets and things was an undertaking,” she said.