Georgetown ISD nears approval of district of innovation plan


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10 things to look for in 2017
10 things to look for in 2017

Georgetown ISD has taken another step toward becoming a district of innovation, or DOI.

On Jan. 8, a special planning committee released the proposed DOI plan for the district. Pending approval from an advisory committee and the GISD board of trustees, the district could become an official DOI as soon as the 2017-18 school year.

The district has chosen seven different exemptions to propose for its students and faculty, including re-evaluating teacher certification requirements. Although teachers in core subject areas, bilingual classes and special education would be required to maintain certification, the exemption would allow the district to hire non-certified teachers in specialty vocations and trades areas.

GISD could also be exempt from a state law that requires students to attend class for 90 percent of the school days in order to earn class credit. If the plan passes, GISD will maintain a minimum attendance percentage for traditional classes while allowing for flexibility in students demonstrating mastery of content through an innovative system at a more flexible pace. This exemption would allow the district to not penalize students who miss class for legitimate school activities as well as explore online and blended coursework options.

Other proposed changes include updates to district improvement plans, clarifying channels of communication concerning student behavior and altering the school start date, which is likely to be a hot-button item during the 85th legislative session that began in early January.

GISD’s proposed rule would allow the district to set a start day annually that begins on or after the second Wednesday of August and ends no later than the first week of June.

“We are going to keep going with it until we are told otherwise,” district spokesperson Suzanne Marchman said. “We realize that the school start date is a contentious exemption for some people, and it’s possible that the Legislature will remove that [as an option]. But [the DOI] committee has [created this plan] that they believe is good for Georgetown and they are going to forge ahead, and if the Legislature makes changes then we will deal with that.”

10 things to look for in 2017
10 things to look for in 2017

Steps toward becoming a DOI began in July when the GISD board of trustees unanimously agreed to pursue a DOI status. The 2015 Texas House of Representatives bill allows school districts to adopt a local innovation plan that outlines more flexible operating models, including some exemptions from state regulations previously offered only to charter schools. Districts with a DOI designation can avoid current requirements, such as class-size ratios, teacher certification and some student discipline provisions.

In September the district appointed a DOI committee composed of parents, teachers and business owners who met twice since being appointed to create a five-year plan for the district.

Marchman said GISD was not interested in some exemptions allowed in the DOI plan.

“[The committee] basically weeded out [changes] they did not want to consider,” Marchman said. “One of those things was class-size ratios, so we took that off the table.”

GISD board President Scott Stribling said he is interested in seeing how these new exemptions can strengthen the district’s education process.

“[The committee’s] commitment and involvement in this process is a real testimony to the strength of our community,” Stribling said. “We are looking forward to seeing the next steps that they take and the possibilities this could mean for our district.”

The proposed plan must remain on the district’s website for 30 days. From there, a public hearing, agreement from the advisory committee and two-thirds approval from the board of trustees at its February meeting would be required before making GISD an official DOI.

This story is one update from the January Issue. View the full list of 10 things to look for in 2017 here.