Teachers union questions Districts of Innovation, and other highlights from Fort Bend ISD this week

Klein ISD is a DOI, and Spring ISD is working on the process. Districts must complete several steps before the plan is approved.

Klein ISD is a DOI, and Spring ISD is working on the process. Districts must complete several steps before the plan is approved.

Fort Bend ISD moved forward with its plans to become a District of Innovation and progressed with new bond projects this week. Here are some primary points from Monday’s board of trustees meeting.

1. District of Innovation local committee formed

As part of its quest to become a District of Innovation, FBISD approved the creation of a local committee to draft an innovation plan. Districts of Innovation are permitted exemptions to certain state education mandates and have a greater degree of local control over their schools.

Before the board vote, trustees held a public hearing on FBISD’s intentions to become an innovation district. Residents spoke about the move, including Karrie Washenfelder, president of the Fort Bend Employee Federation teachers union, which voiced concerns about teachers potentially losing certain employee rights.

“What we’re asking is that you keep all of these solid safeguards in place,” Washenfelder said. “Don’t tinker with the basics.”

FBISD trustee Jim Rice and board president Kristin Tassin said it was possible that a repeal of the District of Innovation law could be on the legislative agenda this coming session. Rice said he thinks the option gives charter schools less of a competitive edge over public schools in Texas.

“If we wind up with a District of Innovation, it will be after considerable input from the people who are selected to serve on this committee,” Rice said.

2. Christa McAuliffe Middle School intervention plan presented

FBISD Chief Academic Officer Phyllis Hill said Christa McAuliffe made strides in the 2015-16 school year and was not labeled “improvement required” by the Texas Education Agency, compared with the previous year.

“Christa McAuliffe is even more diverse in many ways than our school district,” she said. “And because of that the challenge of such a school is somewhat unique, and the improvements and the progress that they make are to be more acknowledged."

The school had been required to participate in the Texas Accountability Intervention System, wherein a struggling school must collect student achievement and demographic data and identify factors contributing to low student performance.

Hill said CMMS has a higher percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunches—82 percent compared to the district average of 58.8 percent— and that its economically disadvantaged and special education students often overlap.

Hill said a contributing factor to low performance was that the school’s teachers lacked sufficient strategies and resources to teach special education and limited English proficient students.

3. New CTE, agriculture barn named

FBISD announced it would name two new district facilities the Bonnie Beard Agricultural Center and the James Reese Career and Technical Center. Both projects are being designed.

Beard has taught agriculture in the school district for 39 years at Dulles High School, and the board said she is respected throughout the state for her work.

“I think she probably knows every [agriculture] teacher in the state of Texas,” trustee Jason Burdine said.

Reese worked as a math teacher in FBISD and was the school district’s first director of vocational-technical education, or what is now called career and technical education, Deputy Superintendent Christie Whitbeck said.

Reese died in 2009. Trustee Dave Rosenthal said Reese advocated for career and technical education as a viable alternative to a four-year university after high school.