Dickinson Independent School District students and staff do innovative things in classrooms each day. Several have been highlighted this school year with the district theme, “Innovation in Gator Nation,” including articles and videos about our new STEM Academy, anti-bullying programs, technology integration, financial literacy program and the district’s student athletic trainers.

Another way districts are being given more freedom and flexibility to be innovative is by becoming a “District of Innovation.” The Texas Legislature created this process two years ago to allow public school districts to exempt themselves from some parts of the Texas Education Code by adopting an innovation plan.

While school districts are not allowed to exempt themselves from statutes involving curriculum and graduation requirements or academic and financial accountability, they can exempt themselves from several other areas which lessen the burden on the school district.

After going through a lengthy process, the district officially became a District of Innovation with approval by the board of trustees on March 6. Later in the same meeting, the board approved the school district calendar for 2017-18, which is one of nine exemptions included in the District of Innovation Plan.

The Texas Legislature prevents school districts from starting the new school year before the fourth Monday in August, which by the 2017 calendar means the earliest start date would be Aug. 28. Starting this late makes it nearly impossible to end the first semester before the Christmas break and means the last day of school would be pushed to about the second week of June.

By claiming the school calendar as an exemption, we have the flexibility to adjust the school calendar to meet the needs of district students, parents and staff.

The first day of school for students in 2017-18 will be Aug. 22, which allows the district to end the first semester in December and finish the school year on May 25, 2018. This is the first time in many years for the district to end the year before Memorial Day.

Most of the student holidays during the year are the same as previous years. In December, students and staff will end the first semester a little later than other years on Dec. 20, but students will not return to school until Jan. 8.

Other exemptions included in the District of Innovation Plan are related to the length of the school day; teacher certification in the areas of English Language Learners, Career and Technical Education and Special Education; teacher appraisal system; contracts for teachers hired after the start of the school year; student/teacher ratios and class sizes; professional development; designation of a Campus Behavior Coordinator; and school district depositories.

The district is excited about having increased flexibility and local control to make several of these decisions, which in the past were out of our control. The district will continue to research other allowed exemptions to see if they would be a good fit to include in the District of Innovation Plan in the future.

Vicki Mims is superintendent of the Dickinson Independent School District.

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