Waldrip speaks on start of 2020-2021 school year

An exclusive interview with Frisco ISD Superintendent Dr. Michael Waldrip


Trisha Dasgupta

Speaking on COVID-19 mitigation protocols and the general state of the district, Wingspan sits down with superintendent Dr. Mike Waldrip to discuss the start of the new school year.

Starting off his fourth year leading Frisco ISD, superintendent Dr. Mike Waldrip has led thousands of faculty and students through the COVID-19 pandemic. Wingspan sat down to talk to Waldrip in an exclusive interview on navigating re-opening schools during the pandemic and the general state of the district.

Wingspan: Where do you think Frisco ISD is as a district?

Waldrip: “I think we are in really good shape. We’ve been working for months to prepare for this. Obviously in the spring it was a reaction situation. It was more of an emergency kind of temporary response, what we did in the spring. Since May, we’ve been planning in great detail how we would conduct school in the fall. How we would conduct it both virtually and in person. Lots and lots and lots of people have worked months on this. So I think we’re in great shape. We’ve had a few little issues with virtual learning. But overall, it’s gone really well and we’re ready for those students that want to come back in person. We’ve done a lot of prep time; spent a lot of time preparing for that. So I think we’re ready to go. I think we’re in good shape.”

I think we are in really good shape. We’ve been working for months to prepare for this,”

— FISD Superintendent Dr. Michael Waltrip

Wingspan: Finish this sentence for me, FISD is ________

Waldrip: “A great school district that has awesome opportunities for their students.”

Wingspan: What’s the process been like to get students back in campus?

Waldrip: “We started in May revamping our curriculum. We had to rewrite the curriculum because it is so different teaching a virtual environment than it is teaching in person and then we’ve also had a lot of different people working on all the disease protocols and disease mitigation protocols that we’ve implemented at the campus. And then we have, you know, worked to prepare our campuses to receive students and teachers and to create an environment where they can do that safely. So there have been just a lot of different groups of people working on specific aspects of what it would take to bring students back to campus and what it would take to continue to teach students virtually and there’s so many parts and pieces to that. And, just we think we had vetted everything then someone else would recognize that there was another area that we needed to address or something like that and so  it’s been a very busy time for everyone in the school district, you know people work seven day weeks we’ve worked for months on end people didn’t take vacations it just took a lot of time to get us where we are. And I feel like we’re in a really good place. It seems like things have gone extremely well. And so I’m very pleased with all the work we’ve done and I can’t thank the people enough that have put in the time and effort to get us where we are.”

Wingspan: The district just launched a COVID-19 tracker. When did the idea for this come up?

Waldrip:  “We started thinking about that months ago. We knew that not only would we need that information internally, people in the community would want to know what was going on at their campuses and in the district as a whole. So several months ago we started developing the idea of a COVID tracker and even a COVID dashboard, and of course it’s something that other school districts have have implemented too but it’s just a really good way for all of us to kind of keep track of what’s going on in the district and see, and it also kind of alerts us to where hotspots are, where there might be more of something going on in a different area of the district and there is another area. But we, I think, had the idea for a COVID tracker, or some kind of dashboard, several months ago.”

We knew that not only would we need that information internally, people in the community would want to know what was going on at their campuses and in the district as a whole,”

— FISD Superintendent Dr. Michael Waldrip

Wingspan: Schools will have to file a weekly report with the state on COVID cases across the district. Is the district’s tracker a way to start this process?

Waldrip: “Some of the same information is part of that state information but they also want to know some additional information. They want to know some things about attendance and some other things and, but for the most part it’s the same information they just want it in a different form and they want it a weekly report.”

Wingspan: And so right now, would you consider teachers who are going back to campus to be frontline workers in this pandemic?

Waldrip: “Yeah, I think anyone that is working with groups of people has to take certain kinds of precautions when you’re in those environments. Now, you know, different from a frontline worker in terms of people in the medical profession dealing with people that they are fairly certain they know are sick. What we’re trying to do is prevent the spread. We’re not necessarily dealing with people that are ill. Now obviously when someone does test positive for the disease we implement certain protocols to mitigate that so I guess in a way, teachers are, but not like not like medical professionals that are dealing with people that they know have the disease and are having to, treat them for their symptoms and their illness. What we’re trying to do is prevent people from spreading it, we’re not necessarily dealing with the disease and the treatment of the disease itself.”

Wingspan: How are campuses going to be communicating with each other when a case of COVID-19 is confirmed to be positive?

Waldrip: “Right now we have a COVID-19 campus protocol, and it’s on our website if you want to look at it, and it details very specifically what we will do when we encounter a positive case and how we will communicate and who gets that information. Of course, everyone has access to the dashboard, but even internally, there’s a lot of communication going on between departments and between individuals so that everybody knows on a daily basis we know if we have people that have symptoms or if we have people that have tested positive for COVID-19 so there’s a lot of information being passed around internally and then our communications department has done a tremendous amount of work on preparing the letters that go out to parents and different kinds of communication and working with the media, and all that stuff so we really got a nice coordinated effort built around that, so that everybody that needs to know that information has it, and has it in a timely fashion.”

