HCISD explores District of Innovation designation

Hays CISD officials are currently exploring a designation that could potentially give the district more flexibility when it comes to certain state mandates.

While discussion on becoming a District of Innovation (DOI) is in its infancy, Hays CISD aims to become the second Hays County district to earn that title.

“We are in the very early stages of this, but we have moved from it being just an idea to actually looking at what it will take to become a district of innovation,” Tim Savoy, Hays CISD public information officer said.

Since the passage of HB 1842 in 2015, which allowed for the creation of the DOI designation, many districts have reorganized in hopes of   increasing learning with flexibility to fulfill state standards.

Dripping Springs Independent School District (DSISD) became a District of Innovation in the 2016-2017. 

Hays CISD took a closer look at what it would take to become a DOI earlier this month with the hiring of its new Superintendent Eric Wright, who had helped his previous school district, Fredericksburg ISD, achieve the designation.

According to the Texas Education Agency website, districts are eligible to become DOI “if certain performance requirements are met and the district follows certain procedures for adoption.”

The District of Innovation (DOI) designation allows districts to modify state requirements at a local level by allowing them exemption from certain sections of the Texas Education Code (TEC), such as educator certification, the first and last day of school, class size and more.

According to the TEA website, districts that receive the designation are only able to claim the exemptions allowed by state law. Exemptions do not cover district governance, curriculum, state assessment and accountability and other requirements.

And although the TEA does not have the authority to approve or reject district-made plans, “the Agency retains the authority to engage in investigative, intervention and enforcement activities if the district is not in compliance with legal requirements.”

Dale Whitaker, Dripping Springs ISD executive director of communications, said the process begins with a resolution by the school board of trustees to become a DOI.

From there, a public hearing before an Innovation Plan Committee can be created to draft a formal Innovation Plan.

“It took several months to go through those steps,” Whitaker said.

Whitaker referred to the DSISD Innovation Plan for the 2016-17 school year identifying the exemptions the district may enforce.

Some of the changes included starting school earlier in August, changing the 90 percent attendance rule and amending requirements for teacher certifications.

Whitaker said DSISD has already implemented a teacher appraisal system internally and that the beginning of the semester is scheduled to start on August 21, 2018 instead of the traditional fourth Monday in August..

DSISD Superintendant Bruce Gearing said the designation “did not necessarily lead to sweeping changes” in the district but allows them more flexibility in areas like teacher appraisals, teacher certifications and start of school dates.

“The result of the strategic plan will be students who are inspired and equipped to be lifelong learners and positive contributors to the world,” Gearing said.

Savoy said Hays CISD has been interested in the concept of becoming a DOI since its inception. The district plans to possibly take more formal steps toward becoming a DOI late this semester or in the fall.

Savoy said it’s still very early in the process that would include collaboration with parents, teachers and the community to come up with an Innovation Plan that fits the learning goals for Hays CISD students.

Savoy said there has been interest in starting school earlier than the fourth Monday of August and improving academic performance. Savoy said it could offer a chance to balance the semesters more evenly.

“The challenges of developing the plan (Innovation Plan) would be making sure everyone understands what it mean to be a district of innovation and being able to focus efforts on solving the problems we want to address,” Savoy said.

Savoy said parents and residents can expect to be able to share their opinions about what they think should be included in the innovation plan during public hearings. Residents and stakeholders will have a chance to view the final plan on the districts website before it is adopted.

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