SA area school districts seek ‘designation’ to allow leniency toward state requirements

SA area districts seek ‘designation’ to allow leniency toward state requirements

SAN ANTONIO - Multiple districts in the San Antonio area are considering becoming Districts of Innovation, which would allow them leniency toward some state regulations.

“A lot of times we’re very constrained by what we think are the boundaries, so when you relax those boundaries, you inspire creativity,” Dana Ray with the San Antonio Independent School District said.

During the last Texas legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill to allow districts to pursue a District of Innovation designation, which gives districts freedom from state-level regulations.

The San Antonio Independent School board approved an innovation plan in June 2016. The district said this plan will allow them to deliver instructional and support services in novel ways that improve student educational outcomes.

"Our approach was pretty conservative. We thought of three that might benefit campuses,” Ray said.

SAISD’s plan includes three things – flexibility in determining when the school year will start, the option to have longer school days and flexibility in class sizes. For example, at the elementary level, classes can exceed the 22 student to one teacher ratio.

"It gave them the opportunity to look at all of their teacher allocations and figure out if they could maybe go above 22 in some of the lower grades in order to make more room in that 5th grade class,” Ray explained.

While SAISD said this is a benefit for the students, the Association of Texas Professional Educators disagreed.

"If a district does the innovation, they could choose to do away with all of the rules, which means they wouldn't have teacher contracts. They wouldn't have to have certified teachers teaching in classes,” ATPE Secretary Byron Hildebrand said.

Hildebrand said the association feared something that was designed to help schools could ultimately hurt children.

“I don't want to see this taken like a lot of things are and used in a negative way to hurt education in the state,” Hildebrand said.

The Alamo Heights School Board will vote on an innovation plan on December 15. South San Antonio ISD will hold a public hearing to get input from parents before drafting its plan on December 14.

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