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District Administration, August 2013

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Cover Story

K12 educators and administrators are beginning to experiment with the “massive open online courses”—better known as MOOCs—that have taken the higher education world by storm. In the name of academic experimentation and democratization, hundreds of colleges and universities are offering these courses free to anyone with an internet connection. Many of the courses attract thousands of participants.


Standing high on the platform of the school playground’s zip line, a student imagines a wild jungle across a craggy, bottomless canyon. Behind, the pack of imaginary tigers leaping from the wall mural is getting so close, the child can see the animals’ fangs. The student grabs the handle and zooms through the air like Indiana Jones, reaching the other side with a massive boost in confidence that will pay off for the rest of the school day and beyond.

Patrick Darfler Sweeney, superintendent of Hunter-Tannersville Central School District nestled in the Catskill Mountains just a couple of hours north of New York City, took the bull by the horns. While nearly half the district’s students receive free or reduced-price lunch, Sweeney was tired of seeing budget cuts that interfered with delivering an exceptional student experience. In February, he developed a bold master consolidation plan, presenting it to the New York State Education Department (NYSED) and other government and non-governmental organizations.

Nestled between high-rise buildings in New York City, a lush, green garden full of colorful fruits and vegetables grows on the rooftop of the Harlem Children’s Zone and Promise Academy Charter School. What was just a few small boxes of dirt five years ago has grown into a 1,000-square-foot garden with 30 types of plants, including tomatoes, squash, eggplant, peppers, and berries.

Teacher evaluation may be the hottest—and most divisive—topic in education right now. From Florida to Missouri and Nevada to Minnesota, state legislatures are debating bills that would tie teacher assessment to student achievement. Meanwhile, school districts are revamping their systems, and superintendents are trying to balance the often-conflicting demands of teachers, unions, state-imposed rules, and good educational practice.

K12 educators and administrators are beginning to experiment with the “massive open online courses”—better known as MOOCs—that have taken the higher education world by storm. In the name of academic experimentation and democratization, hundreds of colleges and universities are offering these courses free to anyone with an internet connection. Many of the courses attract thousands of participants.

District CIO

It probably won’t be long before you hear about the next disturbing incident of a teacher or other school employee contacting a student inappropriately on social media. It might involve inappropriate postings on a personal Facebook page, ill-advised texting with students, or a highly public verbal attack on colleagues or supervisors.

Highlights from ISTE, K12’s biggest ed-tech conference

Schools are not getting a big enough bang for their education technology buck, according to a new report. While computers and internet access are common in the classroom, students are often using this technology for simple foundational exercises, rather than higher-order data analysis or statistics work that will help prepare them for the modern workforce, the report from the Center for American Progress found. This issue is most prevalent in schools with primarily low-income students, further widening the digital divide.


As part of the $700 million grant through the federal Race to the Top (RttT) initiative, New York State was required to develop and implement an evaluation and accountability system for measuring the level of teacher effectiveness in direct relation to student outcomes. An essential element of this system included the development of Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) for teachers where, “there is no State assessment that can be used for a State-provided growth or value-added measure” (

After serving as editor-in-chief and then executive editor of District Administration, and writing and editing for our sister education publication University Business more than a decade ago, it is an enormous privilege to step into a new role as columnist for both magazines and editor at large (my wife says it is more accurate to say editor at “extra-large”).

There are alternatives to meting out punishment that treats our school children like criminals. Instead of sending students to the principal’s office or worse—calling police into classrooms to deal with disorderly conduct—schools can equip their teachers with tools proven to create safe, supportive learning environments and defuse disruption. The very things that mitigate student stress and bad behavior make a school what it’s supposed to be: a healthy and productive place to learn.


It was 1978 when Tom Johnstone, graduated from Santa Clara University, hopped in a Volkswagen bus with some buddies and headed to South America.

When he wasn’t sightseeing in Argentina and Chile, he treasured one-on-one time with locals. And this came after Johnstone had spent a year of college in Madrid and studied in Caracas, Venezuela, as a high school exchange student. It reinforced an earlier connection he had with Spanish-speaking people.


Some of the school districts adopting online Common Core assessments to measure academic achievement in 2014-2015 plan to develop their own tests.

In a survey released by Enterasys, a company specializing in wireless systems, 42 percent of schools plan to develop their own tests, while 55 percent of schools are likely to work with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).

A basic economic principle of supply and demand is taking hold in the Douglas County (Colo.) School District. The district is restructuring the pay scale for teachers and educators so the positions that are most in demand get paid more than those in lower demand.

Reduced emphasis on the humanities in school could threaten the nation’s ability to innovate and compete internationally, and leave students less prepared to participate in the democratic political process, according to a new report by the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Otha Thornton was elected president of the National Parent Teacher Association, making history as the first African-American male leader of the organization. He previously served on the Georgia PTA board of directors, and the PTA’s national board of directors.

Administrators at Westfield (N.J.) Public Schools don’t just want their students exposed to technology, they want them immersed in it. The district’s goal is to create a connected and collaborative school community that empowers Westfield students to thrive as 21st-century learners. The implementation plan for that goal is called “Walls to Windows.”

A Texas law that forces students who have missed an excessive amount of school to go to court and sometimes jail has been challenged as unconstitutional by a coalition of advocacy groups for young people and the disabled.

Out of the 45 states that have adopted the Common Core, only 11 states and the District of Columbia have high school math graduation requirements that align to the new standards, says a new study. Thirteen more states are only partially aligned, leaving 22 that have yet to complete any steps to meet the graduation standards, according to the study, co-sponsored by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education and the nonprofit, Change the Equation.

With his position as Bridgeport (Conn.) Public School superintendent in jeopardy, Paul Vallas’ fate will be decided by the state Supreme Court in September, Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers ruled.

In early July, Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis ordered that Vallas leave office immediately, after ruling that the national education reform figure is not properly certified for the position in the state. Later that month, the Supreme Court approved Vallas to stay on the job during the appeal process. 

The National Education Alliance (NEA) has lost 234,000 members, or 8 percent of its membership, since 2010-2011, due to political and economic forces. Over 200,000 of those lost are classroom teachers, said NEA Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle during the organization’s 2013 Representative Assembly, which was held in July.

The role of high school is shifting, in part given President Obama’s recent push to redesign the education system to ensure that American students are enrolling in college and keeping up with the skills that a global economy demands.


Resource Management for School Administrators: Optimizing Fiscal, Facility, and Human Resources

R&L Education

Authors Daniel R. Tomal and Craig A. Schilling present goals for school management that are aligned with the new Educational Leadership Constituent Council and Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium standards on accreditation. Leaders will get national perspectives on handling future funding challenges, and managing finances, facilities and human resources.

Terry Holliday knows something about what makes a school district work. Having come up through the ranks, from band director and assistant principal to principal, superintendent, and, in 2009, to Kentucky’s commissioner of education, Holliday has seen first-hand how schools and districts can get on track for success. He spoke to District Administration about what Kentucky has done to turn around low-performing schools.