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October 2012

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Cover Story

Ask high school juniors at Da Vinci Charter Academy in the Davis (Calif.) Joint Unified School District, to explain the causes and consequences of war in American history, and you won’t get a rote recitation of dates and places.

Instead, these students are able to demonstrate their learning by screening the preview for a feature film they produced on the conflict in Afghanistan through the eyes of a young American soldier. They can offer highlights of their interviews with Vietnam veterans, which they contributed to the Library of Congress as primary source material.

Features

The nation’s K12 school superintendents are increasingly fatigued and frustrated by pressures to accomplish more in their districts with less resources. For most, though, personal commitment to public education helps overcome sources of stress stemming from many aspects of their jobs.

  • Manufacturing biodiesel fuel.
  • Building a geodesic-domed greenhouse.
  • Measuring the environmental impact of abandoned industrial canals.

Ask high school juniors at Da Vinci Charter Academy in the Davis (Calif.) Joint Unified School District, to explain the causes and consequences of war in American history, and you won’t get a rote recitation of dates and places.

Instead, these students are able to demonstrate their learning by screening the preview for a feature film they produced on the conflict in Afghanistan through the eyes of a young American soldier. They can offer highlights of their interviews with Vietnam veterans, which they contributed to the Library of Congress as primary source material.

What is at stake for K12 education in next month’s presidential election? Both President Obama and Gov. Romney say improving education will be a top priority in their administrations, but their policies and initiatives would likely be quite different.

In the weeks leading up to a presidential election, it’s hard to dismiss the importance of civic education, with campaign speeches, debates and advertisements blaring everywhere. Yet the National Assessment of Education Progress reports that only one-fourth of high school graduates are proficient in topics such as the American political system, principles of democracy, world affairs and the roles of citizens.

District CIO

Staying apace of rapidly evolving technologies and the innovative practices they enable remains a major challenge for school and district leaders concerned with keeping students on the upside of an expanding digital divide. As digital innovations emerge that require continuous upgrading of technological infrastructure, hardware and software, as well as training school personnel, district administrators are being called on to be more creative and strategic than ever.

In 2008, long before “bring your own device” was a buzz term, administrators at Marion County (Fla.) Public Schools (MCPS) were looking for an alternative to a one-to-one laptop program. Scott Hansen, chief information officer, says that one-to-one just wasn’t feasible for the 42,000-student district, so administrators considered other options.

SchoolSpeedTest.orgAs K12 education becomes more interconnected to videos, photos, software and Internet offerings for project-based learning and other lessons, there is a great need for schools not to only have access to broadband but also to have enough broadband to keep up with the array of new tools used in class.

Shravan RavishankarWithin a few months, each of Henrico County (Va.) Public Schools’ 13 magnet schools will have a fully automated application process, thanks to two high school interns who built the software program this past summer.

Opinion

When it comes to transitioning to the Common Core, this is not the time for hesitation. There is too much at stake and too much to accomplish in the very short time before the 2014-2015 assessments are administered by SMARTER Balanced and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

Of course, no one wants to hurry into a mistake that would be costly. So what do you do if you haven’t yet put all of the pieces together to transition to the Common Core State Standards?

Which of the two parts of your workers’ compensation program costs the most: the medical treatment for work-related injuries or lost wage replacement (or indemnity). Historically, the indemnity payments accounted for most costs, but recently, the steady rise in medical costs has driven your workers’ compensation costs.

We predict that within five years, Eastern Michigan University, Western Michigan University, Central Michigan University and Northern Michigan University will all be closed down—or at least they won’t be doing business as they are now. Maybe some of their special programs, such as Western Michigan’s eCommerce Technology program and Eastern Michigan’s Judaica program, may continue to exist in some format, but the costs involved in getting a degree from such institutions simply do not justify the benefits.

Solutions

When Joseph Andreasen joined the rural Oro Grande School District in 2006 as assistant superintendent, he was one of seven employees. The one-elementary-school district was short on students and therefore on cash, because state funding is based largely on enrollment.

