In a significant move, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) board managers formally endorsed a District of Innovation plan during their meeting on December 14, paving the way for an extended school year and the hiring of uncertified teachers. The plan encompasses various measures aimed at enhancing flexibility and local control within the district.
The adoption of the plan followed a mandated 30-day timeline for community members to review it online, culminating in the board’s decision during the December meeting.
Key aspects of the plan include:
- Extended School Year: The plan permits HISD to commence the school year before the fourth Monday in August, thereby allowing for an increase in instructional days. Superintendent Mike Miles emphasized the potential for up to 180 school days in the 2024-25 academic year and up to 185 days in subsequent years, compared to the current 172-day schedule.
- Uncertified Teacher Hiring: HISD will now have the flexibility to hire uncertified teachers without obtaining a waiver from the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Superintendent Miles clarified that this exemption would primarily apply to instructors teaching high school courses, with a preference for certified candidates. Uncertified teachers would be required to obtain certification within two years of being hired.
- Local Teacher Appraisal System: The plan allows HISD to develop its own teacher appraisal system, addressing concerns raised by a previous attempt halted by a Harris County judge. The new system may incorporate a student-feedback component and a streamlined process for administrator coaching.
- Disciplinary Alternatives: The district gains discretion in deciding whether to send a student to a Disciplinary Alternative Education Program for offenses related to e-cigarettes or marijuana. The plan argues that this flexibility could lead to better student outcomes and graduation rates, citing a recent study on the impact of disciplinary measures on graduation rates.
The community response to the plan has been mixed, with more than a dozen members expressing their views during the meeting. Some, such as Daniel Santos from the Houston Federation of Teachers, criticized the plan, stating concerns about the quality of instruction and the lack of community collaboration. On the other hand, supporters like Trista Bishop-Watt commended the plan for providing additional learning days and flexibility.
The district will now submit the adopted plan to the TEA within 15 days to officially attain its District of Innovation designation. Exemptions granted under the plan will be effective for five years, subject to review based on academic and financial performance ratings. If the district receives consecutive unacceptable ratings, the TEA commissioner may terminate or require amendments to the innovation plan. Three consecutive years of unacceptable ratings mandate termination of the plan.