Spring and Klein ISDs are among dozens of school districts across the state looking to innovate through the state’s new District of Innovation program.
While SISD is in its first three stages of earning the DOI designation, the KISD board of trustees approved its DOI status in early February.
The program enables school districts to employ more local control, such as with greater flexibility in planning, establishing class sizes and governing a district’s own attendance policies.
House Bill 1842, passed by the state Legislature in spring 2015, gave public school districts the opportunity to become DOIs. According to the Texas Education Agency, a school district that receives DOI status can be exempt to state statutes that are already available to Texas charter schools, such as exemptions from mandatory school year start dates, class size ratios and school attendance policies.
KISD Chief Learning Officer Jenny McGown said the designation allows districts to obtain more control in various areas to make teaching and learning more effective for student needs.
“What we’re able to do through [District of Innovation] is maximize our local control by taking advantage of exemption details in the plan,” McGown said.
Since the DOI program was approved in 2015 and implemented in 2016, more than 45 school districts across the state have attained DOI designation, and more than 40 additional districts have shown interest in the program, according to the Texas Association of School Boards.
Each DOI plan is tailor-made by the school district’s boards of trustees, TEA spokesperson Lauren Callahan said.
“Every DOI plan is started at the local level, and it has to be passed by the local school board before it comes to the commissioner for notification,” Callahan said. “Every district’s needs are different. What they choose to exempt themselves from is different on a
To receive the designation, districts must complete several steps at the local level before they can notify the state of the change.
The steps include hosting a public hearing, appointing a committee to develop the DOI plan and posting the proposed plan on the district website.
After the plan has been posted for 30 days, the board of trustees can approve the final plan. The plan is effective for five years, after which it can be renewed. Regardless, Callahan said the DOI designation could be revoked if the district does not perform up to education and financial assessment standards.
Proposed innovations can also include hiring qualifications, minimum attendance for class credit and kindergarten start age. The status also allows minimum minutes of instruction.
KISD’s designation official
The KISD board approved the district’s DOI plan at the Feb. 13 board meeting, said Judy Rimato, associate superintendent for communications.
To craft the DOI plan, KISD created a committee of parents, community members and school staff. Then a formal innovation plan team studied the items in a draft plan, gathering feedback to improve the plan, McGown said.
The district posted the plan online for 30 days before approving it Feb. 13.
McGown said no changes will be made to the plan without approval from both the board of trustees and district-level decision-making committee, she said.
“We’re very intentionally working around a shared vision for the benefits of the students,” she said.
The plan includes a number of possible changes the district could make. However, the timeline for the implementation of the district’s DOI initiatives is dependent on ongoing strategic
planning, Rimato said.
“The DOI goals are not prioritized as they are all very important, but the timeline for implementation differs for each goal based on the priorities that will be identified from strategic planning currently underway,” she said.
One of the first changes that could be made is modifying the start date for the next school year.
Rimato said the district is seeking feedback from staff and community members on the 2017-18 calendar. The issue will be brought to the board of trustees for approval at the March 6 meeting, but the results of the meeting were unknown as of press time.
Some other innovations the district is pursuing include it establishing communication to stakeholders about the local criteria to qualify for a teaching certificate, Rimato said. The district will continue to seek Texas certified teachers, however, a person who lives outside of Texas could be eligible to teach a vocational skill or course through a local teaching
KISD Superintendent Bret Champion said he believes the DOI program is a critical component of student success, because it allows empowerment for educators to innovate and to think of every student as an individual with unique strengths and needs.
“We’re excited to see how the strategic planning design team, made up of stakeholders from around the district, uses the tools the board has now given us to make learning more relevant and rigorous for students,” Champion said.
As the district moves into a system that ensures every student exits with a purpose, the flexibility to find ways to make learning more personal for students is a real possibility, he said.
“We need to think about a system where students are awarded credit based on mastery, not how many minutes of instruction they receive. These tools will allow us to examine these types of practices,” Champion said.
KISD board President Bill Pilkington expressed optimism about the opportunity to be a DOI.
“We believe that the District of Innovation is one more tool that will allow the district to transform the world one student at a time,” Pilkington said.
Spring ISD plan
In SISD’s Feb. 14 board of trustees meeting, the district took steps to explore the DOI status as well.
The district approved a resolution to initiate the process of becoming a DOI and approved a local innovation committee, SISD Communications Director Karen Garrison said.
If approved, the designation will give the district more local control over how instruction and education is delivered to the students, SISD Chief of Staff Julie Hill said.
She said close to 100 exemptions to the areas of the Texas education code are available as part of the DOI
“Curriculum, instruction, budgeting, the length of the school day as well as the start of the school year can be considered for a district’s local plan,” Hill said. “We can also choose to have more flexibility with educator certifications, allowing us to be creative in hiring [Career and Technical Education] instructors and teachers.”
The innovation plan will be created similarly to KISD’s, with a local innovation committee that will develop the plan. The DOI plan will also help further the implementation of the district’s five-year strategic improvement plan Every Child 2020, which was launched in 2015, Hill said.
After the plan is developed, it will be posted online for public feedback for a total of 30 days, Spring ISD district
“We are in the second year of Every Child 2020,” Hill said. “And we anticipate that the DOI design plan will help us to further leverage our strategic plan.”
Hill said one of the key components to SISD’s DOI plan will be SISD’s calendar. A possible 2017-18 instructional calendar will be released sometime after the local DOI plan is presented to the board of trustees for consideration and adoption on April 11, Garrison said.
She said the district is working on the initial research through March 6 with a 21-member group, including school staff members, principals, parents, board members and business and community leaders.
“We pretty much believe we’ll be able to do what needs to be done in that timeframe and have a document to post and a population to take it to for the [committee],” Hill said.
One of the highlights of the DOI program is that it can be tailored to suit a community’s needs based on its own assessments, according to TEA.
The district is prioritizing several items, which include teacher development, literacy, parental involvement and the academic calendar.
She said she is receiving emails with more ideas from the community, which the committee is adding to its list.
“We’re really excited about the process,” Hill said. “We’re knee-deep in the work already and are very pleased with responses from individuals.”
Additional reporting by Jesse Mendoza