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Frank Wang knew he was green to the world of textbook publishing. "A few days after I defended my MIT thesis I literally got in my Honda and started driving to Oklahoma," he says. A top seat at Saxon Publishers, where Wang had helped out since high school, awaited him during that spring of 1991.

Lyle Rowland knows the name of each of the 238 students enrolled at Taneyville R-II School District, a K-8 district just east of Branson, Mo. What's more, he knows their parents, where they live and how some families earn their living.

Using private funds is nothing new to most school districts. Bake sales and student car washes have been funding activities for decades. Your district may already have a deal with a sporting goods company to subsidize its sports programs.

Hamilton Central School (New York)

Students in Appoquinimink School District in Odessa, Del., were getting gypped for years. Nine years ago, they had library media centers that were showing signs of age, full of outdated material, sometimes 20 years old, and very few library media specialists.

Have you ever had an idea so good that you know if you can just tell the right person, they'll agree and it will happen? That, more or less, was the script when the CEO of the School District of Philadelphia, Paul Vallas, met with Microsoft more than a year ago.