Northeast Tarrant

Area schools gain control of their calendars

Colleyville Elementary principal Sheila Shimmick greets the incoming students and their parents on the first day of the 2015-16 school year.
Colleyville Elementary principal Sheila Shimmick greets the incoming students and their parents on the first day of the 2015-16 school year. Special to the Star-Telegram

Grapevine-Colleyville schools will start the 2017-18 school year Aug. 21 after trustees voted unanimously to become the fifth district in Tarrant County to adopt a District of Innovation plan.

In 2015, legislators approved House Bill 1842, which allows districts to gain some of the flexibility of charter schools and claim exemptions to selected portions of the Texas Education Code, including the mandatory school start date, attendance rules, certain discipline procedures and some teacher-related provisions.

By far, the most popular provision from which to seek exemption is the statute that says public schools may not start before the fourth Monday in August, which will be Aug. 28 for the next school year. Approved DOI plans and a local policy allow districts to start earlier.

Almost all of the 140 Texas school districts with approved innovation plans will start early, according to information from the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB).

In Tarrant County, Keller, Birdville, Hurst-Euless-Bedford and Mansfield have adopted DOI plans. All are starting the 2017-18 year early, ranging from Aug. 15 for Keller to Aug. 23 for HEB.

GCISD trustee Mindy McClure said she was “thrilled” to see the earlier start so the semesters would be more balanced for high school students.

With school starting Aug. 23 for the current year, students had 78 days of instruction in the fall and 98 in the spring. They will have 81 in the fall next year and 92 in the spring.

Rick Westfall, associate superintendent, said that the high number of testing days in the spring make the actual days of instruction more balanced.

Trustee Becky St. John said she was “not a fan of the early start in August” but respected the work of the district committee. She had two concerns about the new calendar: one was that a full first week of school would be too tiring for the district’s youngest students, the second was that construction crews would have less time to complete bond renovation projects with students out of the buildings.

The last day of the 2017-18 school year will be May 31.

Other area districts are in the process of developing DOI plans: Arlington, Crowley and White Settlement.

While approving their 2017-18 calendar Jan. 23, Carroll trustees discussed exploring the DOI option, in large part to be able to start the school year earlier.

Other DOI provisions

Grapevine-Colleyville’s innovation plan also gains exemption from minimum minutes of instruction and teacher certification.

Keller’s plan includes those exemptions and others: 90 percent attendance requirement, length of school day, several provisions involving student discipline, teacher planning periods and teacher contracts. Trustees adopted new local policies for the teacher-related exemptions at the March 9 board meeting.

The teacher planning period changes were the most controversial during committee meetings, but the policy does not reduce the overall number of minutes. The Texas Education Code says teachers must get 450 minutes of planning over two weeks at no less than 45 minutes at a time. The local change is 900 minutes over four weeks at no less than 30 minutes at a time.

The Hurst-Euless-Bedford plan adds to the early start and teacher certification exemptions, with provisions on teacher contracts, campus behavior coordinators and class-size waivers for elementary classes.