District of Innovation Plan progressing despite mixed reaction

Despite mixed reaction from the public, Hays CISD late last month moved several steps closer toward approving its proposed District of Innovation (DOI) plan.

On Nov. 27, the Hays CISD District Leadership Team approved the proposed DOI plan, which now places it up for a possible final vote from school board trustees in mid-December.

Two of the primary changes outlined in the proposed plan, which was finalized by the DLT, include adjusting the district’s academic calendar and hiring Career and Technology Education (CTE) instructors without traditional certification.

Districts have sought to become a DOI after Gov. Greg Abbot signed Texas House Bill (HB) 1842 in 2015. According to the Texas Education Agency’s website, districts can obtain DOI status if they meet certain performance requirements and follow the necessary procedures for adoption per rules in HB 1842. That includes coming up with a DOI plan approved by district leaders.

Districts that have the DOI designation are allowed to be exempt from certain sections of the Texas Education Code for a period of five years. That includes possibly altering semester start dates and class size ratios. Dripping Springs ISD is currently the only district in Hays County that is a DOI.

However, confusion still surrounds the plan as some teachers and parents feel it is unclear what else can or will be added later. Hays CISD’s DOI initiative has also struck a nerve with some district stakeholders, while exciting others with its possibilities.

“I do not like the idea because then the district can decide not to put a limit on classroom size,” one teacher wrote.

Another educator was concerned the district could add more tests to the curriculum. That fear stemmed from a comment from the district that “students will be evaluated to address the needs of each individual student.

“While becoming a District of Innovation can be beneficial and should be considered, I’m concerned what the district will actually do once the request has been approved,” said the educator.

Superintendent Eric Wright, who is a major proponent of the initiative, said he aims to adjust the start and end dates of each semester to better suit the needs of students participating in college-level courses, internships and work-related opportunities.

Wright made no mention of changing classroom size or adding tests, both of which have occurred in other participating DOI districts.

Sharrah Pharr, HCISD federal program director, said the district and the superintendent will not be able to use the status as a means to increase classroom size nor frequency of testing. Pharr said district officials are not interested in doing either anyway.

“No, we cannot change class size as one of the components,” Pharr said. “We’re not selecting changes in assessments. There’s a list of things a district can choose however, we’re not choosing any of those. The plan is pretty simple. Most people will say they are concerned about it, but that is for things that our district will not be pursuing.”

The two proposed changes in the current DOI Plan came as the result of a group of 41 teachers and parents, who decided on only changing school start dates and CTE teacher requirements. Hays CISD officials said any requested changes to the DOI plan prior to board approval would require the document to go back to the DLT, thus restarting the voting process.

According to Wright, these two changes may seem minor, but could leave a lasting impact on students once they graduate. The ability to take college credit classes saves students thousands of tuition dollars should they pursue higher education. Currently, students are completing finals when surrounding universities are starting summer classes, Wright said.

Students enrolled in CTE courses take classes that teach them technical skills such as cosmetology and automotive technology.

Wright and the committee want to be able to hire non-traditional teachers who are certified and experienced in their fields, but may not be teacher-certified, a change that still leaves some uneasy.

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