Posted Date: 02/27/2017
COMSTOCK INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT
DISTRICT OF INNOVATION PLAN
During the 84th Legislature, House Bill 1842 was passed, which created Texas Education Code chapter 12A. This law allows traditional public school districts the ability to access most of the flexibilities available to Texas’ open enrollment charter schools. To access these flexibilities, a school district must adopt an innovation plan, as set forth in Chapter 12A and Texas Education Agency rules. Upon adoption of an innovation plan, Texas’ public schools can obtain the designation of District of Innovation (“DOI”).
On December 13, 2016, the Comstock Independent School District Board of Trustees voted 7-0 to pursue strategic planning with the goal of becoming a District of Innovation. During that same meeting, the CISD Board of Trustees held a Public Hearing to consider the possible flexibilities available to the District if the District of Innovation status was approved. Additionally, the Board of Trustees, in that same meeting, voted 7-0 to appoint stakeholders to be members of the CISD District of Innovation Committee (“Committee”). This Committee was entrusted with the task of developing an Innovation Plan for the District. The members of the DOI Committee chosen by the Board were:
O.K. Wolfenbarger III – Superintendent Travis Grubbs – K- 12 Principal
Alejandro Sanchez – High School Teacher Wesley Grisham – High School Teacher
Stephanie Crane – Junior High Teacher Susan Hildreth – Junior High Teacher
Mary Dobbins – Elementary Teacher Valerie Varner – Elementary Teacher
Rita Sanchez – Special Ed Director Renee Spencer – Counselor
Scott Nebel – Parent Bruce Henderson – Parent
Melissa Proffit – Parent Janie Garza – Parent
Noel Tarango – Parent Dwayne Frykman – Community Member
Stelma McKaskle – Community Member
An informational meeting of the Committee was held on January 9, 2017. Additional meetings were held in February. On February 27, 2017, the Committee adopted the Innovation Plan to be presented to the Board of Trustees. In accordance with state law, after the adoption, the Plan will be posted on the CISD website (www.comstockisd.net) for 30 days.
Areas of flexibilities chosen by the Committee to include in the District of Innovation Plan are:
1. Start/End of the School Year
2. Length of School Day
3. Teacher Certification
4. Teacher Contract Length
5. School District Depository Contracts
6. District Level and Site Based Decision Making
7. Teacher and Principal Appraisal System
The CISD District of Innovation Plan is based on the needs of our small, isolated, and rural community and school district. Our school district encompasses 2,300 square miles and our community is 30 miles from the nearest town of any size, Del Rio. Our isolation and size present unique issues that only small districts in West Texas experience. We are a very successful school district but we understand that there are areas that need improvement.
At Comstock ISD, our mission is to provide a safe, supportive and encouraging environment to excite and challenge students through teamwork to realize their full potential. We believe that the flexibility allowed by this plan will help us to better meet the educational needs of our students and prepare them for life in the 21st century.
Comstock ISD, in conjunction with the District of Innovation Committee, proposes the following flexibilities from the Texas Education Code in order to provide the best educational opportunities for students at CISD. These innovative practices will allow CISD to better meet the needs of our students.
The duration of this plan will be five years from the date of adoption. In accordance with the relevant statutory law, CISD reserves the right to amend or rescind any or all of the Innovation Plan as necessary.
Local Innovation #1 Start Date and Ending Date of School Year
The Texas Education Code (“TEC”) Section 25.0811 states that a school district may not begin instruction before the fourth Monday of August. The TEC also states in 25.0812 that a school district may not schedule the last day of school before May 15. These requirements were based on the lobbying efforts of the business and tourism industries. These statutes do not take into account the wishes of the local school board nor more importantly, the needs of students. The current statutes create two problems for our students. The first is that the fall and the spring semester are of unequal lengths. Currently the fall semester has 80 days and the spring semester has 95 days. This imbalance of days per semester creates problems with semester final exams, STAAR/EOC preparation, and dual credit class planning.
CISD will begin the school year as early as the second Monday in August. The reasons for this innovation are that the number of days in each semester will be equal, solving the current problems of semester final exam administration, STAAR/EOC preparation, and dual credit class planning.
