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District Administration, May 2013

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Cover Story

So long, clunky desks. No more one-size fits all. Instead, cumbersome one piece desk-chair combos are slowly disappearing from classrooms. Institutional-style, heavy wooden desks dominated the school furniture scene for most of the past 100 years. However, as instruction shifts to a learner-centric, individualized approach with a focus on small group activities, heavy furniture that small hands cannot move on their own have become less desirable, according to John Musso, executive director for the Association of School Business Offcials (ASBO). 

Features

The problems in public education are worrisome and well-documented: lagging math and science scores, shaky skills in reading and writing, growing numbers of students reaching college ill-prepared—or simply not getting there at all.

Recalling the myth of Sisyphus repeatedly pushing the same boulder up a mountain in his new book, author and educator Frederick M. Hess explains how the K12 education leadership is faltering, and how it can rise above. “Cage-Busting Leadership” (Harvard Education Press, February 2013) is a new book and consequently, a small, growing movement for educators trying to take a machete to administrative red tape and contracts that tend to paralyze district leaders from doing what’s best and right for the students. 

Algebra I has long served as a gateway to higherlevel math courses and science courses, such as physics, and has been required for high school graduation as well as admission to most colleges. But taking algebra also can turn into a pathway for failure, from which some students never recover. In 2010, a national U.S. Department of Education study found that 80 percent of high school dropouts cited their inability to pass Algebra I as the primary reason for leaving school.

Students are doing less hand-raising and more clicking as online classes become increasingly popular in K12 instruction, both in combination with brick-and-mortar classrooms and in independent full-time virtual schools. “It’s exploding,” says Barbara Treacy, director of EdTech Leaders Online, a program of the nonprofit Education Development Center that works with educational organizations to develop online courses and professional development.

District CIO

Imagine access to your district’s email system on mobile devices tripled over two weeks. This is exactly what Deb Karcher, CIO of Miami Dade Public Schools and her team faced after Christmas 2012. “Santa Syndrome,” a term coined by Karcher, resulted in the 50,000 users accessing the email system on personal devices before winter break jumping to 150,000 when the schools reopened after the holidays. Fortunately, the district has plenty of bandwidth to support such an influx to their enterprise applications, including email. 

District IT leaders are prioritizing BYOD, assessment readiness, and broadband access for their schools, despite that 80 percent predict flat or declining IT budgets for the upcoming year, according to the Consortium for School Networking’s (CoSN) first-of-its-kind National IT Leadership Survey.

More than 50% of teachers say that almost all of their students have sufficient access to digital tools at school, but only 18% say students have access to the tools they need at home.

The Pew Research Center survey of over 2,400 Advanced Placement and National Writing Project teachers also found that 84% of teachers believe today’s technologies are leading to greater disparities between affluent and disadvantaged schools and districts.

At Dublin (Ohio) City Schools, Chinese teacher Dun Zhang teaches class in three different high school buildings—at the same time. With a shrinking budget and a desire to keep the foreign language program, the district moved to a blended model this year, with a combination of in-person, online, and video conference classes, to save money while reaching as many students as possible.

Opinion

In December 2012, in the case Zeno v Pine Plains Cent School District, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that a New York district was liable under Title VI for student-on-student harassment, upholding a $1 million reduced jury verdict.

I have been a school social worker in the small Westmoreland Central School District in central New York for 26 years. And I have experienced what is now documented in research, that schools are seeing more children with mental health difficulties, such as fear and anxiety. These problems occur for various reasons, including family and tempermental issues, and often emerge at an early age.

Solutions

Just 20 miles from Manhattan sits the community of Roslyn Heights, N.Y., where its 3,300 students are among the best and brightest, consistently scoring above county, state, and national averages on standardized tests and College Board exams. In the last few years, the Roslyn (N.Y.) Public Schools implemented the latest technology and exposed students to world culture. 

Being fired as chief of the Lyons Elementary School District in Illinois a decade ago was the best thing to happen to Raymond Lauk, at least career-wise. It forced him down a path to the corporate world, specifically GE Security, as the education solutions manager, which taught him how to focus and to later create better school environments.

Briefings

School administrators need to adapt to rising numbers of autism cases, despite reports from the U.S. Autism and Asperger Association that show educators have been overwhelmed and unable to provide for all the affected students for years.

Architect of Change

Jesús Chávez, superintendent of Round Rock (Texas) ISD, received the Architect of Change Award at the Blueprint for Educational Change Leaders Summit. In the past few years, Chávez increased graduation rates for low-income students by more than 18 percent.

A principal’s job is only getting harder, according to the latest MetLife Survey of the American Teacher. A whopping 75 percent of principals feel the job has become too complex, and job satisfaction rates decreased nine percentage points in less than five years, to just 59 percent. And seven in 10 principals say their job responsibilities are very different from what they were five years ago.

In the months following the Sandy Hook massacre, schools nationwide stepped up efforts to provide safe environments for teachers and students, and many turned to high-tech solutions.

With larger class sizes and increasing student diversity, elementary school teachers are increasingly turning to grouping students by ability level to meet their individual needs, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on American Education.

The coming Common Core computer-based assessments will mark a major change in testing for districts, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is preparing with a nationwide pilot test to learn how real students react to the new format.

In April, three Texas middle school students joined marine veterans and a team of surgeons on a 12-day expedition through the jungles of Central America, learning about sustainable agriculture, reforestation, and ecosystems, and helping create a mobile surgical clinic for an indigenous Nicaraguan tribe that lacks access to medical treatment.

The expedition was part of a science education program called Exploration Nation, featuring real students applying STEM topics to the real world.

Departments

Digital coursework, student/teacher collaboration, assessment, and customization are only some of the many popular features Learning Management Systems (LMS) have to offer a K12 classroom. Though on the surface many LMS products seem to have similar assets for students, teachers, and administrators, each of those featured below have something different to benefit an individual district or classroom’s needs, whether it’s adapting to special needs, communicating with parents, or online security. 

Clarifying School Psychologist Roles 

The article “Training for Tragedy: Critical Challenges for School Psychologists” (February 2013) correctly points to the importance of psychologists in supporting the mental health needs of children and youth in times of tragedy. School psychologists are vital members of district crisis teams and providers of mental health services in schools year-round. However, here is some clarification.

A great privilege early in my career was editing the original words of the Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher, Jean Piaget, for one of his few articles directed to teachers. As a doctoral student, I had been captivated by Piaget’s theories that children pass through four major intellectual development stages, which influenced the federallyfunded “lab-centered” curriculum programs of the era—particularly in science and mat —and I later wrote chapters on Piagetian psychology for three texts.

Technology Together: Whole-Schools Professional Development for Capability and Confidence
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