HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — The Houston ISD Board of Managers unanimously voted to begin the process of becoming a “District of Innovation.”
The designation could mean big changes for 200,000 students and their parents — including the possibility to extend the school year.
Becoming a District of Innovation would allow HISD to circumvent certain state laws around things such as attendance, the length of the school year, teacher certifications and contracts, and class sizes.
It’s something Superintendent Mike Miles pushed for during Thursday night’s board meeting, saying schools need 180 to 185 days of instruction to close the achievement gap. Right now, HISD is only bound to 172 days.
Other board members agreed that the school year should be extended.
“We need to have kids in the building learning, and so, our hands are bound right now to days. This opens up that flexibility for school days,” HISD Board Secretary Angela Lemond Flowers said. “So I just want to highlight that we are now the outlier in not being innovative.”
The HISD District Advisory Committee shot down the same proposal from former Superintendent Grenita Lathan in 2021, according to our partners from the Houston Chronicle.
While some in the crowd at the board meeting booed the vote, the change is not a rare move.
According to the Texas Education Agency, there are currently 965 districts with the title across the state — the overwhelming majority of traditional Texas school districts.
Before the changes begin, HISD must conduct a public hearing to consider the formal innovation plan, and decide within 30 days whether to pursue or decline the proposal. Once the plan is set, the district must post it online for 30 days and notify the TEA commissioner about their intent to adopt the plan.
The plan then needs approval from a majority of the District Advisory Committee and two-thirds of the school board before it can be implemented.
The board is scheduled to meet again next Thursday to hold a public hearing on the development of a District of Innovation plan ahead of their monthly meeting.
In addition to the District of Innovation plan, the board approved use of the state’s standard teacher evaluations — a version of the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System, known as T-TESS — for the remainder of the school year after a judge issued a temporary restraining order against a new proposed plan.
The Houston Federation of Teachers filed a lawsuit that says a new system proposed by Miles violates Texas Education Code requirements by not getting input from teachers and other stakeholders when developing the new system.
A judge ended up siding with the union and issued a temporary restraining order — putting a pause on everything until the next court hearing on Sept. 11.
The T-TESS bases 65% of a teacher’s evaluation on their performance in four domains – planning, instruction, learning environment, and professional practices and responsibilities – as well as 35% on student performance.
To evaluate student performance, HISD’s version of the T-TESS sorts teachers into six groups largely dependent upon which subjects and grades they teach. Teachers in each category will each be evaluated by student performance on different assessments, such as the STAAR test.