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Stephen Falcone resigned as superintendent of Darien Public Schools in Connecticut after the district was found to have violated special education laws. (Megan L. Spicer/Darien News)

Superintendent resigns

Stephen Falcone, superintendent of Darien Public Schools in Connecticut, resigned in October after a state Department of Education report found the district violated special education laws on multiple occasions during the 2012-2013 school year.

Philadelphia schools almost didn’t open this fall, after a $304 million budget cut forced 4,000 layoffs. Though $45 million in state emergency aid released in October is helping make progress toward recovery, the district remains without basic services that most administrators take for granted, such as vice principals and secretaries in every school.

Until recently, only rural districts hoping to save money on busing geographically spread-out students had cut the school week down to four days. But now, while some districts are leaning toward year-round schedules, some are actually shortening the week as budgets continue to drop and state officials allow scheduling flexibility.

Teachers are the single most important factor in student learning. Yet, our field as a whole spends little time ensuring that only the best teachers enter our classrooms—and even less time ensuring that the best teachers feel supported.

At Batavia Public Schools in Illinois, administrators gather with CIO Anton Inglese. From left to right, Kris Mon, assistant superintendent of finance; Superintendent Lisa Hichens, Inglese, and Steve Pearce, assistant superintendent for human resources.

WANTED: CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER: Looking for a technology expert, experienced with Mac and PC; servers; mobile technologies—including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and netbooks; coding; and helpdesk. Must be a strong people person and a great communicator, coach, and teacher, used to juggling multiple projects simultaneously, a team player, and always willing to pitch in. Comfortable in a fast-paced environment. People who have one way of doing things need not apply.

Just five years ago, a student information system was used to take attendance and add or change grades. The tech director chose one, installed it and, in about two minutes, showed teachers how to use it.

Now, “it’s a portal for teachers to send assignments and for parents, students, and teachers to communicate with each other,” says Melissa Tebbenkamp, director of instructional technology at Raytown Quality Schools in Missouri.

The shift in CIO responsibilities has also trickled down to the rest of the tech team. No longer is it enough to be knowledgeable in computers. IT employees must have strong people skills as well. Here’s what CIOs said they look for:

Districts that don’t have a full time chief technology officer may have a harder time keeping up with E-rate modernization and the shift to online testing, technology experts say.

Hundreds of educators are pressing for increased funding for E-rate, the government program that connects schools and libraries to the internet—especially important, given Common Core requirements for online assessment.

PreK students in Detroit Public Schools perform at the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix through the PNC Bank ‘Grow Up Great’ Program.

The Council for Corporate & Schools Partnerships offers districts a how-to guide on forming alliances with business. Here are highlights from its step-by-step list:

In the Napa Valley Vintner’s Adopt-a-School program, Vineyard 29’s owner, Chuck McMinn, takes part in West Park Elementary School’s Jog-a-thon last October. Vineyard 29 sponsors each student in their runs.

Superintendent Barbara Nemko of the Napa County Office of Education in California approached the Napa Valley Vintners Association about a decade ago to see if its members would participate in an adopt-a-school program. The vintners, a logical partner as the region’s key employers, were receptive.

Winery owners and school principals arranged for employees to tutor elementary school students, organized field trips to wineries, and hosted wine-and-cheese receptions for teachers. “We left it up to them,” Nemko says. “That worked out pretty well over the years.”

Kansas City Public Schools in Missouri lost accreditation in January 2012. As part of the effort to improve schools, district leaders asked MindMixer to create an engagement platform, the KCPS Forum. Parents can access the forum through a web browser or app on their phone and pitch ideas for improving the district.

The question of whether prior experience as an educator should be a required qualification for superintendents has been asked for a number of years. The issue comes to the forefront of education reform efforts, particularly in big city school systems, where former corporate CEOs, politicians, or military officers without prior K12 experience have been appointed district CEO or superintendent.

When districts use WillowTree Apps, which designs engagement platforms, parents only have to use one login and get access to everything—school calendar, attendance, work—in one space.

New platforms are giving parents the chance to track their children’s progress without having to schedule a parent-teacher conference.

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded $12.3 million to 35 school districts in 17 states to expand counseling programs, as ongoing budget cuts have led to reductions in the numbers of counselors and other support staff.

Lynn Moody was formerly the superintendent of Rock Hill Schools in South Carolina

New Superintendent

Lynn Moody will become superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury School System in North Carolina in October. She is former superintendent of Rock Hill Schools in South Carolina, where she launched a $9 million initiative to provide an iPad to every student in grades 4 through 8.