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Superintendent Jim Brown

Critics of failing systems often ask the same chicken-or-egg question: Do educators and environment cause kids to fail, or do failing students weigh down the teachers and districts around them?

Don’t Forget Education

Former West Va. Gov. Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, has urged the presidential candidates to not forget about education policies in the 2012 election. A College Board poll says education is behind the economy and jobs in top issues.

Search in spring and summer. John Leuenberger, board president for Lena-Winslow School District 202 (Ill.), advises districts to synchronize their superintendent search with the national job market for school executives, which peaks each spring and summer. Lena-Winslow’s first attempt at recruiting a superintendent, in the fall of 2010, garnered only 15 candidates. The same search process in July 2011 attracted more than 30 applicants.

When the Allendale (N.J.) School District approached Michael Osnato last year for assistance in finding a new superintendent, Osnato knew it could be a challenge. Although the search firm he founded and runs, Leadership Advantage, had completed 80 school executive searches in New Jersey, a governor-mandated pay cap on superintendent salaries, based on district enrollment, had shrunk candidate pools already affected by retiring baby boomers.

If we as educators could successfully teach all children by ourselves, then it seems that we would have already done so. We haven’t, and that should be all the motivation to promote family engagement in districts nationwide.

I interviewed Jerry Weast last year soon after the announcement that he would be retiring as superintendent of the Montgomery County (Md.) School District. Over his 12 years as superintendent, he became renowned for his bold whole-district transformation, which included raising academic standards and narrowing the achievement gap for over 145,000 students in the 17th-largest school district in the nation. I also kept up with Joshua Starr, who from 2005 was the superintendent of Stamford (Conn.) Public Schools, a district that happens to lie next to our Norwalk office.

Monitoring a child with severe food allergies is no easy task. Monitoring hundreds of such children within a district of 30,000 students is even harder. This is why Colorado Springs (Colo.) School District 11 adopted a new software system from a local provider this past fall that details the ingredients of every meal served at every school.

Arne Duncan, RESPECT, teachers

In 2002, Andrew Moore, the science and society program manager at the European Molecular Biology Organization in Germany, wrote a report following the first PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) assessment, “Learning from PISA.” Moore writes that to inspire students to remain competitive, our teachers in turn must also be trained with rigor and widely respected, as is the case in many countries around the globe, many of which outperform the U.S.

I have a monthly email communication with Elliot Soloway, a University of Michigan professor and the chair of ISTE’s Special Interest Group on Mobile Learning, who writes our Going Mobile column with Cathie Norris. Somewhere within the email thread, Soloway is sure to write words such as these: “Someone has to tell the emperor he’s naked.”

For the last few years, a trend has been emerging in K12 education funding with a clear message: Partnerships equal power. Partnerships should include the school district, of course, and community groups, parent organizations, nonprofit supporters and for-profit businesses.

Greenville Schools Create Renewable Energy

In late 2010, Greenville Public Schools, a rural district in Michigan, ranked in the 95th percentile nationally for sustainable schools. The district has since applied for LEED certification, the U.S. Green Building Council’s rating system, following completion of a green energy project with Johnson Controls.

The federal government last formally assessed the state of the nation’s schools in the 1999 report “Condition of America’s Public Schools,” which estimated that it would take $127 billion to bring our nation’s schools to “good condition.” The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issued its own report card the same year. In “The Report Card for America’s Infrastructure,” the ASCE gave schools a D grade and estimated an even greater dollar amount ($322 billion) was needed over five years to bring schools into good condition.

The New Tech Network, which began in 1996 as a nonprofit school improvement organization, made a splash at the Educon conference in Philadelphia earlier this year, explaining how it reformed 86 schools in 16 states. And the difference with the model is that communities, not schools, fund them. Through fundraisers, donations and other contributions, the community “invests” in the change that happens.

Move over Groupon and Living Social; Schoola is the newest deal-of-the-day Web site, and its mission is to help schools raise money.

Schoola, launched by Savvy Source in February, helps school supporters, such as Parent Teacher Associations, work with businesses in their community to create a deal. Schoola hosts and facilitates the fundraiser online, handles the purchases and sends the proceeds to merchants and schools. To reach a larger audience, schools can partner with other schools to reach a larger audience and increase visibility.