Mansfield News

District looking at innovative plan

The Mansfield school district looks at becoming a District of Innovation.
The Mansfield school district looks at becoming a District of Innovation. File photo

The Mansfield school district is looking at ways to fine-tune start times, schedules and hiring, thanks to a resolution approved by the Texas Legislature.

House Bill 1842 gives local school districts who become Districts of Innovation the same flexibility as charter schools.

“It removes some of the barriers to us taking our kids where they need to go,” said Sean Scott, assistant superintendent of technology and information systems. “It gives some of the control to local school districts.”

At the March 29 school board meeting, trustees voted to form a committee of educators, parents and teacher union representatives to explore which areas the district should look at changing.

“It’s not going to be big scale,” said Scott, who is the committee’s facilitator. “We’re just looking at making some tweaks. You won’t see a massive overhaul, small changes with big results.”

Those changes could include hiring teachers for certain certifications, Scott said, that could come from a variety of areas.

“We have diesel mechanics in our bus barn that are not certified teachers,” he said. “Welders, advanced engineering, bankers. We’re not talking about core subjects, but specialty certifications.”

Other tweaks could be to the district’s calendar or start times, Scott said.

“Maybe not for all students, but a flexible school day for students at The Phoenix Academy (the district’s alternative learning campus),” he said.

Superintendent Jim Vaszauskas sees a lot of benefits for Mansfield to become a District of Innovation.

“I applaud the Texas legislature for the passage of HB 1842 in the last legislative session,” Vaszauskas said in an email. “A portion of this bill cleared the way to return control back to the local school districts and the taxpayers. The board’s decision to adopt the resolution that designates Mansfield ISD as a District of Innovation will allow our community to develop an innovative plan designed to provide more opportunities for our students.

“The board-appointed committee will develop the plan, and we see particular benefits in the potential course and certification offerings we could make available at Ben Barber Career and Technology Academy, as well as the flexibility and accommodations we could create for our students at The Phoenix Academy. Our board enthusiastically supports our pursuit of a District of Innovation status because it will help us provide more opportunities for our students.”

There are some things the district cannot adjust.

“We can’t opt out of federal mandates,” Scott explained.

The Keller school district is also exploring becoming a District of Innovation, which requires the school district to come up with a plan, post it on their website for 30 days, hold a public hearing, get approval from the school board, then file the plan with the state education commissioner. The plan is good for five years, Scott said.

If approved, the district could put the new adjustments into effect by January of 2017 or for the fall semester of 2017, he said.

“Obviously, we wouldn’t want to change the start times in the middle of the year,” Scott said.