New Lancaster ISD Superintendent Says This School Year Will Be Unique

Dr. Perera Lancaster ISD
Photo courtesy Lancaster ISD

Dr. Perera Is Ready To Lead Lancaster ISD Through Evolving Challenges

LANCASTER – The new school year at Lancaster ISD is full of change. One of those exciting changes is new Lancaster ISD superintendent Dr. A. Katrise Perera.

Perera stepped into her new role this past summer.

She was chosen from more than 30 applicants from across the country. Perera has served in both Virginia and Texas districts before she was appointed as Superintendent of the Gresham-Barlow School District in Gresham (Oregon) in 2017.

Now in Lancaster, as the new school year began last week, Perera was on hand to greet the students with optimism.

“As a leader, I can honestly say that I am optimistic, but a realist, too,” she said. “I approach everything knowing that I do not have all the answers but challenges present an opportunity to better serve our students and this community.”

Perera said the last 18 months have been a unique experience for everyone, especially educators, but she believes this year will be just as unique too.

Thinking and Acting Creatively To Adapt To Students Needs

“There are some identifiable challenges that I know we will have to grapple with including gaps in student learning, teacher recruitment and retention, instructional redesign, accelerated learning, and most importantly – mental health and trauma from COVID-19. My goal is to ensure that our district and school leaders think creatively about how we can blend the learning of virtual classrooms with the in-person learning experiences. Each one will need to have a better understanding of the critical skills each student will need. Most importantly, students will need improved problem solving skills, social emotional development, access to a variety of learning formats, and more – but it would be a shame if we didn’t seize the opportunities to transform as a result of the challenges.

In each case, it will be important for me to be intentional, focused, flexible and have a willingness to work collaboratively with my team to discover the root causes, learn from others, research solutions, and solicit input from our community.”

One of the biggest challenges in her mind is to open school during a pandemic, which most people can agree is something that leaders never thought they would be navigating.

Impressions of the first day

Perera said knowing the first day of school has a lasting impact for each student, at Lancaster ISD they literally rolled out the red carpet at each school.

“We welcomed our students back with our district’s traditional Red Carpet Welcome,” she explained. “We invited individuals from our Board of Trustees, the City of Lancaster leaders, and a variety of community leaders to participate in the grand Red Carpet Welcome. It’s always a wonderful experience when the community is on board and supports our school district. The Red Carpet Welcome is a tradition for Lancaster ISD that I am happy to continue. Our students were excited to be inside of their campuses, and parents were excited for them to be back as well. Even though our students had on their masks, you could still see the excitement on their faces. Let’s just say that parents, staff, and our students could not ‘mask’ their excitement.”

And, as the ISD continues to navigate COVID-19 the superintendent said they are intentionally carrying forward what has been learned and eliminating things that were status quo.

An Innovative Approach To Learning

“We are approaching the new school year with an innovative mindset to provide students and families with a variety of access and opportunities,” she said. “With the approval of the Lancaster Independent Board of Trustees, we sought an innovative way to address the need for more certified teachers. We are working with an education solution provider that will help us to provide our students with a certified teacher in the areas with the greatest need.

The innovative approach is that a certified teacher will live stream into a classroom on our middle school and high school campuses that do not have a permanent certified teacher for their subject. It will allow our students to receive instruction from a certified instructor while attending school in person. Additionally, a support staff member will be assigned to monitor the class and to ensure that students are in small working groups, while the students receive virtual instruction. The program is a great way to ensure our students receive the education they need innovatively.”

Reinvent, Refocus & Expand Instructional Models

Perera also said she wanted to be clear that “no digital device nor virtual teacher can replace the valuable human interaction of in-person instruction. At the same time, I know hastily returning to the ‘normalcy of K12 once upon a time – after 18-plus months of innovative practices would only benefit the adults. If we are truly in the business of serving kids – then we must embrace the opportunity to reinvent, refocus, and to expand our instructional models allowing for a renewed focus on what is truly important — the needs of each student. The normalcy of K12 education has a new normalcy – innovation.”

Even with a normal that isn’t quite normal anymore, Perera said there are many things she is looking forward to with the new school year.

“As the new superintendent in Lancaster ISD – I am most looking forward to meeting students where they are academically, identifying critical content that will allow for accelerated student learning or greater learning leaps, and leveraging the skills of our instructional staff and leaders for a greater return on instruction,” she concluded. “We are raising the expectations of our students learning – not lowering them despite the pandemic. We are designing opportunities for students to reignite their zeal for learning, to rebuild learning agency, to accelerate their learning and — to reimagine better instructional models and teacher efficacy.”