Standing out by aiming high

San Benito schools plan for innovation

SAN BENITO — Changes are in the works for San Benito students and faculty.

San Benito CISD’s Board of Trustees held a public hearing last Wednesday outlining their proposed District of Innovation (DOI) plan, which could create a few changes in the 2019-2020 school years.

What is a district of innovation plan?

According to the Texas Association of School Boards, district of innovation plans allow traditional independent school districts to gain exemption from Texas Education Code (TEC) requirements and access most flexibilities available to Texas’ open enrollment charter schools.

School districts pursue specific changes in a variety of areas, such as curriculum, instruction, governance, parent or community involvement, school calendar and budgeting.

San Benito CISD will focus on the following four areas:

District calendar

San Benito CISD’s Board of Trustees proposed an exemption on its current district calendar.

The district’s proposed exemption aims to give more flexibility on its current start date and will allow an earlier start.

According to school district officials, the proposal will benefit students by allowing the district to create a calendar with semesters that are more balanced in length.

Superintendent Dr. Nate Carman said the district’s current fall semester has 79 days and the spring semester has 94 days.

Probationary contracts for new employees

District officials are proposing an exemption on TEC’s probationary period, which states that a probationary contract may not exceed one year for a person who has been employed as a teacher in a public school for at least five of the previous eight years.

District officials are proposing an exemption that would allow for a second year on a probationary contract for teachers in this situation.

According to the district’s DOI plan, the proposed exemption will allow the district sufficient time, when needed, to determine a teacher’s effectiveness and will offer the teacher an opportunity to improve in the art and science of teaching, which will ultimately benefit students.

Class size ratio

A TEC states that kindergarten through fourth grade classes may not have a class size ratio greater than 22 to 1 without requesting a class size exemption.

The district is proposing a relief from the requirement.

According to Carman, the district’s current practice is to allow the students to enroll and then apply for an exemption.

“We allow classes to hold slightly over 22 students because we think it’s the right thing to do for families,” Carman explained. “I don’t plan on telling a family that their child cannot attend a school that they moved in across the street from just because the classes have 22 students. At the same time, it’s inefficient to add a third or fourth teacher to a grade level because we’re one or two over the 22 students.”

If the district’s proposed exemption is included in the DOI plan, the district would be able to set a class size limit.

Teacher certifications

The board of trustees is proposing an exemption that would allow the district to issue a school district teaching permit to individuals who do not hold a teaching certificate, but who the district deems qualified to teach based on a determined set of criteria, such as professional work experience, formal training and education, relevant industry licenses, certifications, registration or any combination of the three areas.

According to Carman, the proposed exemption relates to instructors of non-academic career and technical education courses.

“One of the concerns I’ve heard is that teacher certification exemption would allow teachers to teach in areas for which they are not certified,” Carman said. “While it’s true there are districts that have included that in their DOI plan, we have no desire to do so for San Benito CISD.”

Looking ahead

No DOI plan has been approved or adopted by San Benito CISD yet.

On Tuesday, Feb. 19, the board of trustees will decide on whether to appoint a committee to develop a DOI plan.

Once the committee develops a plan, which could consist of any or all of these four areas, it must be posted online for 30 days.

A public meeting with the committee must be held and the plan must receive a majority vote of the committee.

The plan must also be sent to the commissioner although there is no approval required by Texas Education Agency (TEA).

The next step of approval is to bring the finalized plan to the board at the April meeting.

The plan requires a two-thirds majority vote of the board in order to get approved.

Finally, if a plan is approved, the board of trustees will notify the commissioner, post the plan online and will send the final plan to TEA within 15 days of adoption.