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May 2012

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Cover Story

When the Allendale (N.J.) School District approached Michael Osnato last year for assistance in finding a new superintendent, Osnato knew it could be a challenge. Although the search firm he founded and runs, Leadership Advantage, had completed 80 school executive searches in New Jersey, a governor-mandated pay cap on superintendent salaries, based on district enrollment, had shrunk candidate pools already affected by retiring baby boomers.


As school districts have made improvements to teaching and learning, and raised student achievement in the process, reform-minded superintendents have usually led the way. When they move on, they leave a legacy of programs and policies that have worked. That’s just where finding the next superintendent can get tricky.

The term “talent development” has historically been associated only with gifted education in the K12 eduation world. But for the past 30 years, husband and wife team Joseph Renzulli and Sally Reis have been steadily increasing the pool of educators trained to apply talent development practices to mainstream instruction through the Renzulli Learning Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM).

When Connie Dopierala was hired as the media services administrator for the Charleston County (S.C.) School District, one of her tasks was to update the district’s library books. “I was shocked by how dated some of the books were,” she says. “One school had a biography on Nelson Mandela that was written while he was still in prison.”

District CIO

Federal technology funding for K12 school districts has been integrated into various other funding streams. According to Karen Cator, director of the Office of Educational Technology for the Education Department, the technology marketplace will subsequently be more efficient in addressing various school and student needs in the coming school year.

President Obama hopes to bring high-speed wireless Internet to all rural areas in the next five years with the National Wireless Initiative he announced last year.

Like seemingly everyone else connected to K12 education, vendors that offer student information systems are being called upon to do more with less.


If we as educators could successfully teach all children by ourselves, then it seems that we would have already done so. We haven’t, and that should be all the motivation to promote family engagement in districts nationwide.

Without question, America’s greatest social experiment—it’s greatest social contribution—is public education. Educate all children until the age of 18 for free? It was an unprecedented idea, but the system it led to is now broken.


Critics of failing systems often ask the same chicken-or-egg question: Do educators and environment cause kids to fail, or do failing students weigh down the teachers and districts around them?

The trend of personalized learning has caught on nationwide, but the entire state of Oregon has been using a similar method—proficiency-based instruction—since 2002 when it gave districts the option to award credit for proficiency. To earn credit, students demonstrate what they know based on clear learning targets defined by state standards. Students have intervention time built into their school day to work on concepts in which they aren’t yet proficient. Once they master a concept, they move on.


In the 14 years that George Taylor has been with Kansas City (Kan.) Public Schools as the director of transportation, he has seen his fleet of 160 buses age and tire. As maintenance costs began to increase on the 12-18-year-old buses, along with diesel fuel prices escalating, the district was in need of new buses. “Funding has been decreasing over the last five years,” says Taylor. “Maintenance expenses were going up because we had buses that were 12 to 18 years old.”


MUSE School CA, a non-profit k8 school in Malibu, Calif., partnered with Solatube International last year to provide natural daylight in school classrooms, increase the performance of students and teachers and enrich the sustainable design. Solatube Daylighting Systems harvest daylight on the rooftop and allocate light evenly into a room with a highly reflective tube and diffuser at the ceiling.

Imagine a school with classrooms on only one side of the building, windows that look out onto picturesque landscape, a path outside that features the ABCs, and a forest area with a tree house where a classroom of kids can read. The Springfield Literacy Center is that place, and 600 kindergartners and first-graders in the Springfield (Pa.) School District gather for school there every day.

Don’t Forget Education

Former West Va. Gov. Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, has urged the presidential candidates to not forget about education policies in the 2012 election. A College Board poll says education is behind the economy and jobs in top issues.

The number of grants offered through the Pet Care Trust (PCT) to classrooms around the nation has more than doubled since August 2011, says the organization’s executive director, Steve King. The program is offered through Pets in the Classroom, PCT’s education arm, which aims to foster healthy pet-child relationships in students in elementary and middle school. King credits the program’s huge growth to a new partnership with Petco and Petsmart, which now advertise the program in their stores.

The $3.5 billion in School Improvement Grants (SIG) funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have undoubtedly made a positive impact in more than 13,000 schools deemed low performing around the country. The money, which is intended to close the achievement gap, improve graduation rates and overall student achievement, will run out by the end of the 2012-2013 school year, and what will happen to these improvement efforts is unclear.

There’s a new petition for legislators on the hill and it appeals for entrepreneurial lessons to be taught in the classroom. The E2 Petition, initiated by Anthony Delmedico, an independent entrepreneur, urges community members to encourage legislators and educators to consider a course in business and innovative practices to be taught throughout grades 4-12. While courses on this subject are traditionally found in higher education, Delmedico says students need to be encouraged at an early age.

While both the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Department of Education have released separate plans regarding the use of technology in education—the National Broadband Plan and the National Education Technology Plan, respectively—the two entities have teamed up to create a new commission to comprehensively transition U.S. schools into the digital era.

Since the inception of No Child Left Behind in 2002, Connecticut has held the unfortunate distinction of having the highest achievement gap in the nation—and the disparities are not just found in urban areas. In February, Gov. Dannel Malloy proposed a sweeping education reform bill, S.B. 24: An Act Concerning Educational Competitiveness, making 2012 “the year of education” in Connecticut.


Diane Ullman has been the superintendent of the Simsbury Public Schools, a nationally recognized top-performing district, since 2004. Prior to this, she served as the assistant executive director of the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC). She also served for seven years as the assistant superintendent of the Farmington (Conn.) School District.

Instantly transform any image or object into digital, interactive content with document cameras, also known as visual presenters. Companies that create these products have come a long way in the last few years, as document cameras are now more compact, mobile and interactive.

Kids First: Five Big Ideas for Transforming Children’s Lives and America’s Future kids first
Public Affairs, $14.99

“Ninety-one percent of teachers reported having access to computers in their classrooms, but only 22 percent said they have the right level of technology.” – Source: PBS Learning Media (2012)


I interviewed Jerry Weast last year soon after the announcement that he would be retiring as superintendent of the Montgomery County (Md.) School District. Over his 12 years as superintendent, he became renowned for his bold whole-district transformation, which included raising academic standards and narrowing the achievement gap for over 145,000 students in the 17th-largest school district in the nation. I also kept up with Joshua Starr, who from 2005 was the superintendent of Stamford (Conn.) Public Schools, a district that happens to lie next to our Norwalk office.