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Dec 2012

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Cover Story


What’s for dinner?

In thousands of school districts across the country, students are no longer asking that question to mom or dad but rather to cafeteria workers. That’s because of the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, signed into law in December 2010, which funds a third meal in schools where at least half of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

For generations, teachers in the early elementary years have urged their young pupils to use their brains. They’re still offering the same encouragement, but nowadays they can know even more about what they’re talking about.

Recent advances in neuroscience—from detailed scans of the brain to ongoing research on teaching methods that increase cognitive development—have ushered in a new era of “brain-based” education.

Students taking the ‘How to Make (Almost) Anything’ class at Mahtomedi High School in Mahtomedi, Minn. can literally make almost anything—from chess pieces to cups to chairs, and DVD cases to clocks to lampshades—right in their classroom. And besides getting a daily dose of amazement, these students are making history in the first public school district with access to such groundbreaking, hands-on STEM education.

District CIO

STEM education is moving out of classrooms and onto smartphones, with a new mobile platform called Active Explorer that aims to inspire student interest in the sciences. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) partnered with Qualcomm’s Wireless Reach initiative and mobile virtual network operator Kajeet to create the program.

As of 2017, textbooks should be a thing of the past, according to a report, “Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age,” released by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) in September. The report recommends that states and districts begin making the shift from print to digital instructional materials with the next major textbook adoption cycle, completing the transition within the next five years.

A holistic view of a student’s progress is now available, with help from the U.S. Department of Education. eScholar myTrack is the first commercially available collaborative platform in which administrators, teachers, support staff, students, and parents can see an individualized, holistic view of a student’s progress across their entire education career. myTrack uses data from the MyData Button, a U.S. DOE-facilitated industry movement encouraging schools and software vendors to allow students to download their own data to create a personal learning profile.


It’s about democracy and freedom. Freedom for EVERY individual to have a chance to realize his or her dreams and aspirations, is what America was built on. And school is one place—home is another—where we learn how to practice freedom and democracy. Yes, we learn stuff there too; the War of 1812 occurred in 1812. However, that sort of stuff is static. And, democracy and freedom are anything but. Just as doctors practice medicine, individuals in a democratic country need to practice democracy and freedom 24/7; they need to practice realizing their dreams and aspirations 24/7.

Let me start with a couple of interesting “visions” of learning that I’ve read recently.

Students in a high school science class are excited about their upcoming class project in the school pool. The teacher has emailed the parents, sharing details about the project, but no permission forms to participate are sent home.



Richland (Wash.) School District No. 400, which has 15 schools, more than 11,000 students, and 1,400 employees, was challenged with an aging desktop infrastructure and limited financial resources from which to replace or replenish it. “Many of our machines were eight to 10 years old and running Windows 2000, which had reached its end of life,” says the district’s Executive Director of Information Technology Michael Leseberg.

“People run into me at the grocery store...and say, ‘Thank you for what you do. I don’t have kids in school, but I’m glad you’re here. I know you have a really tough job.’ ”

Those are the kind words Nancy J. McGinley hears from strangers, today, in what she calls the “big, small town” of Charleston, S.C. But they’re a far cry from the frigid reception she felt starting in 2007, during her first few years as superintendent of the expansive, racially and socio-economically diverse Charleston County (S.C.) School District (CCSD).

Keene, N.H., is a small New England town best known as home to Keene State College, Antioch College of New England, and a Guinness world record-setting fall pumpkin festival for the most-lit jack-o-lanterns in one place.

But Keene School District SAU 29 wants to be known for its own accolades—top-tier technology—and it’s trying to achieve that by replacing teachers’ desktop computers with iPads and piloting them as replacement textbooks in some classes as Keene explores digital instruction, and moves toward the “electronic book bag” experts say is on the horizon.


Nathan Levenson, author of “Boosting the Quality and Efficiency of Special Education.”More special education funding in a district does not necessarily result in greater student achievement—in fact, it can lead to less, says a first-of-its-kind report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Improving special education teacher training is a priority in many U.S. districts, especially considering shrinking school budgets. This fall, 22 states received a total of $24 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education to invest in the teachers who have the biggest effect on the outcomes of students with disabilities.

Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif. has been on the federal watch list for failing schools for six years, with only one-third of sixth-graders at grade level in reading and math. But come next August, it will be transformed into a charter school, thanks to a small group of parents who for the first time enacted major reform under the state’s controversial parent trigger law.


Former L.A. Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will serve as California’s After School STEM ambassador, and host after-school STEM events through 2013 to speak about education. He has promoted STEM ed and careers through his Skyhook Foundation since 2009.


Gone are the days of crumpled bills at Carroll County Public Schools in Baltimore, Md. A cafeteria sales system implemented this school year uses a high-tech infrared hand scanner to access student accounts with pre-deposited money, to speed up time spent in the lunch line. However, some parents are concerned with their child’s security, especially since they were not informed of the change until the scanners were already in place.

Students nationwide are protesting the new nutritional guidelines for school lunches that went into effect this year thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. From parody videos to cafeteria strikes, students are speaking out against the smaller, healthier portions, which include almost twice as many fruits and vegetables as last year, and less saturated fat and sodium. They are hungry, they say, and the healthy options aren’t tasty, leading some to discard their fruits and veggies.

Michelle RenéeSchool turnaround policies that include firing and replacing teachers and administrators in hopes of raising test scores are actually detrimental to schools, according to a report from the National Education Policy Center.

Though the Chicago Teachers Union approved a new contract in September, the aftermath of their eight-day strike has led to debate over the role of teacher unions in education reform; specifically, whether unions should be allowed expansive collective bargaining and striking rights under state law, or if these rights impede reform.

For the first time, administrators nationwide can access and compare state education and technology policies in one place. The State Education Policy Center (SEPC) is a unique database that provides up-to-date information on state education and technology policies and practices to inform school reform and improvement efforts. The database launched in October, and was curated by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), a national member association of educational technology leaders.

America’s dropout crisis is so severe that one in four students does not finish high school. Unless graduation rates increase, nearly 12 million students will likely drop out over the next decade, with an estimated national loss of $1.5 trillion in lost wages and increased social costs due to crime and health care, according to a 2012 report “Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic.”


Odvard Egil DyrliSince participants in the District Administration community are the most informed consumers in K12 education, it is with great pleasure that we announce their selections for the 2012 Readers’ Choice Top 100 Products in this issue. DA reaches school superintendents and other key executives in virtually every district in the United States, and no one is better qualified to comment on district spending options.