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District Administration, September 2012

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Cover Story

A rising tide of protest is sweeping across the nation as growing numbers of parents, teachers, administrators and academics take action against high-stakes testing. Instead of test-and-punish policies, which have failed to improve academic performance or equity, the movement is pressing for broader forms of assessment. From Texas to New York and Florida to Washington, reform activists are pressing to reduce the number of standardized exams.


Special education occupies a large part of the mission—and budget—of many school districts. With learning disabilities such as ADHD and dyslexia each estimated to affect more than 10 percent of the school-age population, special education teachers have their hands full helping those students navigate increasingly rigorous, state-mandated curricula.

In 1969, a concern with the deep inequity of students’ experiences and opportunities in traditional school systems first drove social studies teacher Rick DuFour to begin advocating for the kind of reforms that would jell into his transformative model, Professional Learning Communities at Work, some 16 years later. The core belief of the PLC at Work model—that all students should have access to the most rigorous curriculum and that all students should learn, was counter to common practices in the era when DuFour taught.

District CIO

Professional development in the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Unified School District just got mobile—and we don’t mean tablets. In May, the district rolled out a one-of-its-kind school bus that serves as a professional development site for teachers to become acquainted with new technology before it’s introduced in the classroom. The purpose of the bus, which was dubbed eCoach, is to create an innovative environment for professional development and to deliver this technology seamlessly across all 31 schools in the district.

TED-Ed, an online content library associated with TED conferences, went live in April with the goal of enhancing classroom lessons and inspiring lifelong learning. It is similar to Khan Academy, but the videos are made by teachers from around the world rather than just one expert. They have received much praise in their first few months.

“The beauty of TED-Ed and the Khan Academy is that they are online libraries available to anyone with an Internet connection anytime and anywhere,” says Logan Smalley, director of TED-Ed.

Do school district leaders receive even close to a full return on investment for 21st-century technologies like online learning, videoconferencing and interactive whiteboards? Technology vendors and their most engaged, enthusiastic customers say that many educators leave significant potential untapped because they are unable to see how technology could be more transformative or are unwilling to make the bold moves necessary to align curriculum with technology rather than the other way around.

Debbie Karcher has worked in IT with the Miami-Dade County Public Schools for 27 years. After seventeen years with the district, she worked in the private sector for Amadeus and Motorola, returning in 2001 as CIO. She manages 500 people; 250 technicians are assigned to schools to support students and staff, and the rest are in development, training and security. District Administration often references M-DCPS, one of the nation’s largest districts. We felt it was time to talk with the CIO.


The issue of whether race can or should play a role in school admissions has long plagued school districts and the courts. As districts across the country struggle to achieve diversity in a legally permissible way, whether and to what extent race may be used remains a thorny issue. Educators searching for answers encounter a complicated body of law that often leads to more questions than answers.  

The Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act added a provision to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requiring that schools that receive E-rate and other technology funds educate minors about appropriate online behavior. This includes showing students how to interact with other individuals on social networking Web sites and in chat rooms, and teaching them about cyberbullying awareness and response.

Every time I get a chance to talk to parents, I ask them this question. “What do you most want your children to get out of their school experience?” The answers, by and large, are not surprising.

I recently asked a group of middle school students to name their favorite use of technology for learning. An eager eighth-grade girl said, “My work has gotten so much better since we started using Facebook to do homework at night in my math class. We’re all online together, so if I have questions, I get them answered while doing my homework, instead of the next day or even later. Sometimes my friends even explain the math better than the teacher, and we send each other links to stuff online.” Wanting to learn more, I asked her which teacher had set up the group.

Education and medicine have seen significant increases in costs, but limited increases in benefits. Interestingly, computerization has been brought to the “back office” (record keeping, accounting, etc.) in both areas, but the front office, where doctors meet patients and where teachers meet students, has seen precious little computerization.


Students at Steuart W. Weller Elementary School in Ashburn, Va., toss darts, play guitar, dance like rock stars, raft down rapids, and talk to youngsters in Romania. Yet there are no darts, no instruments, no DJs, no white water and no expensive international plane tickets involved. Instead, the students use their arms, legs and body movements to do the activities through a video game system, which also allows for live video chats around the world.