Since then, however, the southern California school system, located about 90 miles northeast of Los Angeles, has exploded. The staff numbers more than 250, enrollment has skyrocketed from roughly 110 students to more than 3,700, and the budget has stabilized, with $12 million in savings and reserves to pay off debt.

 

Eugene G. White is a superintendent of firsts. He was the first in his family to graduate from high school in his segregated town of Phenix City in southeast Alabama. Both academically and athletically inclined, White scored high enough grades—and points—to earn a basketball scholarship to Alabama A&M University, where his education led to his becoming a teacher, basketball coach and the first African-American high school principal in two Indiana high schools.

Briefings

Reed Intermediate School, Newtown (Conn.) Public SchoolsDistricts looking to balance cost, sustainability and their carbon footprint when building a new school should consider wood, urges reThink Wood, a national coalition of North America’s forestry and wood industries. Formed in 2011, the coalition promotes wood as a low-carbon alternative to steel, masonry and concrete.

Banned Books LogoTo raise awareness of how school districts block web access for its students, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) has designated Wednesday, Oct. 3 as Banned Websites Awareness Day (BWAD). As a part of the second annual Banned Books Week, the AASL is asking school librarians and educators to share how overly restrictive filtering web sites negatively affects student learning.

Expanded Learning ModelsAs the debate over whether increasing the school day or year will improve student achievement trudges on, a new report reveals there is just not enough evidence to support this theory.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation in August designed to help schools and other government institutions save money by taking advantage of cooperative purchasing networks. The law makes New York the final U.S. state to allow for cooperative purchasing and could provide much needed relief for schools looking to cut costs.

ACT announced recently it will expand its assessment reach to students across K12. ACT’s “next generation” of assessments, as it is called, will assess students in grades 3 to 12 beginning in 2014 and then expand to include all students, beginning in kindergarten. The plan was met with mixed reviews from those resistant to more testing. However, with the latest 2012 ACT score results, released Aug. 22, revealing that 60 percent of graduates are not prepared for college and careers, the additional assessments seem to have merit.

According to its 2011 National School Climate Survey, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) reports that anti-gay language amongst students is continuing to decline and, for the first time, bullying against others based on sexual orientation has begun to drop. GLSEN surveyed more than 8,500 students between the ages of 13 and 20 from more than 3,000 school districts in all 50 states. The reason for the safer environment? An increase in support from school leaders, bullying prevention programs and LGBT organizations.

Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra is biting his nails. “It does keep me up at night and usually, nothing does,” says Tangorra, who leads the 1,700-student Ilion Central School District in upstate New York, not far from Utica. “It’s becoming a problem.”

Math CurriculumImproving the success of moderately performing students has been the predominant theory behind mathematics curriculum reform for much of the last few decades, particularly since No Child Left Behind was enacted in 2002. Since then, many district leaders and education reformers began promoting eighth-grade algebra as a means of accelerating math education for later success.

New Hope Students Having Fun in GymWhen New Hope Academy Charter School in the School District of the City of York (Pa.) welcomed 800 fifth through 10th graders for the 2012-2013 year, it celebrated an 11 percent enrollment spike and a 95 percent retention rate.

District Health Solutions Pay OffThe national debate over health care reform rages on, but some school districts are taking matters into their own hands and looking to employer-driven health care solutions to drive down costs and improve coverage. So far, the results are encouraging.

Michael WilliamsA Texas First
Texas Gov. Rick Perry named Michael Williams the state education commissioner. He will build on improvements and ensure children are prepared for college and the workplace. Williams is the first African-American in Texas to hold such a post.

Departments

It gives me great pleasure to “borrow” this space to welcome Gil Dyrli back to District Administration, where he will lead the editorial department as executive editor.

Bringing InnovationBringing Innovation to School
Solution Tree, $24.95

Inspiration SoftwareInspiration Software
Inspiration Maps App, $14.99
This new application brings visual thinking and learning to the Apple iPad. Users can organize notes, documents and projects by creating visual models, maps and graphics. The app has dozens of templates to choose from and can be updated and edited easily. The program also works with Dropbox and iTunes to share and store documents.