On Jan. 20, the RCISD Board of Trustees met for a workshop regarding House Bill 5, new education legislation that will change student and school requirements.
According to Texas Literature Online, House Bill 5 “would institute a new standard course of study for high school students and reduce the number of EOC [End of Course] exams public high school students were required to pass in order to graduate. The bill also would establish a new accountability ratings system evaluating schools on academic performance, financial performance, and community and student engagement.”
The board met at length to understand HB5 and how it would affect the schools. Superintendent Kevin Worthy noted, “Planning and preparation is very important,” elaborating on the importance of understanding HB5 to implement it as best as possible.
“We have talked about the subject we will discuss tonight through our strategic planning sessions,” he said. “It is important to know what we can provide for our students.”
Two and a half years ago, strategic plan objectives were established and working templates for five different categories were created. Now, a new strategic plan must be made to align with HB5. Worthy stated, “It is so incredible to have a template from which to create a strategic plan.”
Recently, action team leaders consisting of teachers, students and community leaders met a few times to create action steps for each objective. One step that came out of these meetings was the desire to expand the Career and Technology program for RCISD — before HB5 was finalized, requiring improvements on statewide public school Career and Technology programs.
Worthy explained the importance of the “why” in the administrators’ and teachers’ work.
“We need to make sure our kids are right in the middle of the table,” Worthy said. “The kids are our ‘why.’”
The “how,” he explained, is HB5.
“HB5 is a game-changer and it is the ‘how.’ It is a great piece of legislation,” he said.
He also noted how lucky RCISD is being a bigger school district with a great source of resources in educators, facilities and funding. Worthy believes it will be easier to incorporate HB5 in a 5A high school as opposed to a small school, but it will still have challenges.
“The question we will begin reviewing is, ‘How are we going to implement this bill?’” he said.
Because of current teacher certifications and course offerings, some classes can be added. Worthy wants to add classes that students are interested in.
“We are also going to look at the student voice,” he said, and added that he needed the trustees for “their help to help us brainstorm … We need to see what’s important to our kiddos. We need to listen.”
HB5 allows each district to look at how it can best serve its students if finances, facilities and appropriate teacher certifications are not available. Meetings have begun with Eastfield Community College to encourage Eastfield to create a satellite location in Royse City.
Worthy explained that administrators and committees will be working together to create a three to five year plan.
“We know we can’t do this overnight,” he said, “but we need to begin moving forward.”
Assistant Superintendent Kenny Kaye Hudson took over the workshop to explain details of HB5.
“We are going to go through a lot of information, some of which you have already seen in some capacity,” she said, explaining that a lot has been learned within the last year and a lot of information continues to come out of HB5.
Hudson echoed Worthy when she explained that the students are the “why” and HB5 is the “how.”
“They are who matters; they give us our passion for what we do. We want to make sure our kids have a voice,” she said. “We are trying to prepare our kids for a world we don’t even know exists yet. We want to provide a well-rounded curriculum.”
According to Hudson, HB5 stipulates four main, broad categories: assessment, accountability, curriculum and higher education. HB5 also limits benchmark testing, and newly developed STAAR Alt for students in special education programs has come out of HB5. The number of EOC exams has been reduced from 15 to five, providing some relief to students and faculty. The “15 percent Rule” and “Four by Four” requirements no longer exist, giving schools fewer requirements and greater choices.
District leadership has created four “endorsements,” or areas of study: arts and humanities, business and industry, public services, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Now, under HB5, a student must pass five EOC exams and acquire 26 credits.
“What you see tonight,” said Hudson, “is the tip of the iceberg because it has so many layers.”
To ensure Royse City students fall under one of the four endorsements, district leadership began building endorsements with ninth grade students last year. Eighth grade students completed an “interest inventory,” determining their likes and interests, and allowed students to choose an endorsement based on those likes and interests. Some parents and students wondered if eighth graders were too young to know what they want to do. However, the current structure allows students to change endorsements until they enter their junior year. Endorsements help give students a path, knowing the direction they want to go as they enter college or careers.
“Each area is pretty broad and encompasses more than one pathway,” Hudson said.
Trustee Don Palmer stated, “I think we want to make sure students have various opportunities.”
Trustee Julie Stutts asked, “How do you advise students who don’t know what they want to do?”
Worthy replied, “Counsel them and provide information on various options for students and their parents to consider. We take the interest inventory and try to lead them into that direction, but it is not an immediate solution.”
Stutts asked, “What if their interests change?” as is the case with so many young people, not sure of what they want to study or do.
“We encourage the students and we partner with the parents,” Hudson said. Students’ endorsements cannot be changed without parent or guardian authorization and faculty counsel.
For students with broad interests, a specialized endorsement may be created, or students may choose more than one endorsement. It is even possible for a student to graduate with all four endorsements, as many of them overlap.
Administrators feel as though they can make just about any situation work. There are some students who struggle to make decisions, and Palmer advised if decisions are made late, opportunities may be lost. Trustee Brian Zator suggested working closely with college personnel to get advice from that level, and to help students who have difficulty making decisions.
A lot of discussion resulted from the question, “What value will our endorsements hold with universities?”
Associate Superintendent Jeff Webb believes universities are looking at GPAs, class rankings and student involvements, whereas Zator stated, “If a student doesn’t have a portfolio in the department of which he/she is seeking admission, the university may not allow admission into that department.”
Worthy stated student GPAs and class rankings will still be the main focus.
Assistant Superintendent Julia Robinson reminded the board that endorsement choices affect only elective choices. Students will still take the required CORE courses.
At this time, the board is in its first planning stages and discussed a lot about new classes, internships, programs, partnerships with local colleges and other opportunities for students, the schools and the community.
Overall, the board likes HB5 and wants to do their best to create meaningful learning experiences for Royse City students.
At the end of the meeting, Worthy thanked the board for their input and ideas.
“This gives us a baseline of things we can research,” he said. “As the spring progresses we will keep you updated.”