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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.

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.

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.

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.

A staff member and students in the Upper Moreland Township School District in Pennsylvania take a walk as part of the intermediate school wellness initiative. The program keeps all staff motivated to be fit and healthy.

Districts are getting creative in how they address the need to rein in costs and still provide employees with good benefits. They can’t resolve some issues, such as the definition of a full-time employee (the Affordable Care Act uses 30 hours). But unconventional thinking is yielding ideas that other districts can learn from.

Albemarle County Public Schools removed hundreds of high school lockers and replaced them with benches for students to charge mobile devices.

One central Virginia high school replaced hundreds of lockers with device charging stations this fall to bolster its 1-to-1 program.

Brevard Public Schools changed principal PD in 2014-15 to focus intensively on building principals’ skills working with teachers in the modern classroom.

Some say that for principals, every day is their first day on the job. Alongside day-to-day building management issues such as hiring teachers, overseeing finances and student discipline, principals now guide teachers through new state standards and testing.

Students from a pilot school, Cowan Fundamental Elementary in Sacramento, California, examine hungry pests. (Photo: Amy Karle)

A new curriculum released by the USDA teaches middle school students about the most dangerous invasive species threatening the nation’s trees, plants and crops.

Available this fall, “Hungry Pests Invade Middle School” is the first curriculum created by the USDA that focuses on all 18 species, including the khapra beetle, the Mediterranean fruit fly and the Asian longhorned beetle.

Chrys Sweeting is assistant superintendent and Tim Yeomans is superintendent of the Puyallup School District in Washington.

Following a change in leadership in the Puyallup School District during the summer of 2012, we committed to align the work of the district with professional learning for leaders and staff to serve each student.

Working with the board of directors, “Improvement of Instruction, Student Growth and Achievement” became the central focus of the district, supported by three commitments.

Students in Newark Public Schools in New Jersey have taken advantage of an abandoned reservoir to build solar-powered mosquito control units, eradicate invasive plants and breed crustaceans that can eliminate toxic algae blooms.
Students, whose projects won a water conservation competition, hike on the Channel Islands off the Southern California coast.
Students in Florida’s Seminole County Schools go on mud walks at the district’s Environmental Studies Center to learn about the different habitats. All fifth graders from the district’s 36 elementary schools also take a mandatory two-day environmental study trip to the center each year.
 El Paso ISD students in each grade study a different aspect of air pollution, which was caused by a now-defunct copper smelter that helped launch the city’s economy.

Environmental education is not just a walk in the woods anymore. It’s a project-based walk in the woods with an iPad. And the learning goals span the curriculum, from STEM to social studies to language arts.

Psychologists from Ardsley Union Free School District in New York use behavioral therapy for students who injure themselves.

Emergency room visits for self-inflicted injuries in adolescents have risen significantly since 2009, according to a study in July Pediatrics. Schools looking to curb this behavior have turned to new mental health programs that focus on navigating stress and emotional regulation.

A physical education program that brings commercial-grade fitness equipment to under-resourced schools—along with a curriculum based on boosting confidence and fun—dramatically increases students’ performance on California’s standardized physical fitness test, according to a UCLA study titled “Targeting the Body and the Mind: Evaluation of a P.E. Curriculum Intervention for Adolescents.”

Former New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott

Former New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott was appointed by the state in August to lead a team studying the troubled East Ramapo Central School District in New York. Last fall, a state investigation found that the district’s school board members diverted money from public schools to children attending private religious institutions, leaving the district in financial trouble.

Walcott’s team will study the district’s operations and offer recommendations to the school board.