Additionally, CISD will also end the school year no earlier than the third week of May, once all state STAAR/EOC testing is completed. This will aid in the balancing of the semesters and allow the District to be more aligned with our dual credit class schedules.
Local Innovation #2 Length of the School Day
Currently the Texas Education Code states that a complete instructional day must contain at least 420 minutes. By providing an instructional day with 420 minutes, a district is able to provide 180 days of instruction and comply with statutory requirement of 75,600 minutes of instruction for the school year.
CISD will provide an instructional day in excess of the 420 minutes as required by law. This innovation will allow us to have fewer instructional days while still complying with mandate that an instructional year has to contain at least 75,600 minutes. This innovation will allow the district the ability to balance the school days per semester. It will also allow the ability to bank minutes for early release days and will provide greater flexibility should school need to be cancelled for excessive absenteeism due to illness. An additional positive result of increasing the length of the school day, and therefore reducing the number of days in class, is that there will be a reduction in the district’s electricity costs due to decreased lighting and air conditioning/heating use.
Local Innovation #3 Teacher Certification
1. Currently teachers are only able to teach classes in their areas of certification. Districts are able to assign one class out of a teacher’s certification area only after the district has applied for a waiver from the Texas Education Agency (TEA). TEA will either approve or deny the request under TEC Sections 21.002 and 21.003. This creates special problems for small, rural districts where correctly certified teachers may not be available.
To better serve the students of CISD, these teacher certification decisions will be handled at the local level. A teacher will still only be allowed to teach one class out of his or her certification area. The principal will submit to the Superintendent, in writing, a report identifying the educational necessity for allowing a teacher to teach this class out of the certified field, as well as the credentials that the teacher possesses that would qualify that individual to teach the class to be assigned. After this report is submitted to the Superintendent, the Superintendent will inform the Board of the request at a legally called meeting.
2. Currently a CTE/Dual Credit class can only be taught by an adequately certified CTE/Dual Credit teacher (TEC 21.003a). In a small rural district such as CISD, adequately certified CTE and Dual Credit teachers are scarce, which hinders the district’s ability to offer diverse CTE and Dual Credit classes to our students. There are, in fact, many well qualified individuals in the community that are more than able to teach CTE classes such as welding, building trades, and fine arts. There are community members that are also qualified to teach Dual Credit classes, but lack the ability to do so because of their lack of the requisite certification.
In order to increase the CTE and Dual Credit course offerings to our students, CISD will locally certify professionals with relevant experience to teach CTE and dual credit classes for one school year at a time. The students of the rural community of Comstock will be able to reap the benefits of their varied education opportunities. Dual Credit classes will be taught only by properly credentialed individuals who hold either a master’s degree or a PhD. CISD will develop the requirements for these individuals to obtain local certification. These locally-certified teachers will also be subject to district policies, including those regarding criminal background checks and the code of ethics. Final authority for these local certification decisions will rest with the Board upon receiving the recommendation of the superintendent.
3. Currently TEC Statutes 21.102 prohibits a district from offering a probationary contract for more than one year to teachers who are new to the district, but have more than 5 years of experience in the public schools over the prior 8 years. This means that a teacher with such public school experience must be offered a term contract in their second year with the district. This hinders the ability of local administration to accurately and fully assess teachers new to the district.
In many cases, it takes administration more than one year to accurately and fairly assess a teachers’ ability. CISD innovative practice will be that the teachers who were employed in public schools for at least five of the previous eight years may have their initial probationary contract period extended to a second year, at the Board’s discretion. This additional year will allow the administration the ability to fully evaluate teachers new to the District and thereby better ensure that every teacher is the high caliber of teacher needed to continue the excellence that
we expect at CISD. Final decisions concerning teacher contracts rest with the Board upon receiving recommendation of the superintendent.
Innovation #4 Teacher Contract Length
Texas Education Code Section 21.401 stipulates that a teacher employed under a 10-month contract must provide a minimum of 187 days of service. Although the Legislature has changed the length of the school year to 75,600 minutes, no provision was made to allow for any comparable change in teacher contract length and related days of service.
