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District Administration, November 2013

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Cover Story

Innovations ranging from on-board music to digital mapping and alternative fuels are making long bus rides better experiences for students while also helping districts make transportation more efficient.

Experience shows that children who spend more time on buses are likely to get bored or behave badly. For rural districts, where hour-long rides are not uncommon and some may exceed two hours, the situation can be especially problematic.


When career tech students in 21 West Virginia districts returned to school this fall, they didn’t head to classrooms. They went to work.

Through the state’s Simulated Workplace pilot program, high school students learn in classes that are restructured to feel like workplace environments. For instance, students will clock in upon arrival, take random drug tests, and be evaluated based on their “company’s” bottom line.

Innovations ranging from on-board music to digital mapping and alternative fuels are making long bus rides better experiences for students while also helping districts make transportation more efficient.

Experience shows that children who spend more time on buses are likely to get bored or behave badly. For rural districts, where hour-long rides are not uncommon and some may exceed two hours, the situation can be especially problematic.

As widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards moves ever closer, the initiative is coming under attack from both the left and right. But school district leaders must ignore the politics and focus on the practical realities of implementation: costs, technology, and training, K12 leaders say.

Products such as automatic doors, mechanical lifts, and low, touchless trough sinks increase accessibility in schools. Design elements can also increase accessibility beyond ADA requirements, says Karen Braitmayer, an accessibility consultant.

“A big trend right now is school buildings that have a clarity of organization,” she says. “Good wayfinding is useful to students with cognitive, hearing, and sight impairments.”

District CIO

WANTED: CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER: Looking for a technology expert, experienced with Mac and PC; servers; mobile technologies—including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and netbooks; coding; and helpdesk. Must be a strong people person and a great communicator, coach, and teacher, used to juggling multiple projects simultaneously, a team player, and always willing to pitch in. Comfortable in a fast-paced environment. People who have one way of doing things need not apply.

Districts that don’t have a full time chief technology officer may have a harder time keeping up with E-rate modernization and the shift to online testing, technology experts say.

Hundreds of educators are pressing for increased funding for E-rate, the government program that connects schools and libraries to the internet—especially important, given Common Core requirements for online assessment.

Administrators in the Los Angeles USD may tap the skills of students who hacked school-purchased iPads to strengthen security on the mobile devices. A week after the iPads were distributed in September, about 340 students hacked the security system to browse websites like Facebook and Twitter.


Today’s education system is facing a debilitating threat in the form of a “trust deficit” that is undermining school and district leadership. As trust in our education leaders declines, so does student learning due to delayed education reform, decreased student achievement and fractured communities.

Recently, a school in the United Kingdom was criticized for losing the personal data of almost 20,000 parents, students, and staff members. Names, addresses, medical information, and photographs were wiped out.

Last year, the University of Miami had backup tapes stolen that contained financial data, Social Security numbers, and health information for approximately 47,000 people at its medical center.

I recently listened to a call-in show on a local National Public Radio station. The head of the state’s board of education was interviewed about the recent standardized test scores in her state. Two teachers called in. Here’s my takeaway from the conversation (somewhat out of context, but the words are accurate):

Teachers are the single most important factor in student learning. Yet, our field as a whole spends little time ensuring that only the best teachers enter our classrooms—and even less time ensuring that the best teachers feel supported.


Superintendent Joe Kitchens thinks technology will keep students in school and on track to graduate. The 20-year-leader of the Western Heights school district in suburban Oklahoma City is focusing on a strong telecommunications network and analyzing student data through various platforms to raise the 63 percent graduation rate.


When it comes to foreign language study, Utah is emerging as a national trendsetter. The state’s five-year-old dual-language immersion program will likely give Utah students a leg up in the future job market and foreign affairs, and could serve as a model for other states, language experts say.

A K12 college awareness program operating in 200 schools and districts is greatly increasing underserved students’ interest in continuing their education, according to a new study. College for Every Student (CFES) is a nonprofit that has worked with districts with high populations of low-income students since 1991.

An estimated one in 10 students in the United States are chronically absent from school, increasing the chances they will fall behind or drop out.

In September, a 16-year-old high school football player from Brocton Central School District in western New York died after being knocked unconscious by a helmet-to-helmet collision during a game.

Less than a month earlier, another 16-year-old high school football player from the Fulton County School System in Fairburn, Ga., died after fracturing a vertebra in his upper spinal cord during a scrimmage, according to published accounts.

Until recently, only rural districts hoping to save money on busing geographically spread-out students had cut the school week down to four days. But now, while some districts are leaning toward year-round schedules, some are actually shortening the week as budgets continue to drop and state officials allow scheduling flexibility.

Glendale USD in southern California has taken an unprecedented step in bullying and crime prevention by paying a company to analyze students’ public posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media.

With the swipe of a bus pass, Denver Public Schools students are answering the often-asked parent question, “Did my child get on the bus today?” Denver joins other districts in Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, and North Carolina trying to improve safety by using a system that tracks when and where students get on and off buses.

Some educators are making a push to bring a renewed emphasis to social studies, as subjects like history and civics have taken a backseat to math, science and English in the nation’s rush to improve academic achievement.

High school students in Fairfax County, Va., may soon get to hit the snooze button, as the district partners with sleep specialists to delay school start times in hopes of raising academic achievement and improving student health.

“Sleep is absolutely critical to learning,” says Fairfax County Public Schools board member Sandy Evans. “Our adolescent students simply aren’t getting enough sleep for their physical, mental, or academic health.”

A Connecticut school district in the suburbs of New York City violated the IDEA by denying special education students the proper services for the past year, according to a recent Connecticut State Department of Education investigation. The case shows districts may run afoul of the law if special education services are reduced due to budget cuts.

Principal of the year

Sheila Harrity, principal of Worcester Technical High School in Worcester Public Schools in Massachusetts, won the principal of the year award from the National Association of Secondary School Principals and MetLife. Since arriving at the school in 2006, graduation rates rose from 80 to 97 percent.


When journalist Amanda Ripley was assigned to learn why the United States fared poorly on the global PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test, she was in for a surprise. PISA, administered every three years, evaluates education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in 70 countries. Ripley found that the highest ranked countries, not previously known for their “smart kids,” had made remarkable turnarounds in recent years.