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Mick Zais Superintendent 1429 Senate Street Columbia, South Carolina 29201
MEMORANDUM TO: FROM: DATE: SUBJECT: District Superintendents Mick Zais, State Superintendent of Education September 10, 2013 District Flexibility and Schools of Choice
From the beginning, providing school districts, schools, and teachers more flexibility has been a cornerstone of my vision to transform education. This was outlined on Page 32 of my vision presentation, which you can view online at http://ed.sc.gov/agency/superintendent/vision/index.cfm. The purpose of this memorandum is to remind district superintendents there is some regulatory relief already permitted in statute and regulations. From my conversations with superintendents, principals, and teachers, there is a desire to be more innovative in our schools and often these options are overlooked while working to increase student learning. I want to share with you and encourage you to seek flexibility already available to districts. You may contact the Office of Federal and State Accountability at (803) 734-8118 or by visiting our website at http://ed.sc.gov/agency/ac/Federal-andState-Accountability/. The above list is not exhaustive. It simply illustrates some of the ways in which statute and regulation provide a path to innovative practices in areas where regulation or statute might otherwise limit flexibility. Let me be clear: I strongly encourage you to seek this flexibility. I also invite you to submit ideas and proposals for flexibility that you would like to have and would increase student achievement. I firmly believe that best ideas don’t emanate from Washington D.C. or Columbia; they reside in the classrooms of our state. Educator Evaluation Forty-one states and the District of Columbia, including South Carolina, have approved Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Flexibility Requests. As you know, one of the four principles of South Carolina’s ESEA Flexibility Request is to implement a statewide educator evaluation system that uses, for the first time, measures of student learning.
District Superintendents Page 2 September 10, 2013 The South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE) and dozens of schools are participating in a pilot program this year. However, even when the new educator evaluation system is implemented statewide, districts will still have some flexibility in the design of their evaluation instruments. State Board of Education (SBE) Regulation 43-205.1 already provides districts this flexibility. Some districts have used alternative evaluations to the statewide ADEPT system for many years. I encourage you to seriously consider this flexibility or consider joining the pilot program already in progress throughout the state. Career and Technology Education Career and Technology education is critical to meeting the needs of industry. State law requires districts to demonstrate at least 50 percent of the graduates from a workforce preparation program available for placement in an area of training are placed in a job for which they were trained. Programs failing to meet this placement threshold are subject to discontinuation, possibly hampering a district’s willingness to even explore forming programs in emerging industries. However, this requirement may be waived by making a request to the State Board of Education. This flexibility provides districts a tremendous opportunity to be responsive to the employment needs of business and industry in their communities. School Operations Existing law already provides flexibility for the operations of schools. SBE Regulation 43-261 provides that “Upon request of a district board of trustees or its designee, the State Board of Education may waive any regulation that would impede the implementation of an approved district strategic plan or school renewal plan.” The authority is very broad. Districts can apply, for example, to the SBE for flexibility pertaining to administrative and professional personnel qualifications, duties, and workloads at the district level. The SBE can waive requirements affecting student ratios for elementary and middle school principals, assistant principals/directors, curriculum coordinators, guidance counselors, library media specialists, and teachers in music, art or physical education. Flexibility for these requirements requires only a letter from the district superintendent (or designee) sent to the SCDE along with any supporting documentation to validate the need for flexibility. The SCDE will facilitate such requests through the SBE. Gifted and Talented Education Districts are obligated to provide learning opportunities for gifted and talented students. However, districts may request flexibility from the SBE to combine classes across small schools that may, on their own, not be able to provide courses for gifted and talented students that will meet the needs of the students they serve. Specifically, for artistically gifted and talented students, districts can pursue and the SBE can grant flexibility that would allow districts to set up alternative programs that better serve artistically gifted and talented students.
