You are here

Articles: Business & Finance

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.

The word "globalization" doesn't often conjure images of the U.S. heartland, but one Oklahoma district is going global through an innovative approach to teaching foreign language. Jenks Public Schools Superintendent Kirby Lehman is a strong supporter of foreign language and cultural integration. His appreciation for Chinese education led him to create Chinese language and exchange programs for Jenks Middle School and Jenks High School.

While investigating a tip that a student had a picture of another, partially nude, female student on his cell phone, Ting-Yei Oei, assistant principal at Freedom High School in Loudoun County, Va., asked the student to e-mail the picture to his own cell phone. This seemingly tech-savvy way to preserve physical evidence had devastating consequences for Oei. The incident led to angry accusations from a parent, an investigation by police, and Oei's being charged with "failure to report child abuse" and felony possession of child pornography.

Problem

In 2003, the information specialists of Henrico County (Va.) Public Schools (HCPS) noticed that the district's newly hired librarians had a substantial turnover rate. The district, consisting of over 48,000 students, 6,500 staff members, and 63 schools sprawling across suburban Richmond, was retaining a mere 56 percent of new librarian hires.

"We've got to be willing to do something about test scores and to deal with ineffective teachers who have tenure and are hiding behind the union. It's coming to a head where the public is saying, 'We've had it now,'" declares David Cicarella of the New Haven (Conn.) Public Schools.

Statements like this one have become commonplace among reform-minded school leaders around the country. What makes Cicarella's comments remarkable is that they are not coming from a frustrated superintendent or enterprising principal, but from the president of the city schools' teachers union.

From costly lawsuits on behalf of victims to negative media coverage, such as the one recently played out in the District of Columbia Public Schools when Chancellor Michelle Rhee stated that one teacher was laid off for suspicion of sexual misconduct, districts can face potentially devastating consequences as a result of sexual abuse of their students by district employees.

Many are aware of the practical implications of sexual harassment of students by school staff, but such situations can also have considerable legal implications, as well.

While the legal aspects of staff-to-student sexual harassment take a back seat to the moral and emotional considerations, the legal framework provides school administrators with a helpful basis for drafting policies, conducting investigations, and making decisions.

The classroom teacher noted changes in eight-year-old Jenny's attendance and behavior. Jenny seemed less motivated to perform in school, her homework was no longer completed, and she was often unkempt and prone to falling asleep in class. The teacher had heard a rumour about Jenny's living situation but did not want to pry into her private life.

A new report by the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality (TQ Center) highlights efforts across the nation to address a key point in the No Child Left Behind law and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARR A)—the equitable distribution of high-quality teachers across all schools.

As the superintendent of the St. Mary Parish (La.) Schools since 2004, Don Aguillard faces many fiscal challenges in overseeing the rural district’s 1,500 employees and 10,000 students. But for the 2010-2011 school year, a new and significant financial burden will be added to his annual budget. In an effort to make up a large funding shortfall, Louisiana’s two largest teacher retirement systems will be raising their required employer contribution rates, one from 15.5 percent of salary to 20 percent, the other from 17.6 percent to 24.3 percent.

Teacher quality is the most crucial component in promoting student learning. For all the controversy about No Child Left Behind, one underlying emphasis of the federal law that is irrefutable is the importance placed on teacher quality. Therefore, a school organization committed to excellence must recruit and select outstanding teachers. The Obama administration also recognizes the importance of teacher quality. Teacher excellence is a foundation of the Race to the Top funds, competitive grants available to states as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

Over the last 18 months, school district purchasing offices across the country have been tightening the reins like never before while more top-level administrators get involved in the budget process. “When the economy really hit the skids, states got hit hard, so a lot of school districts were forced to make severe budget cuts,” says John Musso, executive director of the Association of School Business Officials International. “They stopped or reduced purchasing as much as they could on those discretionary items.

Education funding cuts in this tough economy mean current students may once again tell their grandchildren, “When I was your age, I had to walk to school uphill—both ways.”

For example, a budget shortfall in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Texas means that students living inside a two-mile radius of its 81 campuses will walk or carpool to school.

“We’re not cutting fat,” says Kelli Duram, Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District assistant superintendent for communication. “We’re cutting into bone marrow now.”

Going back to school means something completely different to today’s IT administrators.

For retired teacher Georgette Charlton, heading back to school wasn’t a difficult decision: “A person never really leaves education if you’re a true educator. It’s always there.” Across the nation, schools increasingly are tapping into a vast resource pool—retired educators.

Pages