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Congratulations to Our 2021 Excellence Award Winners

October 19, 2021 Melissa Cannon

Excellence awards

Workplace accidents, property damage, data breaches, and other incidents undermine your mission to educate students. The Fund’s Excellence Awards program recognizes members who implement  solutions to common risk management challenges facing schools. Winners earn $1,000 toward their risk management initiatives. Each member who earned the award this year shares the Fund’s commitment to protecting their resources.

Austin ISD: Virtual learning with Wi-Fi bus routers

In today’s wired world, where we’d no sooner leave the house without our smart phone as our wallet or purse, more than 2 million Texas households don’t have home internet. The digital divide created a lopsided playing field for students learning remotely last year. Austin ISD administration turned to its IT and transportation teams to bridge the gap.

The district was the first in the state to add Wi-Fi hotspots to its yellow fleet. Buses were strategically deployed to neighborhoods and apartment complexes where the district identified the highest need for internet access. The district also delivered laptops to all students to ensure they had the technology they needed to learn virtually.

Crandall ISD: COVID-19 Cleaning Ambassadors

COVID-19 cleaning and disinfecting protocols have stretched school resources thin. The pandemic also delivered a blow to the Texas economy, with unemployment skyrocketing to 13 percent last April. Crandall ISD’s award-winning initiative provided relief on both fronts. 

The district hired COVID-19 Cleaning Ambassadors for each campus. The team took students’ temperatures before they boarded buses and ensured social distancing was maintained during routes. When students safely arrived at school, ambassadors transitioned to cleaning and disinfecting high-touch areas and ensuring antibacterial soap dispensers were full.

Everman ISD: The Road to Zero Emissions

The diesel engines that power school buses emit toxic exhaust that harms not only the environment but also people. Exposure can trigger allergic reactions, asthma, heart attacks, and lung cancer. Children are especially at risk because their lungs are still developing.

To protect its students and community, Everman ISD took advantage of the Texas Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Program. The district used its grant to replace three diesel buses with electric buses. It also upgraded two diesel engines with engines that produce fewer emissions.

Air quality isn’t the only benefit of going green. The district’s transportation department projects the initiative will cut fuel costs by about $4,800 per year.

Katy ISD: Overcoming COVID-19

When schools began cautiously welcoming staff and students back to campus last spring, administrators knew they had to reimagine the typical school day. Katy ISD created a nine-person, cross-functional team and charged members with implementing three keys to a safe return:  

1. Testing. The district partnered with RediMD to launch its own COVID-19 center and provide free, rapid testing to staff and students. Testing allowed the district to zero in on affected classrooms and avoid closing entire campuses.  

2. Data management. The IT team built a self-reporting app for students and staff. The data provided a real-time picture of case trends and facilitated a proactive approach to managing risk.  

3. Contact tracing. The district leveraged its testing site and self-reporting app to conduct contact tracing, without relying on vendors or local authorities. Contact tracing positioned leadership respond to outbreaks quickly and insightfully. 

Lewisville ISD: Protecting Against Ransomware

This spring, cybercriminals used ransomware to hijack a Florida district’s data and threatened to post the information online if administrators didn’t come up with $40 million. While the ransom demand was eye-popping, this type of attack is increasingly common in the education sector.

Lewisville ISD takes its responsibility to protect sensitive data seriously. Consistent with long-standing best practices, the district backs up its network. Still, IT staff was concerned about backups also being encrypted. So, Lewisville ISD teamed up with a vendor to protect its data against ransomware.

The vendor’s technology solution stores a copy of the district’s data offline, where it can’t be hacked. If criminals do burrow into the network, the IT team can use the offsite copy to rebuild. Ultimately, the recovery will take hours or days instead of weeks.

If you’re a superintendent, chief financial officer, or other school leader who wants to learn how to fortify your organization’s digital defenses, save your seat for Education Cybersecurity Summit 2021.

Longview ISD : Battling COVID-19

Longview ISD is working hard to meet kids’ nutritional needs during the pandemic. Between March and July 2020 alone, staff served more than 200,000 meals to 766 addresses. When fruits and vegetables ran low, the child nutrition services team found a creative solution: They dipped into the district’s five-acre garden.

Planted as a community project four years ago, the garden produces fresh, vitamin-rich food such as tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots, blueberries, and pears. Because the food is used for student meals, the Texas Department of Agriculture shares the cost.

Longview ISD’s meal distribution plan was just one cog in a comprehensive campaign that speaks volumes about the district’s commitment to its community.

Free COVID-19 testing and vaccines are available to not only staff and students but also their families. The district outsources its custodial services, but vendor employees are welcome to be tested and vaccinated, as well. Recognizing that some parents were uncomfortable sending their children back to campus, the team also offered face-to face, asynchronous, and synchronous learning options.

Midland ISD : Knowledge is Power. Power is in All Our Hands.

The workers’ compensation system and its maze of rules and regulations can be difficult for injured employees to navigate. Midland ISD empowers its employees to access the resources they need, without wading through thick binders or information-dense websites.

The MyMISD app explains, in plain language, what employees should do if they’ve been injured at work. Employees also have convenient access to the district’s workers’ compensation packet, which includes information about the Political Subdivision Workers’ Compensation Alliance and the Optum First Fill prescription program. 

The app also allows the risk management team to quickly notify employees about COVID-19 vaccination opportunities, claim-related process changes, and other workers’ compensation updates.

By leveraging a tech-powered tool that most everyone is comfortable with – mobile phones – Midland ISD streamlined it workers’ compensation procedures. With lost time and claim costs down, the district reallocated some of its workers’ compensation budget to other programs.

From a compliance perspective, the initiative helps ensure state-mandated claim forms are submitted timely and accurately. Most importantly, Midland ISD employees feel valued and supported when they suffer workplace injuries.

Navarro College: Quarantine Housing Initiative 

Quarantining is a critical containment strategy during the pandemic, but unplugging from campus life can undermine education. And what about international students who can’t go home? Navarro College found a solution in its student apartment buildings.   

The off-campus residences are the perfect place to quarantine and attend class virtually, without missing days to travel. Meals were delivered to students’ doors three times a day. The Bulldog Life student assistance program provided over-the-counter medicine, juice, and other basics. When quarantine periods ended, students returned seamlessly to classes and campus activities.

Explore more award-winning initiatives

The Fund’s strength is built on more than 1,000 members working together to manage risk. We encourage you to explore other Excellence Award-winning initiatives and consider how you can apply them in your schools.

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