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Georgetown ISD celebrates a century while looking to the future

On the same June evening in 2014 that Georgetown Independent School District trustees hired Dr. Fred Brent as superintendent, the district unfurled an ambitious strategic plan designed to help it navigate a changing educational landscape.

As GISD celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, it is poised for the most significant advancement of that plan, which was refined last September and addresses everything from teaching and learning practices to construction projects aimed at keeping up with ever-increasing enrollment. “We think the 2017–18 school year is going to be a very significant year in the life of GISD,” says Dr. Brent. “Everything we are doing is being done with intentionality toward our strategic plan.”

Shortly before Dr. Brent’s hiring, GISD closed the 2013–14 school year with roughly 10,550 students.

As the 2017–18 school year kicks off August 17th, earlier than usual thanks to a new designation as a District of Innovation, some 11,450 students are expected to head to class.

District of Innovation

GISD joins a growing number of Texas districts taking advantage of legislation passed in 2015 that allows traditional public schools to operate similarly to open enrollment charter schools by claiming exemptions from certain education code requirements, such as flexibility in planning, hiring, teacher evaluation, and setting the first day of school. Approved by trustees in February 2017, the District of Innovation plan goes into effect this school year.

Fred Brent in his office

A 37-member committee of teachers, district staff, parents, and community members met in September, November, and December 2016 to evaluate eligible exemptions. The district pursued those the committee determined best align with the district’s strategic plan, including an earlier start to the school year. Under current state law, classes cannot start prior to the fourth Monday of August.

“The challenge in the whole school start date is helping people understand the need to get our kids in school so we can have more balanced semesters,” Dr. Brent says. “It also allows you to make sure you have the appropriate breaks throughout the school year. We all know people need breaks every now and then.” Although the district must still comply with state-mandated 75,600 minutes of instruction annually, the 2017–18 calendar sprinkles in professional learning days throughout the school year and offers, for the second year, a week off for the Thanksgiving holiday.

While the school year starts early and ends May 31st, 2018, regular school days will be shorter.

Elementary school students begin their day at 7:55 a.m. while middle school students report to class at 8:45 a.m. With the exception of some UIL classes, the first bell also rings for high schoolers at 8:45 a.m.

The school day ends at 3:10 p.m., 4 p.m., and 3:54 p.m., respectively.

Community-based accountability system

The district was shaken when, on December 30th, the Texas Education Agency publicly released unofficial accountability ratings based on a new system put in place by House Bill 2804 during the 2015 Texas legislative session. The system creates A–F rating labels centered on test results from the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness program (STAAR) to describe district and campus performance.

School kids

The “what if” report painted a bleak picture for GISD. It and other districts across the state immediately expressed concern about whether the new system defines performance clearly.

“One of the beliefs that we hold in Georgetown ISD is that all of our actions should be student-centered,” Dr. Brent said in a January video to parents. “We believe in educating the whole child and that a rating system needs to take all needs of the learner into account.”

The district will comply with state laws, Dr. Brent said, but in April it set out to develop its own rating system based on criteria parents and taxpayers say they value. Dr. Brent expects to unveil the first version of the community-based accountability system in late spring 2018. “Through our work together, we have created goals and a learner profile. Now we want to ask, ‘What evidence do you need to see from us that tells you your child is making progress in these areas?’” Dr. Brent says.

Dr. Brent hopes to build a concise performance report that will offer a holistic look at student and district progress, “as opposed to a standardized state assessment that says nothing of the things that our community told us it values.” The report will take into account not only academic performance but other factors such as student participation in extracurricular activities and career certification programs as well as community engagement initiatives such as mentoring and business partnerships.

The performance report will also build on an approach the district began pursuing in 2015 when district representatives gathered for education summits and discussed attributes they wanted graduates to possess. GISD wants its graduates prepared for “whatever life gives them,” district spokeswoman Suzanne Marchman says. “Life is not static. The kind of jobs available today may not exist when [younger students] graduate from school,” she says.

Fred Brent

Charting the Future

Demographers project that Georgetown ISD will grow by 300 students each year for the next several years. Anticipating the need for two or possibly three new schools in the near future in addition to the two new campuses coming online this year, the district is working to acquire land in Georgetown’s southeast and northwest quadrants and a new school site to serve homes under construction in the Wolf Ranch development off west State Highway 29.

In 2015, Georgetown ISD voters approved a $160.6 million bond package earmarked for new construction, renovations to improve safety and security, and technology upgrades. The new Annie Purl Elementary is expected to open this month already close to capacity. Tippit Middle School is currently undergoing renovations that should be complete in 2018, and GISD hopes to wrap construction of Wagner Middle School, Georgetown’s fourth campus for 6th, 7th and 8th graders, by early November and transition students from the former Williams Elementary building to their new digs after Thanksgiving. The Williams campus will eventually house Georgetown’s administration offices.

Surveying his first three years at GISD’s helm, Dr. Brent takes pride in the district’s accomplishments. “I’m proud of this district, its focus on kids, and the value it places on our sense of community,” he says. From implementation of a full-day pre-kindergarten program to “building schools designed for the future,” the GISD closes a century of successful education and looks forward to the decades to come.

Georgetown Independent School District logo

Learn more about the GISD’s District of Innovation plan at www.georgetownisd.org.

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