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Districts of Distinction

Districts of Distinction is a national recognition program created by District Administration magazine to honor school districts that are leading the way with new ideas that work. We’re looking to recognize established initiatives that are yielding quantifiable benefits, and that could be replicated by other districts. Below you'll find a collection of honorees. To learn more about the program and when applications are being accepted visit Districts of Distinction

Connecting Students’ Futures to Their Learning

Engaging students by connecting learning to their future career goals with small groups creates unique success at Cuyahoga Falls City School District in Ohio.

The district developed small learning communities in grades 7 through 12, teaching traditional curriculum through the lenses of student interests, says Superintendent Todd Nichols.

Helping Students with Special Needs through Pet Therapy

A dog in school every day is a good thing—especially for students with special needs in New Jersey.

Henry Hudson Regional School overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and serves students from grades 7 through 12. But many students had to be placed in private schools because of Henry Hudson’s limited resources for students with autism, Asperger’s syndrome and other behavioral needs.

Systems Thinking to Develop District Leaders

For years, Meridian 223 in Illinois had rampant superintendent turnover, budget constraints and a lack of leadership. Administrators, therefore, sought out a system to foster principal leadership beyond typical school improvement models.

In 2014, the district looked toward the business world. It started using the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award framework for excellence. The district vision now is to “have world-class results while maintaining small-town values,” says Superintendent P.J. Caposey.

Emotional and Physical Mindfulness

The Hermosa Beach City School District shifted away from traditional academic plans to a curriculum that includes mindfulness and social-emotional learning.

The MindUP program, launched in 2011, incorporates breathing exercises and physical activities into class time for stress reduction, emotion regulation and attention improvement. Administrators implemented the program in response to a student survey that found that while students generally felt safe on campus, they wanted help managing personal issues.

Los Al Connects

Each school in California’s Los Alamitos USD used to hire education experts for teacher training on staff development days. However, teachers were not sharing their learning across grade levels or school sites—leading to a silo effect.

The district created Los Al Connects—a districtwide, for-teachers-by-teachers professional development model—to provide personalized learning across school sites. Teachers offer 45- to 60-minute sessions on topics about which they feel most passionate and successful.

ASD iSchool

The online iSchool initiative in Anchorage, Alaska expands disadvantaged students’ access to advanced coursework and gives all learners more flexibility to sign up for electives, voc-tech classes and after-school activities.

Enrollment in the Anchorage School District program has nearly tripled, from about 500 students a semester to 1,300 in spring 2016—and 92 percent earn passing grades. A summer school component gives another 1,000 students a chance to recover lost credits or keep from falling behind.

YEP Middle College: Competitive Edge for Students to Make Higher Ed Real

YEP Middle College exposes middle school students to introductory college-level work.

About three-quarters of Hayward USD’s students are from low-income families; 65 percent are Latino, 30 percent are English language learners, and many will be the first in their family to attend college.

Project Reach: Empower Students with Job Skills and Literacy Success

Students are helping younger students with tutoring in California.

The challenges in Compton Unified are significant: 98 percent of the students are socioeconomically disadvantaged, 35 percent are English language learners, and less than half can read on level by third grade.

The district initiated a partnership with California State University, Dominguez Hills to develop Project Reach, which recruits students to become tutors for the 22 elementary schools.

Psychological Support Services

All students benefitted when Newport Mesa USD adjusted to a new state law that made districts solely responsible for providing mental health care and related educational services to students with disabilities. 

The multitiered Psychological Support Services was launched in 2012 by mental health professionals already employed by the Southern California district. School staff work with parents and other community organizations to prevent bullying, encourage positive behavior (rather than punishing bad behavior) and other initiatives.

Comprehensive Data Warehouse/Support System

An in-house data warehouse built in 2012 gives educators in Nevada’s large Washoe County School District quick access to the academic information they need to help each student succeed.

With the Business Intelligence Gateway system, or BIG, educators can track any students’ performance and create plans to improve grades. The data, which is updated every night, also allows educators to act more quickly when they spot students who are falling off the path to graduation.