More on the HISD District of Innovation pursuit

Some good stuff from the Chron.

Houston ISD took the first step Thursday in the process to be a District of Innovation, a move that would allow it to seek exemptions to several state laws.

To become a DOI, an HISD committee must draft an innovation plan that outlines the specific exemption the district plans to seek, and then both the District Advisory Committee and school board must approve of the plan and any future amendments. A total of 965 out of the roughly 1,000 traditional school districts are DOIs

There is no comprehensive list of all the state laws that DOIs can seek exemption from, but districts most commonly seek exceptions to laws mandating that the school year start on the fourth Monday of August, teacher certifications, probationary contracts for new teachers, class size limits and minimum months of service for educator contracts, according to the Texas Education Agency.

“As long as it is not prohibited by either statute or rule, districts can include it in their plan,” TEA spokesperson Jake Kobersky said.

The 10 largest DOIs in the Houston-area have all approved the same two exemptions to state laws regulating teacher certification and the start of the school year. Beyond that, several of those DOIs, such as Katy ISD and Fort Bend, have approved additional exemptions to other education-related state laws.

State-appointed superintendent Mike Miles has said he wants HISD to seek the designation so the district can start the school year earlier and increase the number of class days from 172 to at least 180.

He declined to say which, if any, further exemptions he was interested in having the district pursue, except he indicated during a press conference Thursday that he was not in favor of getting a broad exemption to limits on class sizes.

“I don’t want to get ahead of the board and I don’t want to get ahead of the planning committee, but I can tell you this, my encouragement to any planning committee or DAC or the board is ‘Do things that make sense for kids and will help kids excel and exceed,’” Miles said. “Generally speaking, really large class sizes (don’t) help.”

HISD is holding its first meeting regarding the District of Innovation process at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center.

See here for some background. I will say again, a large majority of school districts have received this designation, so whatever else one might say about it, it’s not some weird trick. It’s common enough that one thinks the Lege ought to revisit some of the laws that are most often bypassed via this usage. Be that as it may, there are useful and reasonable things a school district might do with the DOI designation. There’s also a complete lack of trust in what Mike Miles may want to do with it, which is a whole ‘nother thing.

I’ve talked about the lack of trust in Mike Miles quite a bit. I will admit that much of it is my own perception, both of how he has gone about his business and the clear response we have all seen to it. I got some more evidence of this in my email this week, from a District Advisory Committee member who reached out to me to share a letter sent to HISD teachers to ask for their feedback on this, and a sample of the feedback that was received. To put it mildly, there’s a lot of skepticism about this plan. I invite you to look that over and see for yourself. You can feel however you want about Mike Miles and his plans and the reaction to them. What is increasingly clear is that a lot of people don’t trust him, and he doesn’t seem to be bothered at all by that. I will say again, I believe that situation is unsustainable. How long it can last, we’ll see. Oh, and that meeting is for today, so go attend or watch online if you can.

On a side note, the Chron also solicited some feedback from teachers and parents about the first week of school, and as above the responses are overwhelmingly negative. I didn’t note this before because the format isn’t conducive to excerpting, so go read it for yourself. Again, maybe this is just a very vocal minority, and maybe the results will be so good that none of this will matter eventually, but from where I sit right now it’s hard for me to see how this all has a truly happy ending, and more to the point I don’t think it had to be this way. But here we are.

UPDATE: From today’s Chron:

The new state-appointed leaders governing Houston ISD will soon choose new members for an advisory committee that will play a key role as Superintendent Mike Miles pursues District of Innovation status for the school system.

Miles can appoint an unlimited number of people and each of the nine board members can appoint two people to serve on the District Advisory Committee, a group whose approval is necessary for HISD to become a District of Innovation, according to a district spokesperson. HISD has not yet released names of the new members.

On Wednesday evening, some members of the advisory committee received an email from Kari Feinberg, the HISD chief of staff and new facilitator of the committee, informing them that their role has been terminated.

“As is customary, the School Board and Superintendent will announce appointments to the District Advisory Committee to bring new voices and perspectives to the table,” Feinberg wrote in the email. “Your appointment to the DAC has now ended effective immediately, and we thank you for the time, energy and insight you have provided so far.”


While she understands that new board members typically get to pick their own appointees, [ousted member Karina] Quesada said she believes that the removal of committee members appointed by elected officials strips away another layer of accountability and community representation.

“That was a way for the community to still have a voice,” she said. “These people are not elected…We didn’t have a say in that, and now we’re certainly not going to have a say on who represents the community to protect us.”

Meanwhile, Heather Golden, an HISD parent who was appointed by District V Trustee Sue Deigaard in January, says she has been asked to stay on the committee as one of Miles’ appointees.

It was not immediately clear how many appointed committee members have been asked to remain on the committee. Golden said she does not know why Miles appointed her but accepted the offer to stay on the committee out of a sense of obligation to Deigaard.

Golden said she vocally supported the plan for a District of Innovation when the proposal came before the committee several years ago. She liked that the plan would move up the first day of school and provide more time for instruction, both reasons that Miles has given for seeking the status.

Now, however, Golden said she will not commit to voting one way or another for Miles’ plan until she sees the details.

“The devil will be in the details of what he proposes, and I do not intend on being a rubber stamp,” Golden said. “If it’s not done well, I’m going to have a hard time voting for it. If it’s done well, then sure.”

Bradley Wray, a teacher at Deady Middle School who joined the committee earlier this year, called the replacement of the appointed members “disappointing.” He remains on the committee as an elected member.

“It’s the last bit of democracy where we have a bit of power over HISD,” Wray said. “Especially with the big District of Innovation vote coming up potentially, we should have people who somewhat represent the voters of Houston.”

Wray is the one who sent that email I noted above, per the story. This is indeed about evading oversight. If the District Of Innovation designation is a good idea – and as I have said, it clearly has merit and is a normal thing for districts to do – then it should be possible to get it passed on those merits. This is such a bad look.

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