Board approves District of Innovation committee

The Ector County Independent School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously during a special meeting Tuesday to appoint a committee to develop a plan to go for the designation of District of Innovation and delegate authority to Superintendent Tom Crowe to notify the Texas Education Commissioner of the panel’s intent to vote on the adoption of the proposed plan April 11.

The concept of a District of Innovation was passed by the 84th Texas Legislature in 2015 (HB 1842). The law allows traditional independent school districts to access most of the flexibilities available to Texas’ open enrollment charter schools. To be eligible, a school district must have an accountability rating of “met standard,” which ECISD has.

The resolution requested flexibility in four areas, although others are available:

  • The date school starts, which next fall would be Aug. 28. Under state law, districts must start no earlier than the fourth Monday in August. With the flexible start date, Crowe said school could start a week earlier.
  • A 22-to-1 class size exemption for kindergarten through fourth grade classes. The district already applies for 22-1 waivers when it needs to.
  • Certification requirements for career and technology teachers.
  •  And student performance as a factor in teacher and administrator appraisals.

The board also heard public comment from two members of the Texas State Teachers Association who thanked the board for listening and asking the right questions.

TSTA President Shari Story, a music teacher at Blackshear Elementary Magnet, said the organization had and still has serious concerns about the district of innovation designation. But teachers felt better after the meeting last week.

Bowie Middle School seventh-grade reading teacher Christopher Bartlett said districts of innovation are very new in Texas and there aren’t very many of them. Bartlett said it was comforting to know that the board would add policy language to protect the plan developed by the local committee. He added that everyone can work together, keeping the success of the students in mind, things will work out.

Trustee Doyle Woodall said he didn’t have any concerns about the current administration or board, but he doesn’t want to give any future superintendents or boards ammunition. He said he has seen some bad superintendents and bad boards before.

Story said the board’s vote was “totally expected.”

“I was sorry a little bit that more community members weren’t here because I would like them to take ownership of our schools, but I am comfortable with the committee he put together,” Story said. “I don’t know everyone, but the people I do know I’m comfortable with. We need to work really hard to get our language down and to make it tight and to be sure it can’t be misinterpreted in any way.”

“That’s my concern is being sure that it’s designed to do exactly what it says to do and no more,” Story added.

She said TSTA would fight to maintain the 22-1 ratio because she doesn’t want to have large kindergarten classes as that would not be good for students.

“While I do trust Mr. Crowe to not go overboard, we don’t know what the future holds five years from now so we want it done right the first time,” Story said.

Trustees also voted 5-0 to approve the appointment of a committee to develop a local innovation plan in accordance with a section of the Texas Education Code.

The committee will be made up of 17 people – six teachers, four administrators, five parents and two representatives from the Education Foundation.

Members include teachers Shari story, Chris Bartlett, Angela Holland, Olga Garza, Lindsey Lee, and Misty Hiner; parents are Roxanna Mitchell, Juan Mendoza, Dawn McCrary, Priscilla Aguila and Jessica Orosco; Education Foundation Director Celeste Potter, Education Foundation President-elect Jeff Woltz; Permian High School Principal James Ramage, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Roy Garcia, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Carolyn Gonzalez, and Executive Director of Elementary Education Ann McClarty.

And ECISD Director of Professional Development Brandy Ferrer will be the committee chairperson.

Crowe said he appreciated the board’s action and added that being able to hire non-certified career and technology teachers would mean bringing some skilled people in auto body or welding.

Starting a week earlier than what is mandated would allow the district to have more time before testing and allow the district to end school shortly after testing “instead of having this dead period of three weeks after you’ve finished testing until the end of the school year.”

“I I think it’s a good move. Like (Board Secretary) Dr. (Ray) Beaty said, it’s always good to look at every possibility to see what can help our kids and what can help the district,” Crowe said.