In March the district’s trustees approved an innovation plan that outlined the four exemptions it would pursue as part of its DOI designation. Based on recommendations from the Innovation District Advisory Committee, the exemptions included changes to the school year calendar, allowances for non-certified teachers to teach certain courses, and adjustments to minimum attendance and daily minutes of instruction.
Fifty-five campuses across AISD have submitted innovation plans that pursue changes to the length of school day, according to data shared by the district. In South Austin, 16 schools spanning all grade levels chose to implement the minutes of instruction exemption for the 2017-18 school year.
According to a report written by the Innovation District Advisory Committee, this exemption was meant to provide more time for teachers to plan, collaborate and prepare for instruction by adjusting the length of the school day. This would reduce staff and student stress, anxiety, fatigue and absenteeism, the committee said.
Elementary schools in the Akins vertical team, which includes Casey, Kocurek and Menchaca, chose to add five minutes to the start of the school day, said Eliza Loyola, principal of Menchaca. Instead of starting at 7:45 a.m., the school day now starts at 7:40 a.m., which helps to maximize instruction time, she explained.
“Our school buses start arriving at 7:05 a.m., so we already have kids here and our staff is on contract starting at 7:30 a.m.,” she said. “Since everyone was already here it made more sense for us to consider five extra minutes on the front end.”
Time added to each school day also opened up four days for professional development, Loyola said, whereas in years past teachers were only allotted two days per school year.
“The constant conversation [among teachers] is that there is never enough time [for instructional planning],” she said. “Our teachers at the elementary level have a 45-minute planning period each day, and that is the only time they have to do any planning, returning parent phone calls, address emails and check in with the office.”
When planning for which days to cancel school, Loyola said the principals in the Akins vertical team tried to schedule professional development around holidays so parents might already be on work vacation. The team also worked with after-school providers that have agreed to stay open during professional development days.
Regardless of changes made to the length of school day, all schools will still reach the required 75,600 minutes of instruction per school year enforced by the Texas Education Agency, according to AISD.