Teachers from all over the Mission Consolidated Independent School District gathered at Bryan Elementary School to hear more details about the proposed District of Innovation Plan.
The District Education Improvement Council (DEIC) was appointed to develop the Local Innovation Plan for MCISD. It is comprised of 32 teachers, principals, assistant principals, counselors, librarians and central office staff.
The elementary cafeteria was filled with members of the DEIC, employees at MCISD, the board of trustees, central office administration and the superintendent.
Following the updated presentation of the plan, question and answer session, public comments and administration response, the DEIC discussed the plan further and voted on whether or not it would be presented to the board this week for approval. 27 members voted for the plan, and five voted against it.
MCISD is seeking designations as a DOI for flexibility with the school calendar and Career and Technical Education (CTE) certification requirements. If approved by the board of trustees during the regular called meeting on Wednesday, the district will change the start date and calendar of the school year (teachers will still be working the same number of days – 187), and the certification requirements for CTE teachers to apply to work in the district will be changed.
With these delegations, MCISD hopes to increase student attendance, enrollment and achievement. On their DOI frequently asked questions section on the district website, the district states that “increased attendance and increased enrollment lead to increased state revenue that is necessary to improve compensation for all staff and expand curricular programs.”
The announcement of the proposed plan had some educators worried about the future of MCISD. Members of the Mission CISD Classroom Teachers Association and the Texas Classroom Teachers Association Legal Department sent several questions about the legality of the proposed DOI to district administration.
A few of the raised concerns included the DEIC itself. In the questions submitted to the district, as well as in person at the public meeting, teachers brought up that many of the campus representatives were not elected into their position by their peers, but chosen by their school’s principal.
Superintendent Carol Perez said that the process of selection for the DEIC occurred because when administration sent emails to the teachers for nominations, hardly anyone responded with potential nominees.
Another teacher asked “Why the rush?” during the comments part of the meeting in regards to the process happening quickly. The TCTA legal department pointed out that “many districts give this process several months to unfold,” and that the entire process for MCISD – considering the resolution, conducting a public hearing, appointing a committee, post the plan on the website – took 35 days “start to finish.”
The legal department also asked why there was no campus input into the plan before it was posted online (Feb. 15), just one day after the administration had the plan developed. Maria Guerra, an art teacher at Veterans Memorial High School, spoke on this issue during the comments portion of the meeting.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of transparency,” Guerra said. “The whole DOI issue came up and was voted on immediately. We get the impression that things are not being put out there timely, they’re almost rushing through this process.”
“If these are true concerns about attendance, and about filling these positions, we’ve always had the ability to address them through the proper channels,” Guerra added.
An additional concern brought up by teachers was that hiring people without teacher’s certifications for CTE positions would make the program less effective. Perez said that qualified individuals would be considered for the CTE positions that the district has found difficult to fill in the last years, and students would receive the best education from professional industry individuals.
Finally, several teachers wondered if when the administration or board of trustees changes, will the terms of the resolution be amended in the future.
Administration stressed that during the five-year plan, they specifically wrote in the board agenda and resolution that no amendments to the resolution would be allowed to be made in the next five years, if adopted.
“I feel the whole ‘District of Innovation’ name is a misnomer,” Miguel Garcia, a Mission High School teacher, said. “It’s not innovation. What is so innovative about starting school a week early? What is so innovative about hiring under-qualified teachers?”
Some of the commenters agreed with the proposed plan, saying that it would help the district in the long run.
“I feel that the approval of proposed innovations would positively impact and benefit our students, our community and district employees,” Principal Martina Garcia (Salinas Elementary) said. “This flexibility [over the school calendar] will allow us to begin and end our school year much like other Districts of Innovation in our area and IDEA Public Schools, and therefore allow us to retain more of our students.”
According to the Texas Education Agency website, Districts of Innovation were created following the passing of House Bill 1842, which in part amended Chapter 12 of the Texas Education Code (TEC). Districts of Innovation “are eligible for designation if certain performance requirements are met and the district follows certain procedures for adoption as outlined in Statute.”
With this designation, the district will be exempt from certain sections of the TEC that “inhibit the goals of the district as outlined in the locally adopted Innovation Plan.” A district of innovation designation will not exceed five years.
During the public meeting, an updated presentation of the DOI was given by MCISD Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and Student Services Lorena Garcia, MCISD CTE Director Sergio Pena and George McShan, from the McShan Consulting Firm. Each spoke about the benefits of a DOI plan for MCISD.
According to Garcia, two-thirds of Texas school districts are designated Districts of Innovation. Both the La Joya Independent School District and Sharyland Independent School District are currently Districts of Innovation.
“We have embarked on a journey to go campus-to-campus to provide presentations at every single school and meet with teachers and staff at the campus to provide presentations to the district goals, as well as the District of Innovation process and share with them the plan that we drafted,” Garcia said. “We learned a lot, the staff was able to share concerns and questions that they had.”
Not everyone seemed to agree with the voting results. Dr. Perez spoke following the announcement, saying that the district will continue to work in the best interest of the children.
“Our goal is to be competitive in this world market,” Perez said. “Your concerns do not go unnoticed. We have been taking notes, and we will be responsive. We ask for your patience as we continue.”
The board of trustees will vote on whether to adopt the DOI plan on Wednesday.