A chance to increase flexibility and opportunities to meet students’ needs is now a reality. The Board approved a District of Innovation (DoI) plan during its regular meeting held May 16.
The DoI plan exempts Aldine ISD from six laws under the Texas Education Code:
The DoI process began in August 2016 when the Cabinet presented the DoI guidelines and examples of other districts’ DoI plans. This was also shared at the Steering Committee and Parent Advisory Committee meetings in September. In October, the Board adopted a resolution to pursue the DoI designation. After holding a public hearing to hear input and concerns about becoming a DoI, the Board appointed a DoI Committee in November. The Committee met and worked on the DoI plan before presenting a plan to Superintendent Dr. Wanda Bamberg in early March 2017. The public got a chance to review and comment on the plan, which was posted on the District website for 30 days. Dr. Bamberg notified the commissioner of education in March of AISD’s intent to adopt a DoI plan. The Aldine Vertical Educational Advisory Committee (VEAC) reviewed and discussed the plan in its April and May meetings. Principals, teachers, parents and business leaders comprise the VEAC. At the May meeting, the majority of VEAC members approved the plan. It was then presented to the Board for Trustees to vote.
The District is now working to draft local policies for each of its exempted areas. The changes will take effect in the upcoming school year. With the Board’s approval, Superintendent Dr. Wanda Bamberg notified the Commissioner of Education that Aldine is now a DoI. The District will conduct annual reviews of the plan, which will be in effect for five years. TEA will monitor long-term results. In addition, the District must remain in good academic standing.
“District of Innovation plan allows us to offer more opportunities for students,” Board President Viola M. García said. “We are currently developing our strategic plan. Once it is complete, it will be the guide to implement the District of Innovation plan. I am grateful to everyone involved. Their efforts ensured the plan serves all students.”
The Texas Legislature created the DoI program in House Bill 1842 during its 84th session in May 2015. The provision allows school districts to gain local control in certain areas. It gives districts more freedom to create thoughtful, purposeful policy for its students.
“This expands the District’s ability to offer opportunities,” said Dr. Wanda Bamberg, superintendent of schools. “It will further the quality of teaching and learning that takes place. As we move ahead, we look forward to collaborating and solidifying the plan to benefit our students.”
The DoI Committee established a framework of innovative strategies that support the plan and directly impact initiatives to prepare students for college and career.
The innovations fell into two categories: flexible instructional schedules and teacher capacity.
Below are the six exemptions the District sought from the state. The first four fall under flexible instructional schedule, while the latter two deal with teacher capacity.
Class Size Waiver for Grades K-4
Aldine ISD supports the concept of appropriate class size instruction. The District will continue to recruit the number of teachers needed to meet the 22:1 requirement. However, AISD’s DoI plan does include exemption from the class-size limit.
Under the class size exemption, Aldine ISD has the flexibility to drop the required waiver process. Instead, the District can create its own system of Board oversight. This allows schools to keep classrooms (K-4) at or above the ratio. It also provides flexibility for schools to make site-based decisions.
For example, it could be in the best interest of students in a grade level with a 23:1 ratio to keep students with their teacher of record instead of hiring a new teacher in the middle of the school year. In some schools, students frequently transfer in and out, which could cause several shifts in enrollment and create disruptions for kids.
“Our trained teachers already use flexible grouping and small group instruction,” said Carlos Barrón, executive director of curriculum and instruction. “Groupings allow teachers to differentiate and meet students‘ needs. Principals will also consider other factors. They can look at the makeup and chemistry of the classroom. The goal will be to ensure the learning environment is positive and in the best interest of the students.”
Traditionally, public school districts cannot begin before the fourth Monday in August. The exemption allows AISD to start the school year earlier in August.
This will help balance days between the first and second semesters of school. More balanced semesters will give teachers a supportive climate to pace instruction. It will also give more adequate time for students who take a course in either the fall or spring semester.
