Eanes ISD seeks five exemptions in District of Innovation proposal

Eanes ISD was again recognized by Niche as a top school district.

Eanes ISD was again recognized by Niche as a top school district.

In an effort to become a District of Innovation before the end of the year, the Eanes ISD board of trustees is scheduled to adopt their local DOI plan on Dec. 13. The proposed plan will be posted on the districts website Nov. 1.

EISD initiated the process to become a DOI June 7, and formed a DOI committee June 21. Assistant Superintendent Jeff Arnett, representing the DOI committee, updated the board of trustees on the plan, which was renames the Plan For Innovation and Local Control, at a school board meeting Oct. 18.

“[Becoming a DOI] gives us the latitude to be more creative in how we might approach the programs that are currently in place and those that are presented in our strategic plan,” Arnett said. “There have been two meetings of the district leadership team as well as two meetings of the district of innovation planning committee, and with those conversations we’re about two thirds of our way through out timeline.”

EISD’s plan for innovation and local control presents five areas where exemptions to the Texas Education Code could aid the district.

Maintain reasonable class sizes in grades k-4

The TEC requires that districts maintain class sizes of 22 students or less in kindergarten through fourth grade, and a waiver must be completed if a class exceeds the number. With the exemption, EISD would continue to achieve the required student-to-teacher ratio but would be give flexibility if the ratio was exceeded during the school year, negating the need to apply for a state waiver.

“The emphasis is making sure we’re still accountable and notify parents when we feel like we need to make an exception,” Arnett said.

The district is not considering changing the recommended ratios and, in cases where the ratio is exceeded, it would be brought to the board for review, Superintendent Tom Leonard said.

Determine a flexible school starts date

Currently, the TEC does not allow schools to begin class before the fourth Monday in August. The plan states that this exemption would give EISD the flexibility to determine its start date on an annual basis, as long as class did not begin before the second Monday in August.

Find alternatives to teacher certification for distinctive subjects and programs

While the TEC requires all teachers to be properly certified, this exemption would allow EISD to use non-certified professionals or teachers from different subject areas when a certified educator is not found.

“Our intent is that this would be used on a very rare basis and we would be transparent in doing so,” Leonard said.

Arnett said this exemption would be reserved for unique programs, and the school principal must get consent from the board of trustees as well as give notice to parents if a non-certified educator would be utilized.

“There’s conversation we’re having in the district about piloting a new language emersion experience program in the district,” he said. “If by chance we find ourselves unable to find someone who is certified in a particular area, [this] would give us the flexibility to bring a candidate to the board that could deliver exceptional instruction in the area.”

Adjust instructional minutes and school day length

The TEC requires districts to provide students with 75,600 instructional minutes per year, and 420 minutes per day, of classroom learning time.

The plan states an exemption would allow the district to approach the time “more creatively,” and the flexibility could better meet individual student needs.

It also notes that time could be used to support staff members that participate in professional learning communities to improve their craft during instructional hours as well as accommodate for parent teacher conferences at the elementary level that could impact instructional minutes over a school year.

Implement a local teacher and administrator appraisal system

Instead of following a statewide evaluation system for school staff and administration, an exemption would allow the district to utilize the growth and appraisal program it already has in place. The plan states that the district’s current appraisal system is better aligned with the district’s goals.

“We’re [already] well underway with the growth and appraisal program we’ve proposed, so this simple affirms the work that is already being done,” Arnett said.
By Nicholas Cicale
Nick has been with Community Impact Newspaper since 2016, working with the Lake Travis-Westlake and Southwest Austin-Dripping Springs editions. He previously worked as a reporter in Minnesota and earned a degree from Florida State University.


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