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District Plus

Tips and ideas for successful district leadership

Partnership Makes Use of Limited Tech Funds

Like most small school systems, Cook County School District 154 in Thorton, Ill., constantly seeks ways to overcome the financial barriers of technology. Its goal: use old equipment and have current resources become more effective and efficient, says technology coordinator Dawn Spisak, who is also a teacher in the one-school district.

After attending a technology meeting on student projects at DeVry University’s Tinley Park campus, Spisak discussed her school’s technology difficulties with a professor there. “He suggested we use our school as a senior design team project. Of course, we were 100 percent for that idea,” she says.

Now three students have been assigned several tasks in the district: proposing suggestions for the district’s current network system, reconfiguring the wiring, designing a new layout for the computer lab, submitting cost comparisons for new computer equipment and installing that equipment.

At what cost is this assistance? Nothing. “We are solely responsible for purchases made,” Spisak says. Time is saved on research, and the students get the experience they need. “It’s a win-win situation.”

10 Signs of Goodness

Schools need to be safe, stress character, give homework and hire fine teachers. In his speech to 20 top school superintendents this past fall, former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett spelled out “10 signs of a good school.” Using quotes from the country’s Founding Fathers and present-day administrators who are making positive changes, Bennett explained the signs:

1. Safe and orderly environment. Bennett said student surveys showed that the top pet-peeve was “disruptive students who interfered.”

2. Clear academic mission.

3. Attention to character, or holding students responsible and being around people who are responsible or who try to be so.

4. Fine teachers.

5. Strong leadership. Principal Amy Weiss Narea of The La Salle Language Academy in Chicago brought in parents and “embraced them and got, therefore, more teachers per child. She turned the school around,” Bennett said.

6. High expectations.

7. Homework. “Time on task makes a big difference,” Bennett said.

8. Evaluation and feedback. “We test too much, but we don’t test well enough,” he said. “And so the whole point about evaluation and feedback has to be borne in mind at the federal level as well as the local level.”

9. Parental involvement.

10. A sense of community.

Walk Your Talk

Parents tutor, beautify the school grounds, or eat lunch with students. And every teacher must believe that every child can learn.

These are a few examples of what helps Inwood Elementary School in Winter Haven, Fla., shine. While the Title I school in the Polk County School District has a high poverty rate, with 76 percent of its students receiving free or reduced lunch, it has continued for four years to get an A on its school report card from the state Department of Education.

And in a Terra Nova assessment, Inwood students recently scored above average of all Title I schools in all grade levels for both median scores and the percentage of proficient students.

Principal Sue Buckner says she doesn’t do anything much different from most others in her place, but she’s consistent.

Buckner says she makes her vision clear to prospective teachers that all children can learn. “I’m very adamant about attendance and teachers being here,” she says.

“And you have to have discipline under control before children can learn,” she says. “You’ve got to walk your talk and you have to do it consistently.”

She also has parents, grandparents, step-parents, aunts, uncles and neighbors get involved. If parents are not tutoring students , they’re eating lunch with them, picking up litter around the school, or sewing costumes for plays. “Parents need to feel comfortable and to see what goes on in the classroom,” she says. “There’s no 24-hour notice” to walk into class.