San Marcos Consolidated ISD moved closer to becoming a District of Innovation after the board of trustees approved a resolution to consider the designation. Screenshot via SMCISD YouTube
SMCISD Board moves forward with process to become District of Innovation
San Marcos Consolidated ISD moved closer to becoming a District of Innovation after the board of trustees approved a resolution to consider the designation.
The resolution, which was passed unanimously during Tuesday’s regular meeting, initiates the process to become a District of Innovation.
A District of Innovation is a concept passed by the 84th Texas Legislature in House Bill 1842 which gives traditional independent school districts most of the flexibilities available to Texas’ open enrollment charter schools, according to a presentation given to the board by Andrew Fernandez, SMCISD Chief of Communications and Technology. In order for a school district to accept these flexibility, the district must adopt an innovation plan set forth by the Texas Education Code.
Exemptions given to school districts include minimum attendance for class credits or final credit; first day of instruction; teacher certification for dual credit and career and technical education instructors; designation of campus behavior coordinator; teacher and administrator appraisals; alternative group health coverage; and visits to accredited institutions of higher.
Fernandez said the district would like to explore exemptions in the “Four Cs: Calendar, certifications, course credit and college visits.”
The district would like to address the first day of instruction. With the District of Innovation designation, SMCISD would be given flexibility to start school earlier in the calendar year.
“By [Texas Education Agency], we cannot start school until the fourth Monday in August and so that keeps getting later and later,” Fernandez said. “So, if we look at the calendar for next year, we wouldn’t start school until August 28th. We are the only district in Region 13 that is not a District of Innovation. For example, Hays [CISD] started a week and a half before us this school year.”
SMCISD would also like to address teacher certification for dual credit and CTE instructors. Under current Texas Education Code the school district’s ability to hire non certified teachers to teach hard-to fill, high demand CTE/Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Mathematics courses when high quality certified teachers are not available is limited. Under the District of Innovation designation, SMCISD would be flexible to hire credentialed community college instructors or university professors in specific areas to provide students more opportunities to take dual credit courses. Additionally, the district would be provided the flexibility to hire professionals in certain trades and vocations to teach the crafts of those trades and vocations.
“We’re heavy in CTE here at San Marcos High School,” Fernandez said. “So, if we have a veterinarian who has had their own business for the last 20 years but doesn't have a teaching certification, well, we want to have the ability to hire that person to come teach them the ins and outs of being a veterinarian. So, that’s one of the explorations that we’re looking into.”
The district would also seek an exemption from the current requirement that students attend class 90% of the time to earn course credit in order to not penalize students who miss class due to extracurricular activities, academic activities or other extenuating circumstances, according to Fernandez’s presentation. This exemption wouldn’t limit or modify a teacher's right to determine a student’s final grade.
The district would also pursue additional days for students to visit institutions of higher learning, giving students three visit days during their junior year and three days during their senior year.
With the trustees’ approval, SMCISD’s District Educational Improvement Committee (DEIC) would serve as the District of Innovation (DOI) Committee. On Jan. 24, the DOI committee will develop a plan to become a District of Innovation, then the final plan will be posted on SMCISD’s website on Jan. 25 for 30 days. The district will have to welcome feedback from the community, families, students and teachers. The board would then notify the Texas Education Agency on Feb. 13 of its intention to vote on the proposed plan. The DOI/DEIC would hold a public meeting regarding its final plan where it would take a vote on the plan on Feb. 28. The trustees will then receive a presentation regarding the final plan on March 6 and then the board will take a vote to become a District of Innovation.
Following Fernandez’s presentation, Trustee Dr. Mari Salmi asked if all four of the items being explored would be accepted in the final plan, which Fernandez said would be determined by the DOI/DEIC.
Trustee Anne Halsey followed up by saying that although she’s advocated for the district to take this step toward becoming a District of Innovation, she was underwhelmed by the criteria presented.
“I hope that we can challenge y’all to think bigger about what innovation means and how we are using the potentials that are here to do some more intentional innovation that will have bigger outcomes,” Halsey said. “These seem like fine things to me, I have no problem moving the calendar back a week but that doesn’t seem to me that is going to be the driver for this sort of change that we need to see with our students in some of our schools.”
Fernandez clarified that calendar initiative wouldn’t just be focused on moving the school start date up a week or two weeks.
“What we do is we get to be more creative with the calendar itself,” Fernandez said. “For example, I think all of us in this room can attest to teachers need more planning time. And so, with the calendar option that we’ve created just to get a foundation is once a month we are adding a teacher planning day so that they can build better lessons throughout the week and they’re not doing it on a Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday. We’re giving them that time during their contract hours. That’s just one point. We definitely hear you.”
Halsey added that she would be interested in an opt-in year round school schedule for students.
“That seems to me the sort of innovative idea that this law was put into place to facilitate, and that actually can move needles and change lives in the ways that we need to change lives,” Halsey said.
Salmi asked that the district reach out to families through a survey to help provide feedback regarding the District of Innovation.
“That’s the kind of feedback that we want to get and that’s the kind of engagement we want to promote with our families within the district,” Salmi said. “So, I would ask that we use something like that in this case as well.”
Fernandez said that the district loves the 30-day period that will be given for feedback to be received.
“This is not something we want to build and we hope people like,” Fernandez said. “We want to build what is being asked from teachers, from students, from families.”
Trustee Brian Shanks asked what “gotcha” exists regarding becoming a District of Innovation.
“Why wouldn’t we do this? Is there some requirement on the school district that we have to maintain something? Yeah, what's the gotcha,” Shanks said. “Because otherwise it’s like a no-brainer.”
Fernandez said SMCISD would have to maintain an academic accountability rating of C or better.
To view the full meeting, visit https://www.smcisd.net/Page/320.