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Preparing students for an increasingly global workforce means teaching them not only how to speak a second language, but how to think critically in that language and have a deep understanding of the culture and geography that are embedded in it.

Increases in rigor and depth are a focus of this year’s American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) conference, which will be held Nov. 20 to 22 in San Diego.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

At Columbus City Schools, Steve Simmons, director of pupil transportation, can see every move a school bus makes on its trip to picking up students at stops, and dropping them off.

GPS and automated route systems, among other advancements, make bus service more efficient and effective. Despite heightened demands on school transportation in recent years—such as safety and expanded bell times—district administrators and transportation managers can cut costs while creating safe and convenient routes.

Hiring and retaining talented teachers can be a challenge in any district. But finding recent teaching college graduates who are ready to excel in the classroom their very first year can be even more difficult.

At the Legacy Traditional School District in Arizona, Chief Academic Officer Bill Bressler is trying to bump up the number of computers for his students to just take the tests. Above, a teacher instructs a lesson including Common Core standards.

Given the lack of concrete data, savvy administrators are analyzing their districts’ experiences with the assessments to improve the testing process and communications next year.

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