Hays CISD to hold public hearing on district of innovation designation

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The Hays CISD Board of Trustees will hold a public hearing about the possibility of becoming a district of innovation, with the intention of pursuing changes to the academic calendar. If successful, it would mean that the district’s high schools would operate with two 18-week semesters instead of the current 36-week school year. The hearing is set 6:30 p.m. Oct. 29.

“In order to do that we need more days in the fall semester,” Superintendent Eric Wright said when he presented the topic to the board, “and the only way you can do that is by becoming a district of innovation.”

The district of innovation designation was created by the Texas Legislature in 2015 as a way to give independent school districts some of the flexibility that charters schools have under state law. While becoming a district of innovation can allow for numerous exemptions to curriculum or logistics requirements, the most-used exemption is the one that allows schools to start earlier in August.

Currently, Wright said, state law dictates that classes start no earlier than the fourth Monday in August, which does not provide enough time in the academic year for two 18-week semesters.

“The rationale behind us exploring the possibility of becoming a district of innovation is strictly for an early start,” he said.

Wright enumerated several reasons why he believes the schedule he is proposing will benefit students, including that those interested in advanced classes would be able to focus on fewer at one time and that longer class periods mean that students can get more help with difficult homework while they are at school, as opposed to when they get home. 

“I’ve found in other schools that the quality increased, that our scores increased,” Wright said.

There are a number of steps that a school district must take if it wants to be designated a district of innovation, beginning with a board resolution to be followed by a public hearing, both of which are planned for the Oct. 29 meeting.

If the board decides to pursue the measure after the public hearing, a committee will be appointed; Wright suggested appointed the district’s leadership team as well as one parent per board member. He also said he would be meeting with representatives from teachers’ organizations this week.

A number of neighboring school districts have already adopted innovation plans including Austin ISD, Lockhart ISD, Bastrop ISD, Wimberley ISD and Dripping Springs ISD.

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