The word innovation by its very definition is a "new idea, device or method."
What the Weatherford ISD Board of Trustees did last week by voting to make WISD a District of Innovation is introduce a way to improve on student learning by being exempted from certain provisions of the Texas Education Code.
Introduced at the 84th Legislative session in 2015, House Bill 1842 passed, permitting Texas public schools to have the same flexibilities as charter schools. To be included, districts must adopt an innovation plan. In January of this year, the WISD board passed a resolution to adopt a plan to increase local control over District operations and support local initiatives.
In February, a committee of 38 teachers, principals, parents, community members and administrators was formed to discuss and draft a plan. The term of the local plan cannot exceed five years and will take effect in the 2017-18 school year and end in 2021-22, unless ended earlier the WISD board.
"The committee worked hard and came up with six exemptions we think you’ll be pleased with," Future Ready Coordinator Shawna Ford told the board June 12.
The six exemptions to the Texas Education Code selected for approval were: the 90 percent attendance rule; minimum minutes of instruction; uniform school start date; teacher and principal appraisal system; teacher certification; and campus behavior coordinator provisions.
Of all the exemptions, the one that seemed to concern trustees the most was how the 90 percent attendance rule would be fairly determined for each student. The rule states that in order for students to receive a final grade or credit for a class that they must have physically been in the classroom 90 percent of the days the class is offered. In the proposed exemption, WISD would be able to accommodate students who may have outside activities like athletics or other academic opportunities that prevent them from being in class and still give them credit, as long as assignments are complete and competency of the subject is shown.
Board member Joshua Tarbay questioned how WISD would "replace" the rule and also go about making the determination to ensure that not one student was treated differently than another. Lance Campbell, Executive Director of Secondary Education, said each request will be looked at on a case-by-case basis and that there will certainly be a list of criteria developed that make the application of the exemption fair.
"We’re exempting from the state mandate but we’re not exempting from rules," Campbell said.
Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Hanks agreed and admitted that the state still has some work to do in how they view education today.
"We have an archaic system that lags behind," he said. "It will eventually catch up; it will happen."
Also at the meeting, trustees approved the continuation of the Optional Flexible School Day Program (RISE Academy). This program allows the district to provide flexible hours and days of attendance for students who meet the requirements.
The program graduated 35 students in its first year. One of its graduates, Tyler Green, spoke to board members about his experience. Green said he lost his right eye after being injured with a pellet gun and the RISE Academy allowed him to still graduate.
"It helped me get all my stuff done and get out [of school]," he said.
In other business, the board reorganized with Jeff Geyer becoming president, Mike Guest taking over as vice president and Tiffany Branson becoming secretary. Trustees thanked outgoing president and now member Ashley Conlon for her leadership.