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District Administration, January 2014

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Cover Story

School administrators overwhelmed by the idea of blended learning need not fear: many districts have successfully implemented one of four models now widely accepted in K12 education. Even more encouraging, some of these schools are seeing increased achievement, lower dropout rates, and other positive results.

Features

Focusing on energy management can bring large savings to a district. From using special software to enlisting the help of outside advising firms, district leaders can leverage tools and best practices to manage their energy consumption and thereby reduce costs.

Here are nine tips and tricks from district leaders and energy experts for controlling energy costs in your district:

Crowds of students who’d left their classes without permission used to prowl the halls of the K8 Clemente Leadership Academy in New Haven, Conn. Students fought, used profanities and verbally abused staff. Teachers spent more time on discipline than instruction. Clemente, long known as a place to send troubled students, sunk under the weight of low expectations to become one of New Haven’s lowest-performing schools.

School administrators overwhelmed by the idea of blended learning need not fear: many districts have successfully implemented one of four models now widely accepted in K12 education. Even more encouraging, some of these schools are seeing increased achievement, lower dropout rates, and other positive results.

When residents of Macomb County, Mich., tune into Pandora internet radio, they may be surprised to hear ads selling something quite different from landscaping, new cars, or home repair services.

District CIO

Before 4,450 MacBook Airs were distributed to students, before teachers were equipped and trained on their own devices, before test scores increased and the dropout rate decreased, the Mooresville Graded School District’s digital conversion started with a hard look at finances—one result of which was the elimination of more than 35 teaching positions.

Opinion

No school is immune. Every school faces risks of harm, loss and vulnerabilities in their operations, with their staff and students, or against their facilities. The daunting task faced by administrators lies in knowing how to identify and proactively manage those risks to ensure the safety and security of staff, minimize the disruption to school or district operations, and mitigate the negative impact when adverse incidents occur.

Tough economic conditions and shrinking revenues have increased competition for public funds. As a result, school districts are under intense scrutiny from state regulators and local taxpayers; any fiscal mismanagement receives harsh criticism.

Today’s students encounter art in many aspects of everyday life. From the icons representing the applications on their smartphone to the paintings hung on the walls of a museum, the arts teach our students to interpret information. But art also instills skill sets for students pursuing any field of study.

These days, no discipline stands on its own. Visuals can simplify complex data in science in the same way that mathematics can structure appealing rhythmic patterns in music.

Solutions

Donald Brann, state trustee of Inglewood USD, has only been on the job six months, but already teachers and administrators are seeing that things are different from what they used to be.

After the state takeover of the financially-struggling district, administrators say just having direct access and being able to communicate with him and receive quick answers to their questions is a change of pace. They had never seen the chief administrator visit their schools before.

Briefings

The results of the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were “encouraging but modest,” according to Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Eighth graders made small gains in reading and mathematics, while fourth graders improved slightly in math but not reading.

Six of the nation’s biggest school districts have taken another bold step in changing the face of school lunches. The districts in the Urban School Food Alliance—New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Dallas, and Orlando—have banded together to purchase biodegradable trays made of sugar cane to cut down on both cost and waste.

Reports of districts eliminating school nurses or replacing them with unlicensed staffers are increasing nationwide, and student health care is suffering as a result, nursing advocates say. Among nurses’ responsibilities is caring for the estimated 3 million children with food allergies—a number representing an 18 percent increase from 1997 to 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control—and the 7.1 million children with asthma.

Philadelphia schools are taking a new approach to arts instruction by introducing students to art and music they can find in their own backyard. With the new Literacy Through the Arts curriculum, created with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, students in grades one through eight are not only learning about these local institutions but also about the musicians and artists whose work featured there.

Kindergarteners nationwide are stretching their small hands across keyboards to learn the basics of typing in preparation for the online Common Core assessments.

The new standards don’t introduce keyboarding until the third grade, the first year students are assessed. But elementary schools are starting earlier to make sure students are competent in basic computer use before the exams that begin next school year.

Jose Parra became superintendent of Irving ISD in Texas in December. Parra was superintendent of the 5,000-student Lockhart ISD, where he helped raise test scores and graduation rates. He aims to continue his efforts in Irving, which has 35,000 students—that’s seven times the size of Lockhart.

Students enrolled at the Scholars Working Overtime (SWOT) program in Las Vegas have been learning how to write computer programming code in an unusual way—without computers. Throughout the fall, coding was practiced on pen and paper until the funds were raised to bring a computer lab to the program.

New York City’s expansive charter school network may be in trouble. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who takes office this month, says he plans to charge charters rent for using space in school buildings and to stop new charters from opening. De Blasio says he will focus instead on improving traditional public schools, but the details of his plan for charters remain unclear.

Departments

In his new book, Will Richardson says schools aren't keeping up the tech that drives today's students.