The District can now align the school year calendar with surrounding districts. The District can also align with the calendar from surrounding colleges. This will enable students to take dual credit courses as well as summer college courses. It would even help staff members seeking to take college courses.
Aldine ISD has a partnership with YES Prep. The two educational entities share buildings at Hoffman Middle School and Eisenhower High School. This flexibility will permit the District to have the same calendar as YES Prep. This will reduce calendar confusion as well as streamline operational logistics such as transportation and other services.
Minimum Attendance for Class Credit of Final Grade
The District seeks to inspire students. One way is to remove obstacles preventing them from pursuing non-traditional opportunities. Currently, the state law mandates that a child cannot receive a final grade unless present in the classroom. The student must be present for at least 90 percent of class days. Requiring seat time when there are other avenues for instruction can fail to meet the needs of all students. The rule forces students into a one-size-fits-all approach to instruction. This is not practical in such a diverse school district.
The flexibility better meets students’ needs when it comes to course completion versus attendance or seat time. Some students must work to support their families; others might be raising children. Others have extracurricular and academic activities. And there are students with extenuating circumstances or legitimate conflicting schedules. There are a myriad of reasons why a student may be unable to attend class in a traditional setting.
The Aldine DoI Committee envisions assisting students through individualized instruction. The District can also design or expand the current online course offerings. Student can achieve mastery, without penalizing them academically.
“The flexibility in promoting student engagement and course material benefits students. It allows learning to happen anytime and anyplace. Learning can happen outside of the traditional brick and mortar classroom.
“This gives students more opportunities to earn and recover credits. District leaders believe this will also reduce dropout rates and increase graduation rates.”
Minimum Minutes of Instruction
Aldine ISD will continue to plan for a complete school year equaling the state required 75,600 minutes. This is roughly about 420 minutes per day. Yet, by removing the requirement, the District has the flexibility to alter the school day. This includes providing an environment of professional learning and support.
Attaining the District’s goal of student success means providing high-quality professional development. Effective teachers inspire learning. Studies show effective training occurs over time and is ongoing.
The flexibility allows AISD to include three (3) extra days for teacher professional development in the calendar. Professional development and collaboration ensures teachers are meeting students’ needs and are using best practices for learning to take place.
Teacher Appraisal System
AISD believes it must maintain flexibility in determining teacher performance. Measurements include goal setting, observations, and student growth progress toward learning objectives. Aldine ISD can also use other formative assessments. The flexibility allows the District to continue using INVEST. This is a locally developed teacher appraisal system.
Teachers and administrators helped develop INVEST, which was implemented in 2013. The main goal is to improve the quality of instruction for all students.
Aldine ISD believes this issue to be a local decision as opposed to a state mandate.
Teacher Certification for CTE
Aldine ISD strives to recruit, develop and retain effective teachers. There are some areas that are harder to fill. This is especially a concern in career and technical education (CTE) where it is difficult to find qualified staff. The CTE program is also facing a teacher shortage across the nation. This is a problem as the District moves to expand the program. The District also seeks to provide specialized experts and craftsmen at the new CTE High School.
The DoI Design Committee during discussions recognized that there are many pathways to becoming a qualified, effective teacher. Yet, the current law inhibits the District’s ability to consider any and all professional qualifications.
The flexibility allows the District to recruit skilled, qualified professionals for certain CTE areas. Aldine ISD will be able to hire professionals not certified teachers. The District will be able to do this without seeking approval from TEA.
The flexibility gives AISD the ability to capitalize on the many qualified business and industry professionals in the community. These individuals often hold many certifications in their areas of expertise. These experts will bring authentic, real-world field and industry knowledge and skills to the position. This will provide students with unparalleled learning experiences.
“The District of Innovation plan comes at a very opportune time,” said Bamberg. “We are currently implementing the 2015 Bond Referendum. We are moving forward with new buildings, renovations, technology, new campuses and reconfiguration.
“As we plan for the future, we now have possibilities that we didn‘t have in the past. This translates to greater freedom. A greater freedom to design plans and programs. We seek to prepare students for college and career.”
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