CISD will change the length of professional teacher contracts to 10-month contracts which commence in August and end in May of each school year. During the course of these 10 months, teachers will be expected to fulfill the 75,600 minutes of yearly instruction, and perform the services encompassed by their contract and professional capacity, including staff development days and teacher work days. As exempt employees, professional teachers may be asked to perform “other duties as assigned” and work beyond the traditional work day. This contractual and days of service innovation comes with the following stipulations:
a. The teacher contract will never exceed 187 days of service.
b. Teacher salaries will follow the CISD Salary Scale and a teacher’s salary will not be reduced from that reflected in the 2016-2017 CISD salary schedule, even if their contract days be fewer than 187.
c. Teacher contract length will be in accordance with the Board adopted calendar for a specific year.
d. Each school year, teacher contract length and days of service will be presented by administration to the Board of Trustees for final approval.
e. Adjustments to the work calendar for full-time hourly staff who are paid on an annualized basis will ensure that the annual salary for such staff are not reduced below that reflected in the 2016-2017 salary schedule, unless such staff are no longer assigned to a full-time position that is paid on an annualized basis.
This innovation will have several positive results:
a. Teachers’ daily rate will increase in the school years that the days of service are reduced.
b. This reduction in teacher contract length and days of service will be a very positive recruitment tool for prospective teachers.
c. Teacher morale and productivity will increase.
Innovation # 5 Depository Contracts
Texas Education Code Sections 45.205 and 45.206 address the depository contracts that public school districts must maintain for banking services. Currently, CISD has no banks located within district boundaries, so banking services are performed in the nearest town, Del Rio (out of district). According to
District records, CISD has been banking with the same entity since at least 1987. As required under the TEC, CISD sends RFPs to banks in Del Rio every two years. Only the District’s current depository returns the RFP. This on-going process creates additional unnecessary paperwork for our small district.
Once an RFP for banking services is sent for the 2017-2018 school year, CISD will extend the length of selected depository’s contract from two to five years. After the five-year contract has expired, if the district and the banking entity agree, there will be an additional contract extension of two years. CISD will continue to comply with all other TEC provisions regarding depository contracts.
Innovation #6 - Site Based Decision Making Committees and Student Health Advisory Councils
Texas Education Code Sections 11.251 and 28.004 mandate the creation of the Site Based Decision Making Committees (SBDM) and Student Health Advisory Councils (SHAC). In small, rural districts such as CISD, the same people are often members of both committees. At CISD, meeting the requirements of these statutes is overly burdensome, time consuming, and many times the original intents of the statutes and the committees are lost.
Comstock ISD will combine the SBDM and SHAC into one CISD Advisory Council. The purpose of the Council will be to review, analyze and respond to data regarding the district’s strengths and weaknesses. The CISD Advisory Council will also be responsible for identifying needs and proposing improvement strategies for the district. The CISD Advisory Council will have the following prerequisites and responsibilities:
a. Advisory Council members will be selected by the Board of Trustees and will reflect a broad range of stakeholders, as identified by the Board of Trustees. The superintendent and principal will be standing members of the Advisory Council.
b. Advisory Council appointments will be for two years.
c. The Advisory Council will meet at least two times per school year.
d. The Advisory Council will report its findings/decisions to the Board of Trustees.
e. The Advisory Council will be responsible for writing the Campus/District Improvement Plan.
The CISD Advisory Council will more effectively serve the district with planning and improvement strategies.
Innovation #7 Teacher/Principal Appraisal System
Texas Education Code Sections 21.252, 21.353, and 21.354 provides the District with options for teacher and principal appraisal.
The CISD Advisory Council will make recommendations to the Board of Trustees regarding the Appraisal System to be used by the District. The T-TESS and T-PESS system will be used in the 2016-2017 school year, but the Advisory Council will create a similar teacher/principal appraisal system that will contain most of the elements of the current system. The Advisory Council will then select a locally-based student growth measure to be included in the CISD Teacher/Principal Appraisal System. Final approval of the CISD Teacher/Principal Appraisal System will be the responsibility of the Board of Trustees.
The Comstock ISD District of Innovation Plan was adopted by the CISD District of Innovation Committee in a public meeting on February 27, 2017 by a vote of 11-0.