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Dear Randy...

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Q: What is the best way to help school district leaders and school boards manage the message and be sure that school incidents are communicated accurately?

Rick Shaw President and founder of Awareity Lincoln, Neb.


RC: Dear Rick, School walls have become increasingly porous. Nearly every student carries a cell phone with a camera, and we have witnessed the viral spread of videos showing everything from inappropriate teaching to student bullying. When an incident occurs within the school walls, students are quick to text their parents and report the incident. Staff do the same with their spouses. In my time as a superintendent, reporters were texted by students and camera crews would arrive unannounced and many times complicate the situation. So it has become increasingly difficult over the years to “manage the message” or create a perception. My advice is to utilize the avenues that technology provides to provide honest and accurate information, such as through Twitter. I do not, however, feel that we should respond to every blog comment. Rather, we should provide a balanced point of view regarding the bigger picture. If we establish credibility by being honest and transparent, then we will be able to provide additional information that allows us to get our successes out directly.


Q: I need a clear answer that is both wise and practical, not one that is politically correct or that represents some “pie in the sky” solution. I’ve been told that the federal government has mandated that ELL students be placed in the regular classroom. My district’s ELL teacher also told us that it was the law and that we were to be as intellectually stimulating to the ELL students as to the regular students. And we were not to give ELL students curriculum whose content is different than what we give other students. I understand that I need to instruct differently. Please help me. I’m a hard-working teacher who needs honest clarification.

Lissa Calder Teacher Oregon City, Ore.

RC: Dear Lissa, As a matter of federal law, school districts must take special steps to ensure that students with limited English language proficiency have an opportunity to participate equally in educational programs. In 1974, Congress passed the Equal Educational Opportunities Act, which provides that “no state shall deny educational opportunity to an individual on account of his or her race, color, sex or national origin.” The courts have reviewed the obligations of school districts and have stated that compliance with these federal requirements is based on whether the chosen model effectively addresses the needs of students whose first language is not English. The courts ruled that effectiveness can be meameasured by asking three questions: (1) Is the district’s program based upon recognized and sound educational principles? (2) Is the district’s program designed to implement the adopted theory? (3) Has the program produced satisfactory results? Your district will have met its obligations under federal law if these questions can be answered in the affirmative.

The federal government did not mandate that ELL students be placed in regular classrooms but that they be provided with a model that has shown satisfactory results. While I cannot speak directly to your specific situation, it seems to me that the ELL teacher is making assumptions that are not required by law. Your question was edited for space purposes, but the examples you provided indicate that the current model used in your district is not producing satisfactory results. My advice is to focus on the reasons for the less than satisfactory results of your current model and not challenge the model.


Q: Is there a way to view past questions and answers posted in your column?

Don Balfour Assistant Superintendent Valencia, Calif.

RC: Dear Don, Previous questions and answers can be located at


Send your questions regarding education leadership challenges you have encountered to Randy is currently executive director of the District Administration Leadership Institute for school administrators.