Last September, the Houston ISD Board of Education approved the formation of a District of Innovation (DOI) committee to develop a plan for HISD to obtain the DOI designation, which would allow the district to set an earlier school start date, have flexibility from the state’s 90 percent attendance rule and increase the district’s ability to hire teachers specifically for Career and Technical Education courses.

But in March, HISD’s District Advisory Committee voted it down by a margin of 21-10.

What remains unknown is if there are any plans to revive it.

“Members of the HISD District Advisory Committee voted not to move forward with the District of Innovation Plan,” the HISD press office said in a statement. “At this time there has been no decision on whether a new District of Innovation Plan will be presented to the committee.”

Zeph Capo, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, said a resurrection at the present time is unlikely with the impending departure of interim superintendent Grenita Lathan, who is leaving at the end of the school year to take a job in Springfield, Illinois. The board would likely want to wait for the direction of a new superintendent.

Capo said he was surprised the DOI designation vote was defeated so soundly.

“Hearing people talk afterwards, there didn’t seem to be a good articulation of the problems that the DOI was supposed to resolve,” Capo said. “There was some support for the earlier start date.”

The part of the plan that would have authorized the hiring of non-certified teachers for Career and Technical Education courses was unpopular, according to Capo.

“I don’t doubt their intent,” Capo said. “The other side is that there were no vacancies for (CTE) positions.”

District I trustee Elizabeth Santos, who represents some area schools and voted no to the earlier formation of the DOI committee, said last fall that the DOI would allow districts to de-professionalize the teaching profession by allowing uncertified teachers to teach students.

“Its exemptions make room for larger class sizes. It lengthens the school year to open up the opportunity for more STAAR test preparation,” she said. “A district of innovation is anything but innovative.”

The DOI concept, adopted by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) in 2017, gives traditional independent school districts most of the flexibility available to Texas’ open-enrollment charter schools.

The Texas Association of School Boards explains that a DOI designation gives districts local control to customize a plan for either a level of school, grade level or a single campus. The particulars of a custom plan do not have to be approved by the TEA, but a district is accountable to its plan particulars.

The district previously held a virtual public hearing on pursuing DOI status. Had the DOI been implemented, HISD would have joined 893 other districts across Texas in becoming a District of Innovation for the 2021-22 school year.

HISD recently released its 2021-22 academic calendar. The start date for students is Aug. 23.

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