School district studies more flexibility

HARLINGEN — Imagination.

It’s the origin of every kind of creativity, originality, invention, innovation …

Such diversity requires some flexibility beyond the normal parameters while remaining true to essentials. The Harlingen school district may soon have that flexibility with some statutes traditionally mandated by the state.

The concept of a District of Innovation was passed into law by the 84th Texas Legislature as House Bill 1842. The law allows traditional independent school districts to have more flexibility in certain statutes. Those statutes include student discipline, the time a school day begins, teacher contracts and benefits, and teacher appraisal.

This flexibility is a significant departure from the traditional guidelines in the Texas Election Code, said Alicia Noyola, chief academic officer for the school district. Those guidelines applied to every public school district in Texas.

“Now that there is some flexibility in some of these statutes, districts will need to update their policies dependent on which statutes they are seeking exemptions from,” she said.

An example of this statute is the requirement that class size ratios in grades kindergarten-4 must not exceed 22 – 1.

Other districts throughout the state may not choose to focus on this statute. Therefore, different school district policies could be impacted in different ways.

Some of the statues and exemptions that may be explored by the Harlingen school district are teacher certification, dates for the beginning and end of the school year for Early College High School, and the class size ratios.

The district has been discussing the creation of a District of Innovation plan for two months. The Strategic Planning Committee is developing an Innovation Plan which supports the district’s strategic plan goals, Noyola said.

Once the plan has been created, it will be posted online for 30 days. A letter of intent will be submitted to the Texas education commissioner along with the plan. It must also be approved by the District Education Improvement Council. If all parties approve the plan, it will be sent to the Harlingen school board.

She anticipated the school board would vote on the plan sometime in July.

A District of Innovation plan may include exemptions from state requirements:

* Site-based decision-making processes (to the extent required by state law)

* Uniform school start date

* Minimum minutes of instruction

* Class size ratio

* The 90 percent attendance rule (but compulsory attendance still applies)

* Student discipline provisions (with some key exceptions, like the requirement to have a code of conduct and restrictions on restraint and seclusion)

* Teacher certification (except as required by federal law)

* Teacher contracts

* Teacher benefits, including state minimum salary schedule, duty-free lunch and planning periods

* Teacher appraisal system

Source: Texas Association of School Boards.