The resounding cry from Joshua Powell supporters, the Kentucky superintendent who in six years turned two underperforming districts into successful ones, is that his method “actually works.”

His first job as superintendent was at Cloverport Independent where led the district from 165th out of 174 state rankings to 10th in three years.  In 2008, Powell accepted his second superintendent job at Union County Public Schools where he replicated his efforts, leading the district from 161st to 52nd in three years. 


Roy Montesano had a distinguished career in New Jersey, where he had been a middle school science teacher and principal, a director of curriculum and technology, and for the past 12 years, a superintendent in the Westwood and Ramsey school districts. Montesano was the 2012 New Jersey Superintendent of the Year. In the 2012-2013 school year, he will lead the Hastings-on-Hudson (N.Y.) Union Free School District.

DA: Why did you retire after this past school year and accept a superintendent job in New York?

With no end in sight for the budget crisis facing districts, the Texas State Board of Education approved a plan in July that would allow 3.3 percent of the state’s Permanent School Fund to be distributed to public schools for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. The expected payout is roughly $830 million each year—or $1.7 billion.

One snafu with summer meal programs that offer free meals to children—particularly in rural districts—is that more often than not, the students who need the meals the most are the ones that do not have transportation to get to the feeding sites. The San Marcos (Texas) Independent School District, home to 8,800 students, over 6,000 of whom receive free and reduced-price lunches, found a solution by converting a district school bus into a homegrown meals on wheels program.

On July 30, The New Teacher Project (TNTP), a nonprofit dedicated to closing the achievement gap, released a study that, according to David Keeling, vice president of communications, tells a story of systemic neglect for our nation’s best teachers.

Rupert Murdoch

Amplify and AT&T

News Corporation Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch created an education technology division, led by former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein. The group, called Amplify, teamed up with AT&T July 23 to deliver digital content through 4G tablets.

Since the law went into effect in December 2010, the trigger had yet to be pulled on California’s Parent Trigger Law—that is, until a Southern California Superior Court ruled July 23 in favor of a group of parents from the Desert Trails Elementary School, part of the Adelanto (Calif.) School District.

In late June, two elementary school sisters in Tacoma (Wash.) Public Schools came home from a field day sunburned so badly that their mother rushed them to the hospital. Aside from being fair skinned, one girl, Zoe, has albinism, making her particularly sensitive to the sun. Because it was raining that morning, Zoe’s mother hadn’t put sunscreen on her daughter. Tacoma school officials said that sunscreen is monitored by the FDA as an over-the-counter drug and isn’t allowed in schools without a doctor’s note. The only exception is California.

How successful are your Google searches when looking for instructional resources? If your results are subpar, you’re not alone. According to a survey that assessed how educators search for online materials, only 25 percent of educators described their searches as “usually successful.”


According to the Society for Information Display (SID), the key feature educators consider when purchasing new projectors is image quality. Manufacturers provide resolution, brightness and contrast figures to evaluate performance, but these specifications don’t address color quality. A new metric released by SID, color light output (CLO), will allow educators to evaluate color performance between competing projector models quickly and accurately. CLO or color brightness should be the same as the white brightness or white light output to ensure that images are vibrant.

School Specialty Path Driver for Reading School Specialty recently released Path Driver for Reading, an online screening and progress monitoring platform that predicts reading proficiency for students in grades K-10 using research-based assessments. Educators can schedule automatic oral fluency assessments, monitor progress, and view progress reports that include intervention history.

Oh, What a Beautiful Oklahoma

In the curriculum feature story “Geography Ed for a Flat World” (June 2012), writers list several states that require geography and test it. Your article left out Oklahoma.

Oklahoma requires geography in the sixth and seventh grades. There is a statewide mandated test for seventh grade. That course and the testing have been in effect for well over 10 years. Most districts also offer full-year geography courses in high school; however, there is no mandated testing for geography at that level.

What changes have you accomplished that will make this school year different from last? In an era of having to doing more with less, what progress have you made?

Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards. Will there be more of an emphasis on critical-thinking skills and deeper understanding of concepts in your schools?