Los Fresnos students back in school Monday

LOS FRESNOS — The Los Fresnos school district has been busy all summer getting everything ready for Monday, which is the start of the new school year.

Superintendent Gonzalo Salazar said he was honored to welcome back teachers this past week as the district kicked off the 2017-2018 school year.

Nearly 11,000 students attend Los Fresnos schools. The district, along with area charter and private schools, is the first in the Brownsville area to head back to school.

While other districts will follow suit soon, Los Fresnos is the first traditional school district to start by virtue of being a District of Innovation. The designation from the Texas Education Agency allows for flexibilities normally reserved for charter schools, among them an earlier start date. The earlier start streamlines college enrollment procedures for graduates, officials said.

Hundreds of teachers have attended dozens of staff development sessions in preparation for the new year. Salazar said preparations began the day after the commencement ceremony at the close of the 2016-2017 school year.

“Aside from overseeing the summer school experiences provided to our students, the Office of Academics coordinated various curriculum writing projects that integrate real-world experiences with an emphasis on technology integration,” Salazar said.

“Other projects were designed to further enhance the robust offerings available to students through Career Based Academies that offer experiences within the context of the instructional day. Our dynamic teachers do an excellent job of preparing new and relevant experiences that bring lessons to life,” he said.

Meanwhile, other preparations have been taking place behind the scenes, including waxing and resurfacing floors throughout the district, relocating three portable classrooms to accommodate projected enrollment from a new apartment complex on FM 1575, and completing a drive rehabilitation and parking lot resurfacing project at Villarreal Elementary.

Preventive maintenance on chiller plants and air-conditioning systems throughout the district also took place during the summer.

“Through their collective efforts, they are ensuring that we are providing environments that are conductive to learning,” Salazar said of the summer maintenance effort.

Salazar also said changes are in the works in the Child Nutrition Department, where a food service management company has been brought in to work alongside cafeteria managers to improve menu offerings. Through the management company, the district will have the services of an in-house chef.

“There is much excitement among our cafeteria staff about a return to an emphasis on scratch cooking,” Salazar said.

The Transportation Department also has been busy making sure all 100 vehicles in its fleet are operating at their optimum level. The department is adding nine new buses as part of its bus replacement plan.

Los Fresnos became a District of Innovation under a 2015 state law that gives traditional independent school districts many of the flexibilities available to Texas’ open enrollment charter schools. Districts decide which flexibilities suit their needs, and Los Fresnos chose start date flexibility. The earlier start date offers these advantages:

>> The semesters are balanced much better when the fall semester ends before the Christmas break.

>> Fall graduates can begin classes at their chosen colleges and universities in the spring semester if they so choose without missing any time.

>> Spring graduates finish in May, allowing them to start summer classes at their chosen colleges and universities on time.

>> The students who have not passed the first two administrations of the STAAR exam have at least three weeks to prepare for the third administration of the test, giving them a better chance to graduate and get their diploma.