Wingspan: Will attendance policy be the same for both virtual and in person students?

Waldrip: “It’s a little bit different for virtual students, there’s a time when they check in during the day and then there are things that virtual students have to do in terms of reporting, I guess submitting their work at different times and various things like that that we use to make sure that they’re involved and engaged in the learning. So it’s a little bit different when you’re a virtual learner, but we still gather information that lets us know that you guys are active and attentive and engaged in the learning.”

She [Dr. Nikki Mouton] is going to be our equity diversity and inclusion specialist for the district and what she will do, she will work with all different kinds of groups, including students within our district to address equity and diversity and inclusion needs and issues,”

— FSID Superintendent Dr. Michael Waldrip

Wingspan: Can the district do anything to elevate and uplift the voices and experiences of teachers and students of color, specifically black students and teachers? 

Waldrip: “I think we absolutely can. And I don’t know if you’re aware we just hired a lady. Her name is Dr. Nikki Mouton, and she is going to be our equity diversity and inclusion specialist for the district and what she will do, she will work with all different kinds of groups, including students within our district to address equity and diversity and inclusion needs and issues, so we’re really excited. Actually, today is her first day at work. She’s being taken around and introduced to everybody, so I’ll get to see her later this afternoon but we’re really excited about that position. I think that’s an area that we really have an opportunity to do a lot of really good work in.”

Wingspan: And also, with the upcoming election, does the district do anything to make voting and voter registration something accessible to students once they do turn 18?

“We’re actually required as a school district to help our seniors get registered to vote. And at each high school, there is someone or some group that promotes and reaches out to the seniors in those students turning 18 to get them to register and promote registering to vote and become an active participating voter in our political system. So yes, we do a lot of things in our high schools to get our students involved. Also, I have a superintendent’s advisory group, and last legislative session, we actually took, it’s 30 students it’s three students from every high school, we actually took that group of students down to Austin, to the legislative session, and they got to meet with some of our legislators and talk with some of our legislators. They got to sit in on a senate session and a house session while they were working and debating and discussing and passing legislation. So it’s a really cool experience for all those students, so we try to do a lot to engage our students in the political process in Frisco.”

Wingspan: How is the district working to make sure all students in Special Education Programs are getting the proper resources they need during this pandemic?

Waldrip: “You know that’s one of the areas that you know I said those different groups have been working for months, that’s another group. That’s just spent months working on how to best deliver specialized education services to our special education students and I don’t know if you’re aware. Many of our special education students we’ve already brought back to the campus, because it was really very difficult, if not impossible, for us to serve some of the needs of those students virtually. We really had to serve their needs in person, so we brought them back. When you guys all started first day of virtual instruction, that was the first day of in person instruction for a lot of our special education students. We’ve done a lot of planning in that area too.”

Wingspan: How is Emerson High School going to affect rezoning?

“Well anytime we open a school, it involves a pretty significant amount of rezoning because you’re talking about rezoning 2000 students to a high school. So there’ll be several high schools, affected. Just like there always are, some of those students will come from the various attendance zones, but we’ll redraw high school attendance boundaries and there will be a very specific attendance zone for Emerson High School and it will pull students from several of our high schools.

But I won’t talk about it in too much detail because we haven’t made final decisions. We actually have a demographer coming in to give us some final numbers so that we can make our decisions about Emerson, but it forms a nice attendance zone. And I think everybody’s going to be pleased. Obviously, when you get kids that have been at one high school for a year and then they have to change and go to another high school and finish out their high school career, there’s a little bit of trepidation, a little bit of hesitancy there. But almost always in every case after they’ve been there a year and they have the opportunity to develop their own culture and your own traditions and things like that it gets to be a really early positive experience for everybody. 

I got to do that as a high school principal. I opened Liberty High School, and we brought kids from Centennial, and initially people didn’t really want to come and the sophomores particularly had been at Centennial for a year and now they had to go to this new high school. But over the course of that year, the kids really embraced being able to develop their traditions; we got to write our school song, got all these things, got to pick the mascot and blah blah blah on and on, and it ended up being a really great experience. And I’m still in contact with a lot of those kids.

That first group of graduating seniors, I still hear from a lot of,  it was just a really neat experience. We had a special bond from that experience that a lot of other schools don’t get to experience after schools been established I mean obviously you go to high school and you embrace the culture and you become whatever that high school is and identify with it, but it was just kind of special with that initial group of students.”

Wingspan: Is there anything else you would like to talk about or say?

Waldrip: “I’m just kind of excited we’re about to get school started again, and I know it won’t be normal for anyone, but it’s just nice to engage with students again. It’s nice to talk to you. I don’t get to see students a lot. I’ve seen a whole lot of adults and some of them haven’t been very happy.

But it’s nice to see students again and get them back involved in school and we’re trying to make it as normal as possible, try to allow them to continue to be involved in events as long as they’re safe, and those kinds of things. So I’m really looking forward to what’s about to happen at the end of the week when students come back and then the following weeks as we progress through this. Even though there’s all these things going on, I think we’re still going to be able to have a really cool year for all you guys, and we’re gonna try and make it as special as we can for all of you.”