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By the time James G. Merrill became superintendent of Virginia Beach (Va.) City Public Schools (VBCPS) in 2006, there wasn't much to improve statistically. The district ranked first in reading proficiency among the neighboring seven cities and first on the combined SAT; all schools had earned full Standards of Learning (SOL) accreditation from the Virginia Department of Education; and even the relationship between its elected school board, the community and administrators was harmonious.

Kathy Cox, the superintendent of schools for Georgia, believes "excellence is not an accident."

She made a name for herself by winning $1 million proving she was smarter than a fifth-grader on a popular television show. And since her election in 2002, Cox has earned complaints and kudos for tackling testing and implementing new curriculum standards and graduation requirements for Georgia.

As she prepares for possible reelection next fall, she remains committed "to be part of the solution"— a promise she made to her students when she entered politics over a decade ago.

The 2010 National Superintendent of the Year ceremony, which commemorates the contributions and guidance of public school superintendents, will be held February 11 at the National Conference on Education in Phoenix. We asked the four finalists what their number-one priority is for 2010.



Superintendent Frank S. Porter of Twin Rivers Unified School District in Sacramento, Calif., is the 2010 recipient of the Leadership through Communications Award for his enhancement of school-to-parent communication.

Call it a case of "vertigo." Middle school media specialist Grace Poli was determined to find a way to use technology to help her ELL and special-needs students learn English more quickly. As she watched the Apple ad featuring the U2 song "Vertigo," something clicked.

"I thought, 'This will motivate kids,'" says Poli. After looking into the benefits of music and how audiobooks can help struggling readers, Poli approached her superintendent with a proposal for an after-school iPod program.

He's patrolled the streets of Chicago, kept the local trains running on time and become a player in the highest echelons of City Hall. But at age 38, Ron Huberman—born in Israel and raised just outside of Chicago—is facing his most formidable challenge.


Activist Passes

Author, advocate, and defender of public education Gerald Bracey died Oct. 20 at age 69. Renowned as an expert on standardized testing, he released his final book, “Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality,” earlier this year.

Like other districts with schools that are not meeting adequate yearly progress (AYP) goals for five consecutive years, Hawaii is restructuring its low performing schools as required by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Unlike most other districts, however, Hawaii, a single statewide district, has been doing it for five years with the support of three independent education consulting firms working directly with administrators and teachers in the failing schools.


For years, administrators at Waukegan (Ill.) Public School District 60, located on Lake Michigan and just south of the Wisconsin border, had been using an alternative educational program to serve students who needed extreme discipline or had been expelled from school. But they also needed an entirely different program to help special education students who had aggression or academic weaknesses that prevented them from being successful in traditional classrooms but who did not need restrictive private placement.

In 2000, the Milwaukee (Wis.) Public Schools (MPS) requested proposals for pilot programs for a high school to replace its failing North Division High School. At the time, Kathelyne Dye-Gallagher was a business teacher at Washington High School in Milwaukee. The district’s request ignited her desire to create a stronger system that would guide Milwaukee’s low-income students. In 2003, three smaller schools replaced North Division. Genesis High School of Business, Trade, Technology, Health and Human Services was among them, with Dye-Gallagher as principal.