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Administrator Profile

Mark Edwards compares the start of school to Christmas. That's when the superintendent of the Mooresville (N.C.) Graded School District, north of Charlotte, says the district invites students in grades 4 through 12 to pick up a gift: their own laptop for the academic year.

"It's extremely exciting to see the look on students' faces," Edwards says. "Last year I heard numerous students say—a week before school starts—'I wish school was starting tomorrow.' I thought, 'I've never heard that before.'"

For Michele Hancock, the recently hired superintendent of the Kenosha (Wis.) Unified School District No. 1, her job is not business as usual. When she took the position last summer, she had a vision to transform the district, including questioning all practices, programs and policies to ensure they meet the needs of all students.

According to the national Assessment of Educational Progress' Long-term Trend Assessment (NAEP), since the 1970s, gaps among under-performing demographics have been slowly shrinking, while the gap has widened at the top end of student achievement.

Minnesota is among many states trying to close this "excellence gap" through innovative curricula. In 2009, Minnetonka Public Schools Superintendent Dennis L. Peterson helped to launch the Navigator Program, which offers charter- school-like access to programming for gifted students aged 8-11.

Kathleen Regan came to Glen Rock Public Schools four years ago thinking she would work only six months as the interim director of curriculum and instruction. Instead, she has stayed and succeeded—helping place the affluent, 2,500-student New Jersey district 20 miles northwest of Manhattan in the national spotlight for its science, technology, engineering and math program that extends from kindergarten to college-level work in high school.

A microcosm of the global education movement has materialized in Oxford (Mich.) Community Schools, home to 4,739 students in northern Oakland County. When Superintendent William Skilling started in 2007, he had a vision for a district immersed in global learning, foreign language, science and technology that resonated with the board of education—a vision the district didn't have, according to Colleen Schultz, school board president.

It came as no surprise to the residents of Mankato, Minn. last fall when Forbes magazine called the city a great place for raising a family. The population in the area served by Mankato Area Public Schools, which straddles three counties in the southern part of the state, has reached more than 50,000, thanks to business and recreational opportunities, a low cost of living, state-of the-art health care, great schools, and a welcoming attitude toward newcomers.

Schaumburg consolidated School District #54, located in Chicago's northwest suburb, is one of only 18 districts nationwide to receive the highest credit rating by Moody's—the gold star in global credit scores. The elementary district, with 15,000 diverse, middle-income students dispensed across 27 schools, earned this rating for its low debt burden, rapid balance payback, and ample reserves, including a working cash balance of $63 million.

"Children with disabilities will only meet their potential if they have effective teachers," says John O'Connor, executive director for special services at DeKalb (Ga.) County School System, a metropolitan Atlanta school district in the second-largest county in the state.

Through an intense collaborative effort, O'Connor has helped reinvent instruction for special education students who, combined with ELLs, amount to about 17 percent of the total student population.

Offering innovative choices to students and families is at the heart of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District's Academic Transformation Plan. Spearheaded by Chief Executive Officer Eugene Sanders, the Whatever it Takes blueprint offers what he calls "a gamechanging opportunity" for improvement through academic and non-academic strategies.

When Manuel L. Isquierdo joined the Sunnyside (Ariz.) Unified School District (SUSD) as superintendent in 2007, school board president Louie Gonzales let him know that there was no time for a honeymoon period. He had to hit the ground running.