The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
Good: What is the most successful academic program in your district?
Success For All, a research-based reading program created by taking the best of the best from several sources and creating an eclectic program. There is ongoing professional development, student groupings for reading by performance levels, eight-week assessments to enable students to move forward quickly, and support for students not achieving. It is an incredible program.
--Mary K. Sherrer, Superintendent, Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union, Vermont
We have a classical language program (Greek and Latin) at our high school that is a partnership with the University of Connecticut and the Greek city of Kos. It has been very successful and has created lots of student, community and parental enthusiasm.
--Andre Ravenelle, Superintendent, Barnstable (Mass.) Public Schools
Full-Day Pre-school for 4 year olds. Title I Reading/ELA/Writing is the most improved systemic academic instruction program throughout all schools K-12.
--Marie Ferrari, Assistant Superintendent, Somerville (Mass.) Public Schools
We have implemented a Student Taking All Responsibility program in grades 3-8 that ensures parents are in the communication loop when students do not complete homework or do not achieve an acceptable grade. The "early detection" system helps students master the content.
--Linda Gray Smith, Superintendent, Worth County RIII, Grant City, Mo.
Carefully selected teachers with strengths in the critical areas of mathematics, science, language arts and social studies are all elementary endorsed. The intellectual, emotional and often physical needs of children are addressed by this team of teachers who work very well together.
--Tim Skinner, Superintendent, St. Ignatius (Mont.) Public Schools
Implementation of alternativeschedules, i.e. block scheduling for secondary, four-block for middle school and parallel scheduling for elementary.
--Superintendent, West Virginia
Colonial School District in New Castle, Del., has developed and sustained a professional development center called the Teaching and Learning Center. Four days a week, plus throughout the summer, professional development is offered for every category of employee and district stakeholder--bus drivers, food service workers, teachers, administrators, parents, etc. The workshops are interactive, research-based, and cover all content areas, as well as classroom management, leadership skills and operational issues. Also, at the site is the Academic Resource Center, where materials (laminators, die press, poster makers, computers, professional library books and journals, etc.) are available at no charge. Funding for both programs is found through the commingling of federal, state and local budgets as well as applications for grants from the business world. Most importantly is the resulting student achievement in a district that deals with extensive mobility, poverty and diversity. Our data shows that the more teachers participate in our professional development, the higher their students achieve.
--Linda F. Poole,
Executive Director of Academics, Colonial School District 318, New Castle, Del.
A program that gives me a great deal of pride is INSIGHT. It is designed for young people who have completed a substance abuse treatment program and are ready to transition back to an academic program in the hope of finishing their high school diploma and putting their life back together. Great results for kids with heart-warming stories.
--Ted Blaesing, Superintendent, White Bear Lake (Minn.) Area Schools
Reading Recovery that targets first graders reading at the 20 percent level and below. We use it as a special ed intervention and [it] has reduced our referrals at that age level noticeably. It works but it is time intensive and therefore expensive.
--J. Michael McClaren, Superintendent, Claremore (Okla.) Public Schools
Leveling (ability grouping) in our elementary schools. We have seen amazing growth in test scores in those schools that have incorporated some kind of level group instruction.
--Christine Donnell, Superintendent,
Joint School District No. 2, Meridian, Idaho
We take great pride that we've been able to continue to offer outstanding services to students with special needs while keeping our gifted and talented programs at the elementary, middle and high schools.
Along with this, we've been able to maintain outstanding music, art and performing arts in all of our schools and have been able to keep technology, family and consumer sciences.
All of this and a healthy dose of interscholastic sports at both the middle and high schools in a safe environment for learning and play makes us an urban public school system to be proud of.
--David L Snead, Superintendent, Waterbury (Conn.) Public Schools
Bad: What is the biggest financial strain in your district?
Escalating insurance costs at all levels (liability, workman's comp, health, etc.). This is an area we have no control over and the only relief is to lower personnel and/or benefits in the health package.
If the health packages are lowered, it makes our recruiting new personnel much more difficult.
--Ronald W. Erickson, Superintendent, Craig City (Alaska) School District
Without a doubt the biggest financial strain for the district is salaries; then maintaining the technological needs of the district. I don't want to be the front runner on technology. However, students and staff need to have appropriate support to integrate programs and hardware into the curriculum for students to use and demonstrate skills which they will use as adults.
--Rod Montang, Superintendent, Eagle Grove (Iowa) Community School District
Increasing costs for insurance, heating, supplies, teachers salaries at the same time our budget is the lowest amount allowed by state law. The special education requirements also impact our district to a great extent.
--Brian Patrick, Superintendent, Townsend (Mont.) K-12 School District 1
Lack of sufficient state funding and an excessive reliance on local property taxpayers.
