Vallas Leaves Philly for New Orleans
Philadelphia School District CEO Paul Vallas announced in April that he would be leaving the 174,000-student system, saying that he had fulfilled his five year commitment to serve the district.
Vallas' administration effected a substantial rise in standardized test scores, an influx of smaller, vocation-based high schools, and a more uniform, standardized curriculum.
In April the Louisiana Department of Education called upon Vallas and other national school leaders for guidance as it works to rebuild New Orleans' school system, which has been plagued by busing and facility problems and fluctuating enrollment in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Vallas spent two weeks doing consulting work for the Louisiana Education Department, and in May department officials announced that Robin Jarvis will resign as superintendent of the Recovery School District (RSD) which runs 22 of the city's 58 public schools and will be replaced by Vallas.
Five of the city's best-performing schools are run by the local school board, and the rest are divided between the RSD and privately run charter organizations.
The entire New Orleans public school system only has 26,000 students, yet taking on the ailing district is fitting for Vallas, who embraced the challenge of taking charge of the much larger Philadelphia district.
An article in The Times-Picayune, New Orleans' newspaper, called the district "one of the nation's most dysfunctional school systems in the wake of one of the worst disasters in the nation's history."
When asked about his future during the preliminary talks of taking over the New Orleans schools, the 53-year-old CEO said at a press conference, "You know I like challenges."
In New Orleans, he will definitely get one. He officially takes over on July 1.
Free Books Hit the Gulf Coast
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings in April visited Charles B. Murphy Elementary School in Kiln, Miss., to launch the 2007 Gulf Coast Summer Reading Initiative, a public-private partnership between the USDE, First Book, and Scholastic.
Building on the Gulf Coast Summer Reading Initiative established in 2006 by the USDE and First Book, a national nonprofit organization giving children in low income
families the opportunity to read, the initiative will distribute 500,000 new books to help replenish schools, libraries, community organizations and homes in the five states most affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
"The [initiative] is the kind of partnership that has been so instrumental in helping the communities throughout this region ... and get books into the hands of children," said Spellings.
Top Five Urban School Districts
The Broad Foundation announced in April the five urban school districts that are finalists for this year's Broad Prize for Urban Education, an annual $1 million award to honor the urban districts making the greatest progress in raising student achievement while reducing the achievement gap. The five finalists are:
- Bridgeport (Conn.) Public Schools - Long Beach (Calif.) Unified School District - Miami-Dade (Fla.) County Public Schools - New York City Department of Education -Northside Independent School District in Northwest San Antonio (Texas)
The winner will be announced on September 18 at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and will receive $500,000 in scholarships for graduating seniors The other four finalist districts will each receive $125,000 in scholarships. The Broad Foundation is a national venture philanthropy established by Eli Broad, a renowned business leader who founded two Fortune 500 companies, Sun America and KB Home.
New Survey Reflects Attitudes Tied to Student Boredom
The fact that a growing number of students are bored and disengaged in schools might be common knowledge, but a recent report from Indiana University's High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE) offers a more illuminating picture of the perceptions that shape their apathetic outlook.
For starters, the report found that nearly one in four high school students has considering dropping out of high school at some point.
"The fact that this many students have considered dropping out of high school makes the numbers of dropouts that we actually see across the country ... not surprising," said Ethan Yazzie-Mintz, HSSSE project director for the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP).
When asked to list the reasons (researchers assumed there must be more than one) why they considered dropping out, a whopping 60 percent of respondents said they did not see value in the work they were being assigned. Other reasons for dropping out included family issues (42 percent), getting a job (35 percent), the feeling that no adults in the school cared about them (24 percent), and that the work was too easy (19 percent).
Interestingly, the majority of respondents said they go to school only because they fear the consequences of not going 58 percent agreed with the statement that they went to school "because it's the law." Only 39 percent agreed that they went to school because of what they learn in their classes, and 73 percent said they went to high school so they can go to college.
It is worth noting, however, that 70 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, "I am engaged in school." Perhaps they aren't engaged nearly enough.
"I think schools definitely need to pay a lot more attention to what students are thinking and the reasons why they're dropping out," says Yazzie-Mintz.
The complete survey of 81,500 students in 110 schools is available at ceep.indiana.edu/hssse.
Experts Stress Parent Involvement
School leaders learned in April at the Council of Urban Boards of Education's annual Issues Forum why it's more important than ever to create effective parent engagement programs.
Jeana Preston, the program director of the California Parent Center at the San Diego State University Research Foundation, said that school districts need to get away from the haphazard approach to bringing families into the fold.
For a more in-depth look, please refer to this issue's feature story on community partnerships.
Grant Gives Charleston Nurses a Boost
All of Charleston County (S.C.) School District's ( www.ccsdschools.com) eighty schools boast improved health services and nursing care for their students, thanks to a federal Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant of more than $8.3 million over three years, awarded to the district in 2002. Intended to help at-risk students in schools with high poverty levels, the grant funded a pilot implementation of Health Office, a school medical software program by Health master that offers computerized automatization services to school nurses so they can spend more time treating students and less time filling out and filing paperwork for Medicaid reimbursements.
Before implementing the software, CCSD nurses were losing nearly 70 percent of their student care time doing paperwork, but with Health Office nurses are now spending almost 90 percent of their time with students.
HealthOffice is now implemented in all CCSD schools, and the grant's funds coupled with the district's success have increased the number of nurses from 22 to 37.