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December 14, 2012 is a day of tragedy that claimed the lives of 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Victoria Soto, a 27-year-old first grade teacher who died trying to protect her students, has been honored by her hometown of Stratford, Connecticut, with the a newly constructed $18 million magnet elementary school bearing her name.

Mastery trumps class time in competency-based education models now catching on in more U.S. classrooms—from New England to the Midwest to Alaska.

Students must show they grasp a concept fully before they can move on to the next unit. Those who get a low grade or score can’t advance until extra instruction by a teacher reveals that students demonstrate comprehension, says Susan Patrick, president of CEO of iNACOL.

The organization promotes the new approach through its ComptencyWorks initiative and provides support to schools making the transition.

In the Morgan County Charter School System in Georgia, counselors take part in a workshop that involves community partners in business. It teaches counselors how to encourage students to get college and career ready. Above, counselors learn about energy, in part due to a partnership with the local Georgia Power company.

With national attention intensifying on preparing students for college and careers, the nation’s estimated 103,000 school counselors in K12 schools are playing a more critical role in preparing students for life after graduation.

Under Principal Alan Tenreiro’s leadership, Cumberland High School has seen increases in academic achievement, graduation rates, and the number of students admitted to college. (Photo: Lifetouch Photography)

Alan Tenreiro, principal of Cumberland High School in Rhode Island, was named 2016 National Principal of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals in October. Under Tenreiro’s leadership, the high school (which is part of the Cumberland School Department) has seen increases in academic achievement, graduation rates, and the number of students admitted to college.

The school has also doubled its Advanced Placement class offerings and expanded its STEM courses to include pre-engineering and robotics.

Sharie Akinmulero is an English teacher in San Antonio, Texas.

As school districts around the country experiment with various reforms aimed to increase graduation rates and prepare student for college, one such initiative already has established a proven track record of success.

Today, if educators aren’t talking personalized and collaborative use of technology in the classroom, they are teaching naked and afraid in a previous century. We are well into the 21st Century talking about cars driving themselves, and journeys to Mars, and our educators are still being talked to like they’re still covered in chalk. There needs to be a push for changing mindsets and teaching practice. Students are spending most classroom time on their bottoms, and parents continue to unpack backpacks wondering, as they sift through unfinished and disconnected homework assignments.

Sheila M. Harrity is superintendent-director of Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School District in Massachusetts.

When Sheila M. Harrity became superintendent-director of Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School District—better known as Monty Tech—she hit the ground running, transforming programs and searching out partnerships to ensure her students find good work right out of school or attend college.

Education professor Cathy Vatterott says that grades have come to reflect student compliance more than student learning and engagement.

Education professor Cathy Vatterott says that grades have come to reflect student compliance more than student learning and engagement. In her new book, Rethinking Grading, she advocates for a standards-based approach that more accurately demonstrates learning through mastery.

School gardens used for instruction are on the rise nationwide, and with them, student engagement and test scores, according to a recent study.

The nonprofit REAL School Gardens works with corporations to build outdoor classrooms at low-income schools. The gardens include 150 square feet of vegetable beds, perennial and herb beds, rainwater collection systems, composting bins, earth science stations, and animal habitats.

Most school districts back up student, human resource and finance records and other essential administrative data every night.

From hurricanes to software viruses to accidental keystrokes, many dangers threaten to corrupt school district data or impede access to it. To prevent loss of critical information, districts back up data routinely, on location and off-site. New devices and lower-priced cloud offerings mean districts no longer have to trade access for cost.

Little Kids Rock, a national organization dedicated to ensuring music ed through modern bands, partners with Nashville Public Schools’ guitar students one day last spring.

Some districts can’t find music teachers while others struggle to buy instruments. Many administrators must cut music classes to prepare students for testing. Still, schools large and small have kept the music playing with innovative grants, online fundraising and by scouring their budgets for any available resources.

Kate Ford is the area superintendent in Los Angeles for Aspire Public Schools.

Building a strong, empowered community is at the heart of any successful education institution and is transformative in the lives of students, educators and parents.

While teachers and students are key participants in achieving academic success, parents are the glue that holds everything together. Many parents in our communities work multiple jobs, with irregular schedules, making it challenging for even the best-intentioned parents to stay involved with their child’s academics.

Ken Donovan, facilities/security manager at Stonington Public Schools in Connecticut, shows off a school’s lockdown emergency button. When pushed, the button will lock the doors, bar access to other floors, issue an audible warning that an intruder is present and alert to local police cruisers.

School administrators across the country are turning to portable panic buttons, cloud-based crisis management systems and other technology in the search for new ways to keep students and staff safe. The price tag can run from a few thousand dollars to well into six figures, but administrators say the cost is worth it.

Low-income students are more likely to have uncorrected vision problems. (Click to enlarge)

Millions of youth are disproportionately affected by health problems that impair their motivation and ability to learn, according to the August Education Commission of the States report, “Heath barriers to learning and the education opportunity gap.”

Schools can play a central role in identifying unmet student health needs, and connecting students to community health services, the report states.

The accompanying graphics shows some major health barriers to learning.

Students attending an Internationals Network-supported school learn English language skills.

Despite fewer unaccompanied minors arriving from Central America, many U.S. K12 schools still struggle to adapt to the challenges of educating this diverse set of immigrant students.

During the 2014 fiscal year, the Department of Homeland Security reported that 57,496 unaccompanied minors arrived in the United States. In the first eight months of fiscal year 2015, the number dropped to fewer than 18,000.

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