--Michael A. Morgan, Superintendent, Barrington (N.H.) School District 74
The lack of consistency seen in our state's annual school funding process. Annually, districts are forced to re-distribute or eliminate staff and programs due to the lack of systemic funding. Currently, technology, security, transportation and special education receive no recognized funding or receive inadequate funding to meet district needs.
--Bill Myhr, Superintendent, Coupeville (Wash.) School District
Having to cut programs and positions due to a lack of funding because of the Tabor Amendment in Colorado. [Called the taxpayer bill of rights, it requires voter approval of all taxes and limits government spending.]
--Glen Bradshaw, Superintendent, Sangre de Cristo School District, Mosca, Colo.
Technology: hardware, software, licensing and infrastructure such as servers, fiber, etc.
--Doug Rutan, Superintendent, Kuna (Idaho) Joint School District No. 3
Health insurance growth has been the most difficult to manage.
--David Polashek, Superintendent, Oconto Falls (Wis.) Public Schools
Unfunded mandates from both state and federal governments. These mandates often involve purchase of equipment and significant training. For example, in New York every school has a defibrillator. Certainly the expense of purchasing equipment was high. However, staff training to utilize the equipment was even higher. The mandate was well intentioned and worthwhile, but it places a greater burden on the already high property tax rate.
--Edward Price, Superintendent, Island Park (N.Y.) Public Schools
Employee benefits and health insurance. Retirement costs just went up 1.88 percent, are expected to increase by 2 percent for the next two years.
--Carl Hilling, Superintendent, Gaylord (Mich.) Community Schools
Declining enrollment in a state that has a funding formula based on average daily membership.
--Jack Broome, Superintendent, Burke (S.D.) School District
Ugly: No Child Left Behind
Our district has 65 percent of the students entering school speaking only Spanish. We are required to have a certain percentage of the students at or above proficient within a year. We are committed to teaching children English and doing it well, but this is impossible when a student enters school in sixth or seventh grade from Mexico, has never been to school, and must reach grade-level proficiency in a year. California's method of measuring growth is attainable with a lot of hard work, and more accurately measures the academic gains that have been made.
--Janet Kliegl, Superintendent, Lindsay (Calif.) Unified School District
We will have trouble with highly qualified teachers as our older teachers with multilevel certification retire and we try to replace them.
--James Redfield, Superintendent, Lester Prairie (Minn.) School District
The unprecedented federal intrusion at the local level.
Why is the federal money tail wagging the educational canine? Excessive federal regulations, particularly the forcing of such a high percentage of transient students to test.
The law is an attempt by our federal legislators to "legislate intelligence." ... The 100 percent requirement is not possible. People are too diverse for 100 percent to "want to learn" even if 100 percent could learn to the standard.
The federal government is out of line in passing such a law. The states are to be responsible for education, not the federal government.
--Steven Breckon, Superintendent, Hamilton (Ill.) Comm. Cons. School District 328
The community's perception thatpublic schools are failing.
--Peter Ansingh, Superintendent, West Valley School District, Yakima, Wash.
The fear factor. Whether the federal law intends it or not, the fear factor of someday being on a watch list concerns the instructional staff. Especially the threat or actual loss of resources once it occurs. Our staff is struggling to "keep the passion" for teaching and developing students, while at the same time being threatened with high-stakes testing. Enforcing rules and regulations and causing schools to compete this way is demeaning to the profession.
--Dwight D. Widen, Superintendent, St. Ansgar (Iowa) Community School District
Special education and economically disadvantaged youth not meeting the AYP goals. Especially cognitively disabled students. We are dealing with a three-legged stool (parents, students, schools). Only schools are being held accountable. I believe rather than punishing failure, reward success by giving parents of proficient students an additional $1,000 deduction on their income tax. That will create a positive reward!
--Jeff Kasuboski, Superintendent, Wautoma Area (Wis.) School District
The unrealistic goal of 100 percent proficiency for our special needs students.
--Vince Anaclerio, Superintendent, Auburn (Calif.) Union Elementary School District
[No Child Left Behind] places only a numerical value on the measurement of students' success. It does not take into account the affective domain of students. Further, it does not consider the problem solving skills that students need to learn to be "good citizens." When we are required to measure the success of those skills and that is how schools are judged then truly no one is left behind!
--Jerry Robicheau, Superintendent, Inver Grove (Minn.) Independent School District 199
Trying to convince intelligent people that our federal government is leading us with wisdom. So as not to appear politically biased--Jimmy Carter stated in the 1970s that "every child will score above average." Ignorance crosses party lines.
--Michael Gearheart, Principal, Western Boone Community School District, Thorntown, Ind.