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District Administration, July-Aug. 2012

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Cover Story

Seven-year-old Chanse, a first grader in Kathleen Gerard’s classroom at PS 116 in New York City, is in a “World of Goo.” On an iPad, he’s using his index finger to pull little black animated “goo balls” around the screen and to connect them in an attempt to build what will end up being a flimsy but balanced bridge made of oily glop. He’s building across chasms and cliffs, avoiding windmills and spikes, trying to connect to a pipe that will suck up any goo that he didn’t use to score him big points.


The national appetite for combating bullying at the elementary and secondary level in many cases is outpacing the ability of school districts to hire the guidance counselors who head up such efforts, although increased awareness of and sophistication in handling bullying over the past decade are beginning to have a positive effect, counselors say.

Veteran Superintendent Paul Vallas is onto the next big thing.

0ne in four students under the age of six comes from an immigrant family in which at least one parent does not speak English, says Maki Park, early education policy analyst for the Migration Policy Institute (MPI).

District CIO

Palm Beach County (Fla.) School District is the latest district to take its social media accounts to the next level. The district is launching its own Facebook and Twitter accounts, which will represent the district as a whole as opposed to individual teachers or administrators. The district’s public affairs department will run the operation, coinciding with a growing trend nationwide to emphasize social media.

A new survey of Louisiana schools reveals a critical issue facing most states nationwide: schools are lacking the technology needed to conduct online testing required by the Common Core State Standards. Although the looming requirement that all testing be conducted online has been discussed, the degree to which states are unprepared has not been known. And only five school systems meet the requirements.

Virtual school programs—especially online high school courses—are gaining traction in school districts around the country. According to a report issued in November 2011 by the National Center for Education Statistics, 55 percent of the more than 2,000 school districts surveyed had students in distance education programs during the 2009-2010 school year.


Social media tools like Facebook, Myspace, Instagram, Google+ and Flickr are potentially exciting learning and teaching tools that can help teachers and students make connections to ideas, skills and concepts in a 21st-century learning environment. However, social media are getting a bad rap in education. Some students use the tools in ways that pit their First Amendment rights against their responsibilities as students in brick-and-mortar schools.

School board members and superintendents typically focus their safety planning and preparedness measures on school campuses, but they often overlook security and emergency planning for administration centers, board meeting sites and support facilities.

Today’s climate of economic uncertainty, school budget cuts and the growing politicization of education issues create a new level of risk for the adults running districts. Failure to take reasonable preparedness measures can lead to increased risks and the potential for greater liability.

I have been involved in the aftermath of 13 school shootings. Throughout my years of professional experience, I have stayed abreast with the latest research and literature. My hope is to help dispel the common assumptions associated with school shootings. After learning of my experiences, people often say to me, “School shootings today are increasing, and they are happening everywhere.” Although this assumption has been reinforced by the media, school shootings are actually very rare, and schools remain among the safest places for children.

Apple reports that 1.5 million iPads are used in K12. Given that there are approximately 55 million students in K12, the iPad has penetrated K12 faster than any other computing technology. And the tech tsunami doesn’t seem to be slowing down. We have seen this type of excitement before with desktops and then again with laptops, although their rates of growth in K12 were slower. Each time the expectations for what the computing device would do for education were sky high, and each time there was disappointment.


District leaders are facing challenging conditions across the country, including increased accountability, reduced budgets and limited community support, while also trying to bring about educational improvements at all levels of the system. Yet reform is difficult work and yields limited success in most settings, particularly in large urban districts with the most challenging circumstances and many low-performing schools.

In late May, Olympics history was made at the refurbished 82-year-old pool at Newport Harbor High School in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Orange County, Calif. The U.S. men’s water polo team beat in the 2012 Olympic trials the gold-medal-winning Hungarian national team for the first time in a decade.

In Dec. 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which provides federal funds for an after-school dinner program in schools where at least half the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Kansas City (Mo.) Public Schools serves a population of 16,000 students, and 84 percent qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.


Fifteen schools in Maryland have been involved with a special project from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) to bring STEM education—science, technology, engineering and math—to middle- and high-school students, working in partnership with agencies like the National Institutes of Health, NASA and the U.S. Naval Academy.

In July, San Bernardino became the third city in California to file for bankruptcy. California isn’t alone, however. In Scranton, Pa., for example, the mayor made a bold move by paying the city’s workers minimum wage, prompting a universal “gulp” from public employees across the country.

One year ago, John Covington, the former superintendent of Kansas City (Mo.) Public Schools, became the chancellor of a new organization in Michigan. The new state agency, the Michigan Education Achievement Authority (EAA), will operate the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in Michigan, 38 of which are in the city of Detroit. Covington was brought in by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder because of his success in urban districts and track record for finding creative and innovative solutions.

At last, K12 educators can see the results of money well spent. Community in Schools, a nonprofit organization that serves nearly 1.3 million students in 3,400 schools, not only increases high school graduation rates, but also creates more than $11 of economic benefit for a community for every dollar invested in CIS, according to an analysis released in May by EMSI, an economic modeling firm. The organization currently boasts an 87 percent nationwide graduation rate.

When Andres Alonso joined Baltimore City (Md.) Public Schools in 2007, he wasted no time in implementing the Portfolio Strategy. The district had over 80,000 students, 91 percent of which were minority and 82 percent were low-income. Baltimore City had been plagued by low test scores and a widening achievement gap for years, and Alonso sought out this multi-tiered approach as a resolution.

Saying Goodbye
After six years, Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, has decided to step down. Wilhoit was a key in working with the National Governors Association to develop the Common Core State Standards.

Update [7/23/12]: On July 23, the U.S. Department of Education released a memo to chief state school officers announcing that major K12 programs will not be subjected to the 8.4 percent across the board sequestration cuts in the middle of the 2012-2013 school year that was originally predicted.

As school and state leaders across the nation prepare to implement the Common Core State Standards in the fall of 2014, a new report proposes three options—with three costs—to use.


Keeping Up With Tech Innovation

In response to DA’s District CIO coverage the past several months, I’d like to say we can save money and time if we can get better at designing curriculum that spans content and allows us to do more in less time. The time can be used for better professional development in technology integration. 

In the near future, we will see fewer traditional school buildings. Taking their place will be affinity schools, organized around students’ interests, and more STEM labs strategically located to offer easy access. Blended learning will be the norm, with individual students needing their own device. Networks will deliver higher levels of broadband performance to accommodate the growth in online learning. Technology combined with global learning will change the ways schools look today.

With a vast number of new software and Web-based reading programs on the market, students of all ages and abilities can target specific reading skills, such as comprehension, fluency, phonemic awareness and vocabulary. In addition, access has changed greatly over the last couple of years. Students no longer need to be in a computer lab to use Web-based programs; they can use laptops or tablets as part of a one-to-one computing program or their own devices if their school has a bring-your-own-device policy.

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According to new research from the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), U.S. schools will need broadband speeds of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students by the 2014-2015 school year to meet increasing demand for Web-based lessons and the growing number of mobile devices used in the classroom. –Source: SETDA (2012)