District Superintendents Page 3 September 10, 2013 Proficiency-based Education Proficiency-based credit for high school coursework is available upon request. Under this provision, schools can offer students credits in units as small as ¼ unit and up to a full unit of credit for a course. In order to pursue this flexibility, superintendents need only submit a letter and a plan to the SCDE for approval by the agency. Summer School Summer school programs are required to meet the same rigor and standards required during the regular school year. However, districts can submit plans to the SBE that would allow them to seek flexibility in seat time and class size restrictions in their summer school programs. Schools of Choice In May 2012, Governor Haley signed H.3241, a bill to strengthen South Carolina’s Charter School Act. This was my top legislative priority for the 119th South Carolina General Assembly. The conference report accompanying the legislation received unanimous support in the South Carolina Senate and strong bipartisan support (87 Yeas, 15 Nays) in the South Carolina House. Many district superintendents have indicated to me that if districts had the same level of flexibility as public charter schools, you could raise student achievement in your districts. The General Assembly has now provided districts the opportunity to seek such flexibility to deploy innovative programs. I challenge each of you to give serious consideration to seeking this flexibility. Included in the legislation is a provision I have supported for nearly three years: more flexibility for schools and school districts. In November 2011, I sent a memorandum encouraging you to apply for flexibility already available to you under current law. A few superintendents have accepted this offer, but not nearly as many as I had anticipated. Flexibility is one of the top requests I hear from you when I visit your schools, so I am taking this opportunity to encourage you (again) to apply for flexibility already available to you under current law. Innovation is not the product of top-down solutions; innovation happens when barriers and restrictions are removed and the creativity of our educators is unleashed. H.3241 contained language to allow each school district to create a “school of choice.” While these schools are not public charter schools because they are not autonomous from a local school board, they do provide an “an avenue for new, innovative, and more flexible ways of educating children” and create options for parents. A “school of choice” is not exempt from the state and federal accountability, but I am confident that with the flexibility provided under this law districts will have the ability to innovate and meet accountability standards. I have enclosed the text of the two-year-old statute, Section 59-19-350, at the end of this memorandum. I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this flexibility, as well as the flexibility found in other statutes, at the earliest possibility.
District Superintendents Page 4 September 10, 2013 Section 59-19-350 (A) A local school district board of trustees of this State desirous of creating an avenue for new, innovative, and more flexible ways of educating children within their district, may create a school of choice within the district that is exempt from state statutes which govern other schools in the district and regulations promulgated by the State Board of Education. To achieve the status of exemption from specific statutes and regulations, the local board of trustees, at a public meeting, shall identify specific statutes and regulations which will be considered for exemption. The exemption may be granted by the governing board of the district only if there is a two-thirds affirmative vote of the board for each exemption and the proposed exemption is approved by the State Board of Education. (B) In seeking exemptions, the local board of trustees may not exempt:
(1) federal and state laws and constitutional provisions prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability, race, creed, color, national origin, religion, ancestry, or need for special education services; (2) health, safety, civil rights, and disability rights requirements as are applied to other public schools operating in the district; (3) minimum student attendance requirements; (4) state assessment requirements; and (5) certification requirements for teachers in the core academic areas as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Public Law 107-110; however, up to twenty-five percent of the teaching staff of the school may be employed if the individual possesses a baccalaureate or graduate degree in the subject he is hired to teach. (C) Any school created pursuant to this section shall admit all children eligible to attend the school subject to space limitations and may not limit or deny admission or show preference in admission decisions to any individual or group of individuals. (D) A local school district that provides exemptions pursuant to subsection (A) shall provide the State Department of Education with documentation of the approved exemptions and shall submit evaluation documentation to be reviewed by the State Board of Education after three years of the exemption to ensure that the district continues to meet the needs of its students. Upon review, if the State Board of Education determines the continuation of the exemption does not meet the needs of the students attending the district school of choice, the board may suspend exemptions granted by the local board of trustees with a two-thirds vote. Before suspending the exemptions, the State Board of Education shall notify the district and provide the district with any opportunity to defend the continuation of approved exemptions.
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