McAllen school district stops pursuit of District of Innovation designation

    McALLEN— The McAllen school district board of trustees voted Monday to cease the process to adopt a District of Innovation designation, which provides public school districts similar flexibility as public charter schools.

    McALLEN— The McAllen school district board of trustees voted Monday to cease the process to adopt a District of Innovation designation, which provides public school districts similar flexibility as public charter schools.

    The motion came after a committee assigned to come up with recommendations regarding the designation submitted their recommendation to stop the entire process.

    “Committee reviewed survey reports and based on the results, committee is recommending that the board cease the DOI designation process and dissolve the DOI committee,” the recommendation stated.

    Based on this, administrators recommended stopping pursuit of the designation, which was then unanimously approved by the board. The committee also recommended that the district develop three school-year calendar options with a starting date of Aug. 28, 2017.

    The designation provides waivers or exemptions otherwise unavailable to public schools in areas including teacher certification, school schedule and even class-size ratios.

    Trustees and district administrators assured the public and each other that they had no interest in pursuing any change other than flexibility with the school calendar.

    According to administrators, the main idea was be to start classes about a week ahead of the current schedule in order to finish the school year one week earlier than usual.

    “One of the concerns that we hear from staff is that for students, especially at the secondary level, when they leave for break and come back in January it’s hard for them to return the information,” said Silvia Ibarra, assistant superintendent for instructional services during the Feb. 13 meeting.

    But those against the designation said there are still ways to make similar changes without opening the door to other changes that could compromise safeguards and the integrity of the district.

    “At this time Sharyland ISD, our neighboring school district, declined to become a District of Innovation,” said Sandra Herrera, vice president of the McAllen chapter of the American Foundation of Teachers, during public comments. “They successfully adjusted the school calendar so that their first semester would end prior to the Christmas break. If Sharyland can do this, why can’t McAllen ISD.”

    If the board had approved adopting the District of Innovation designation, it would have been in place for up to five years. During that time they could choose to seek other exemptions, but the exemptions would first go through the committee and the board must approve it as well, officials explained.

    According to the TEA, districts must develop an innovation plan that highlights how the exemption would aid in pursuing specific goals.

    There are about 111 school districts that have adopted a District of Innovation plan in the state and three are in the area, including Harlingen, Valley View and Los Fresnos. The Edinburg school district has also recently been looking into the adoption of the plan.

    During the Feb. 13 meeting, the McAllen school district board assigned a committee of 14 people tasked with developing calendar options.

    The committee met for the first time on Feb. 20, and decided they did not feel comfortable moving forward without feedback from stakeholders. A survey was then developed to gather said feedback.

    Results of the survey were requested by The Monitor, but haven’t been received yet.

    Some school board members had already expressed they are wary of adopting such distinction based on the feedback against the move from teachers and other district staff.

    “I did not hear from one single teacher that was in favor of it,” Trustee John Ball said last week, adding the main concerns he heard included allowing non-certified teachers and administrators to be hired.

    dperez-hernandez@themonitor.com