Galveston Independent School District’s board of trustees on Wednesday will consider taking the final step to receive the controversial designation known as District of Innovation.
If the board approves the recommendations put forth by a committee Wednesday, that will be the final step in a monthslong process, said Annette Scott, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the district.
State lawmakers passed House Bill 1842 in 2015, amending Chapter 12 of the Texas Education Code to create Districts of Innovation.
Proponents of the designation praise the flexibility the status conveys, but some experts and educators have voiced concern the program could have numerous unintended consequences.
The change is meant to give districts flexibility in several areas, similar to how the state treats its charter schools. Some areas include school start dates and attendance requirements, among others.
Each district, in the process of becoming a district of innovation, lists what waivers it would apply for if it received the designation.
Galveston’s District of Innovation documents request waivers for four Texas Education Code statutes.
District officials would like to waive the school start date requirement to allow for the school year to begin before the fourth week of August, Scott said.
Further waiver requests include the statute requiring districts to hire certified teachers, among others.
“It does not allow us to be exempt from federal laws,” Scott said.
Areas subject to the certification waiver include foreign language classes, such as German and French — following all requirements about bilingual and special education — and teachers hired for their industry experience, Scott said.
The changes that come with being a District of Innovation wouldn’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2018, Scott said, with most not starting until the following school year.
If the board approves the recommendations Wednesday, Galveston would join a growing number of districts across the state to receive the designation.
About 650 of the state’s 1,250 or so school districts have already adopted the status with another 24 announcing their intent to do so as of Nov. 2, said DeEtta Culbertson, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency.
Not everyone has been pleased with the growing trend.
Several Galveston County school districts that were already Districts of Innovation drew criticism for starting the school year earlier than typically allowed.
Some education experts are concerned about certification exemptions, among other issues.
“When you start talking about relaxing requirements, to me, that’s a slippery slope,” said Amber Thompson, clinical assistant professor and associate chair of the teacher education program at the University of Houston, in an earlier interview with The Daily News.
Galveston ISD would be a District of Innovation for five years, ending in 2023, if trustees approve the decision Wednesday, Scott said.
To apply to be a District of Innovation, a district must be labeled as having “met standard” in the most recently released accountability rating.
The Texas education commissioners can also terminate the plan if the district fails to meet academic or financial standards.
Districts can amend their District of Innovation plans to request further waivers if a committee approves the decision and it receives a two-thirds vote from the board of trustees, Culbertson said.