The La Joya Independent School District Board of Trustees has voted to take measures to more closely align student’s school year with area colleges. The plan is intended to better accommodate students enrolled in courses that offer dual credit for high school and college for the same class.
During their April 5 meeting, the board of trustees unanimously approved a local innovation plan to make the school district a designated “District of Innovation.” As such schools in the district would be allowed to start the next school year a week earlier than state guidelines permit.
During a presentation to the school board District Superintendent Alda T. Benavides explained that current guidelines from the Texas Administration Code dictate that students may not begin school before the fourth Monday of August. However, under an exemption from the TEA District of Innovation plan, the district could start school by August 21, the third Monday of August.
“We want students to have more flexibility in their courses,” Benavides explained. “Students taking dual enrollment courses will finish the semester in December so they have a similar start and end date to local colleges and take additional days of instruction.”
Other benefits to an earlier start date include students graduating earlier with finalized high school transcripts to enroll in summer college courses, Benavides said.
According to the TEA website, the District of Innovation is a program that gives school districts most of the same exemptions available to open enrollment charter schools for a term of five years. Some of these exemptions affect the minimum number of minutes of instruction a student is required to attend class in a school year, class size ratio and attendance rates.
So far four Valley school districts (Valley View Independent School District, Harlingen Consolidated School District, Point Isabel ISD and Los Fresnos CISD) have been designated districts of innovation, per the TEA website.
With the earlier start date, the school year could potentially finish earlier as well, according to Frank Rivera, the executive director for the district’s curriculum and innovation program.
Even with the start date exemption in place, the calendar must still adhere to TAC guidelines of students having at least 75,600 minutes of instruction and teachers going through 187 working days during a school year, Rivera said.
The next step in getting the plan finalized is sending it to the Texas education commissioner for review, Rivera said.
“We’ll only interfere if we see something in the plan that has them trying to exempt themselves from state testing, something all schools are required to go through,” TEA Spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said. “Even with a district of innovation plan, schools are still subject to the STAAR testing and the state’s accountability system.”