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Oct 2009

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With more than four decades of experience in both urban and suburban districts, Gerald Kohn knows how difficult it can be to change the culture of a school district beset by poverty, social issues and politics. Yet he accepted the challenge of bringing change to the Harrisburg School District in central Pennsylvania eight years ago, because, he says, “nothing gives me more satisfaction than being able to succeed.”

When students fail courses or drop out of school, it isn’t good for them or their districts, which are under federal and state mandates to improve test scores and graduation rates. With those mandates and about 1.2 million students dropping out each year—or one every 26 seconds—“there is more pressure today than ever to help students stay in school and graduate on time,” according to Susan Patrick, president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a collaborative effort between the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA) that is developing core K12 standards in English-language arts and math. The current patchwork of state standards makes it difficult, if not impossible, to evaluate student performance across states and countries. Dissatisfaction with this situation is a major factor driving the effort to develop common, internationally benchmarked standards.

For retired teacher Georgette Charlton, heading back to school wasn’t a difficult decision: “A person never really leaves education if you’re a true educator. It’s always there.” Across the nation, schools increasingly are tapping into a vast resource pool—retired educators.


Going back to school means something completely different to today’s IT administrators.

A suburban school systewas saddened when its third student in several months died by suicide. The superintendent shared the most recent tragedy at a meeting with other local superintendents and was startled to learn that across four neighboring districts, nine teenagers had died by suicide in the last 18 months. Were they in the midst of a suicide cluster? If so, how could they stop it? Did these teens all know each other? How will further deaths be prevented? Who is most at risk?


John Long, superintendent of the Warren County R-III School District in Missouri, knew that one of the school campuses was badly in need of an upgrade.

Michael Smith admits he doesn’t talk much about his Web site or weekly blog with the staff, school board or community in his rural Oakland, Ill., district, because most folks probably don’t know what a blog is. That’s not a disrespectful dig, but reality: In his agricultural district 200 miles south of Chicago’s bustle—comprising only 300 students, 50 staff, two schools, and one principal—tending a Web site isn’t as high on anyone’s task list as teaching, farming the corn and soybean crops for which the region is known, or football.


Education funding cuts in this tough economy mean current students may once again tell their grandchildren, “When I was your age, I had to walk to school uphill—both ways.”

For example, a budget shortfall in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Texas means that students living inside a two-mile radius of its 81 campuses will walk or carpool to school.

“We’re not cutting fat,” says Kelli Duram, Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District assistant superintendent for communication. “We’re cutting into bone marrow now.”


After hearing the buzz this spring about the Common Core State Standards Initiative and knowing that in a relatively short time school districts in most states will be impacted in many ways, we decided that it was time for a progress report. We checked in with Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Dane Linn, director of the Education Division of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, who are heading up the initiative.


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An increasing number of K12 districts are beginning to install digital signs—for displaying announcements, weather conditions, welcome messages, event information and more—in their lobbies, hallways, libraries or cafeterias. Digital signage can also play an important role as part of an emergency notification system, as administrators can immediately display crisis response information on every connected monitor throughout a school building or district.