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When Philip Brody arrived at Clark County (Nev.) School District in September of 1998, he was charged with upgrading the district's computer network so schools could become competitive in the newly dawned Internet age.

Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, boys and girls in sixth grade in Osseo Area Schools, Minn., learned the term masturbation. All fourth-graders learned about anatomy in mixed-gender classes and the definition of sexual intercourse. And junior high students learned methods to avoid the risk of HIV infection.

It was a comprehensive family life curriculum, considered a prime model of a comprehensive human sexuality and family life education, according to B.J. Anderson, then the curriculum and instruction specialist for the district.

In Okemos, Mich., Paula Pulter's first grade class at the Cornell Elementary School has covered units on American history, the Revolutionary War, U.S. presidents, weather and recycling. At the Thorn Apple Elementary School in Grand Rapids, Nancy Lass had led her second graders through a six-week unit reading and writing about microscopic animals.

WITH A PROCLAMATION by President George W. Bush and a series of visits by federal education officials, charter schools enjoyed a week of national attention in May, celebrating their supporters' claim that they can be more effective than other public schools in boosting student achievement.

Nothing that involves dispersing money seems to come out fair-and still school systems manage to attract budget directors who gear up for the challenge on an annual basis.

If he were a character in a Perry Mason episode, John Q. Porter would be the protagonist. Pacing methodically across his art-deco office, impeccably dressed in pinstripes-spats, even-his department's assistant Diane Watts would shadow behind, scribing ideas that churn from his brain about his latest dilemma.

Preparing for a Pandemic

Unsure if or when the next flu pandemic might strike, public health officials are telling school districts to be prepared should the bird flu virus evolve to the point where it can spread easily from person to person.

When it comes time to divvy up the technology budget, districts have more choices than ever. So it may come as a surprise to hear how fiercely some tech experts defend something as seemingly basic as classroom audiovisual equipment.

You'd be hard pressed to find a school district that leaves improving test scores, budgeting for new technology or developing the curriculum to chance. But too many schools do exactly that with parental and community involvement, arguably as important to student success as any of those above activities. It takes work, though, to get past the once-a-year bake sale and some fundraising calls to local businesses.

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