WFISD weeks away from voting on plan to be more flexible with state laws

WICHITA COUNTY, TX (KAUZ) - A plan to waive or be more flexible with several state laws is weeks away from being voted on by the Wichita Falls Independent School District.

Back in November, Newschannel 6 highlighted WFISD's efforts to move forward with becoming a District of Innovation, and now that a Wichita Falls District of Innovation Committee of about 25 WFISD teachers, administrators and community members, has approved its plan, we are learning about the possible changes it could bring.

To find out how becoming a District of Innovation is working out for one Texoma district, Newschannel 6 took a trip to Northwest Texoma.

About 100 miles from Wichita Falls is the Childress Independent School District, a district with 1,133 students, and what its Superintendent Rick Teran calls, a progressive outlook on education.

In August of 2016, Childress ISD officially joined about 70 other school districts in Texas and became a District of Innovation.

This allows school officials to make changes to the school calendar, teacher certification regulations and even class size ratio.

"These changes will benefit our students and our staff as well," said Superintendent Teran. "This is one of those things that since it's returning local control back to our schools, I think everybody was on board with it."

Since becoming a District of Innovation, Childress ISD has changed their school date for next year to a Thursday, and not on the 4th Monday of August as required by state law.

At a school board meeting in January, WFISD Superintendent Michael Kuhrt said the Wichita Falls committee hopes to do the same.

"The reason for starting on a Thursday is you get them in, work on schedule issues, especially secondary students, pass out beginning of the year paperwork, text books, computers," said Superintendent Kuhrt. "That way, students and teachers are ready to start fresh on Monday morning."

Some WFISD parents said they are on board with this possible change.

"Trying to get these kids bedtime schedules right and making sure they're going to get fed the next day, definitely helps out you know giving them a good day or two just to get back in the groove of things," said Giovanni Corona.

Other parents said they are not looking forward to any changes regarding the start date.

"I would rather them continue with the way that it's been." said Crystal Hernandez. "I think it's easier. It's more convenient for us."

State law requires schools be in session for a certain number of days, but Districts of Innovation are allowed to build their own schedules based on the total number of minutes students spend in the classroom over a school year.

Supporters said that makes it easier to schedule teacher work days, bad weather and early release days.

Superintendent Kuhrt said he thinks going in this direction will make the calendar more family-friendly and flexible.

Another change the Wichita Falls District of Innovation Committee recommends, that Childress has implemented, is changes to teacher certification guidelines.

State law requires all educators have the appropriate certification or permit to teach, but as a District of Innovation, WFISD could get around that law, and hire professionals with industry experience to fill positions that are difficult to recruit, teaching courses like math, science and foreign languages.

"Teachers are getting harder to find," said Superintendent Teran. "So what this does for us, it allows us to hire someone that does not have the certification, but is working towards that certification."

Back in January, Kurht said industry professionals teaching classes will benefit the new WFISD Career and Education Center.

"You might not necessarily have a certification, a teacher certification, but you have a lot of industry certifications or industry experience," said Superintendent Kuhrt. "That makes you more than qualified to teach."

Before hiring anyone without a teaching certificate, WFISD will be able to establish its own criteria, like years of experience or required hours of classroom management training.

On another issue, the District of Innovation Committee recommends WFISD ask for some flexibility around the state rule that requires students to be in class 90-percent of the year.

If WFISD was to become a District of Innovation, it could be a little more lenient and not have to penalize students who miss class time due to dual-credit courses or other extenuating circumstances, like being sick.

"Maybe they have a job, maybe it makes it difficult for them to get to and from school," said Superintendent Kuhrt. "Well, this gives us flexibility then to work with those students."

Childress ISD did not go this route.

"Because we believe that kids can't learn unless they are here," said Superintendent Teran.

Some WFISD parents agree, students must be in class to pass.

"I mean, I know there're circumstances that they might need to take a job, but I think being in school should be their full-time job," said Cindy Erickson.

When asked what advice Superintendent Teran had for a district like WFISD moving forward with becoming a District Innovation, he said "do it."

Other changes that could be made are offering a paid option for Pre-K for those who do not currently qualify and offering night school classes for the Career and Education Center.

The District of Innovation Committee's plan is expected to be voted on by the school board sometime this month or the first part of March.

It must receive two-thirds of the votes to pass and then be approved by the Texas Education Agency Commissioner.

If passed, that plan is good for five years.

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