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From DA

When you look at Florida, the state legislature has always been interested in education, and our governors have always been interested in school reform," observes Nikolai Vitti, deputy chancellor of school improvement and student achievement for the Florida Department of Education.

In the six years since her appointment as superintendent of Volusia County (Fla.) School District—a district that has 63,000 students in 16 cities, including Daytona Beach, in the heart of Florida's east coast—Margaret Smith has had her share of success. But what makes her so different from other superintendents is her ability to reach out.

Here are some issues facing Volusia County Public Schools superintendent:

Merit Pay

"If a teacher isn't able to have successful students, they shouldn't be maintained in the position. Regardless of tenure. There is a place for merit pay or performance pay, but it has to be developed working with teachers collaboratively. We have to work together." (Smith, and others, urged Gov. Charlie Crist to veto SB 6, which would have tied teacher pay to student achievement and made it easier to fire teachers; Crist did so.)

Although the Internet has revolutionized communication and provided powerful new educational tools for student learning, it has also created risks and raised ethical issues for students of all grades, as it has created many opportunities for illegal, inappropriate and unsafe behavior among all participants.

Increasingly, K12 educators are seeing the need to not only utilize the Internet in instruction, but also to teach students the knowledge and critical thinking skills needed to be safe and responsible digital citizens both inside and outside of school.

Although some forward-looking school districts are using the Internet extensively in school-based lessons and allowing students to roam online with some restrictions, experts still worry that fear of predators is gripping parents and administrators.

A variety of organizations provide resources online intended to both educate students about using the Internet safely, and offer professional development tools for K12 educators that help with relevant instruction, leading class discussions and integrating the topic into their existing curriculum. Here are just a few examples.


CyberSmart! Education Company

Curriculum is free; workshop fees vary

With a national teacher shortage projected to start peaking this year as baby boomers retire and budget shortfalls restrict state and local funding for teachers, rural school districts are working to keep the teachers they have while seeking new ones at little if any additional cost.

As I've edited this publication over the last several years, the line between what is deemed the responsibility of parents to teach their children, and what educators are expected to teach students in nontraditional areas of learning seems to be getting fuzzier all the time. With each issue, I waver on this parent-educator conundrum. In DA's September 2008 issue, we ran "Districts Weigh Obesity Screening"—a feature article about the trend toward mandating the measuring of students' body mass index, with parental notification. These initiatives seem intrusive and make me feel uneasy.

Q: Your role as national PTA president is slightly different from previous presidents.

Since 1999, Scott County Schools in Kentucky has been a leader in digital storytelling thanks to its director of technology, Jeanne Biddle, who with the district's previous tech coordinator, Leslie Flanders, launched a tool to help teachers improve the writing skills of their students in preparation for state assessments.

I retired in June 2010. I thought it would be an easy decision. It was not. It was difficult because I was leaving behind what had defined my professional life for nearly three decades. My journey as a student began in a oneroom schoolhouse in the poorest county in Maine. My journey as a superintendent began in Wiscasset, a small town on the mid-coast of Maine, wound briefly through Easthampton, Mass., and culminated in a 19-year tenure at Waterford (Conn.) Public Schools.

When rural district administrators need to hire teachers, they have to sell their districts. Here is what just two midwestern districts are doing to do that.

When the Plymouth (Ind.) School Corporation, a district of 3,500 students, brings teacher candidates back for final interviews, administrators show them the school, even the room, where they would teach and the technology and other resources they would have available.

Graduation rates of rural districts range from a low of 52 percent in South Carolina to 100 percent in Nevada, according to the report “Why Rural Matters,” which the Rural School and Community Trust released in November 2009.


DA's New Curriculum Newsletter Draws Praise

Congratulations on the March 3 issue of Curriculum Leader! This is an excellent example of the type of materials I like to present to administration and faculty. Your compilation of topical subject matter is timely and relevant to the needs of curriculum directors.

Laura Beltchenko, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, Wauconda (Ill.) CUSD #118

As the nation prepares for common core standards in math and English language arts, a framework to guide new science standards in elementary and secondary education—where students are showing only mediocre achievement compared to other nations—is getting closer.