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Somerset ISD's skill at educating students during pandemic draws national attention

Somerset Elementary School (SBG photo).
Somerset Elementary School (SBG photo).
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SAN ANTONIO - Somerset Independent School District is drawing national attention for closing the learning gap that so many students have suffered through during the past couple of years.

It's one of only three school districts recognized for its performance by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching. That's just a few months after Somerset was cited for being among fewer than 10 districts in Texas that increased student achievement during Covid.

"Ultimately we want 100 percent of our students to master their objectives each and every day," says Mario Goff, the district's instructional coordinator. "It's always that goal with the end in mind. Our teachers know that end in mind is our students success."

Somerset's three core strategies include:

  • Strengthening classroom instruction by engaging teachers.
  • Using high-quality instructional materials to train teachers.
  • Intervening with students who are most in need to minimize their time out of the classroom.

Saul Hinojosa, Somerset's superintendent, says teachers are the key to the district's success, something it gleaned after partnering with NIET to help develop and implement its strategy.

"That's been really pivotal to our success, to really focus on teacher development," he says. "Our teachers know all the learning gaps. They focus on every student's need."

He also cited early Covid testing from Community Labs nearly two years ago.

"Early on we did partner with Community Labs, which allowed us to test all our students and staff on a weekly basis," he says," which built confidence in our community for parents to send their kids to school. We winded up with 87 percent of our students in class. That was significant."

Somerset did more than just close the learning gap during Covid. It actually accelerated student learning.

"It wasn't easy at all," Goff says. "Everything that we knew got turned upside down when Covid hit."

Somerset was recently honored as one of just nine districts in the state for outstanding academic achievement during the pandemic, out-performing the region and state in math and other subjects by a large percentage.

"It all has to do with that up front planning from the get-go," Goff says. "Covid was there, but our number 1 priority was instruction."

Schools nationwide are struggling with how to overcome learning loss while also engaging students.

Somerset has about 4,000 students, with 88 percent considered economically disadvantaged.

"They come from low social economic background, but it just goes to show you that if somebody takes the initiative, and cares for students, kids can do some amazing things," Hinojosa says.

The other districts cited by the Institute for closing the learning gap are in Arkansas and Louisiana.

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