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In the mountains of western North Carolina, administrators in Buncombe County Schools have seen a steady rise in the number of its 25,500 students who are homeless, food-insecure and involved in domestic violence.

In January, the Jackson Public Schools became the first district in Mississippi to launch an evening high school that students attend from 2:30 to 8:30 p.m. It’s designed for students whose other commitments—such as jobs or caring for their own children or younger siblings—make traditional school hours difficult.

Pomona USD in California has raised its graduation rate to 88 percent. The turnaround began when Pomona formed partnerships with several community organizations and nearby colleges.

No matter how cutting-edge the technology or advanced the curriculum, students have a hard time mastering essays and equations if they’re hungry, traumatized or feeling marginalized by a textbook’s inaccurate portrayal of their ethnic group.

Educators constantly face new challenges that often require resources that may be in short supply. But this round’s Districts of Distinction honorees show a surplus of exemplary creativity, innovation and problem-solving skills that are increasing student achievement and graduation rates and, most importantly, facilitating education.

Speakers at upcoming conferences (clockwise from top left): Rochelle Gutierrez will speak at NCTM about the next generation mathematics for all; Lisa Nyberg will speak at NSTA about giving students more ownership of their education; Deborah Gaston and  Andrea Kantrowitz will speak at NAEA about adding arts to the sciences.

At three annual conferences this spring—the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), the National Art Education Association (NAEA) and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)—experts and educators will offer guidance in developing STEAM instruction across a range a subjects and projects.

At the Tacoma School District in Washington, Heather Gooch is a substitute teacher at Mann Elementary School. Tacoma recently started using social media and paying subs more in harder-to-fill schools. It has improved the quality of subs there.

Amid a nationwide shortage, some districts have strengthened certification requirements, increased communication with substitutes and hired staffing agencies to keep their classrooms full.

Francine Costello, above, is a retired teacher from New Jersey who works as a substitute teacher for Brevard County Public Schools in Florida. She earned a Master of Arts degree from Kean University, and specializes in exceptional student education.

Several districts have found new ways to connect with and retain quality substitutes.

Use social media. Tacoma Public Schools finds emergency substitutes via Facebook or Instagram who agree to be available when teachers call in sick.

A growing number of states require or encourage school districts to adopt green products.

The health risk posed by products with potential carcinogens that pushed Columbia Public Schools in Missouri to adopt simpler, more cost-effective—and ultimately greener—methods. Yet, most district leaders say removing all chemicals is nearly impossible.

Columbia Schools shifted from 33 chemicals to 10 green products to clean their district schools. Here’s what they used to use, and what they’ve adopted today.

Sorting through online resources can be a challenge for districts seeking free comprehensive curriculum or teachers simply searching for supplemental lesson material.

When Tullahoma City Schools administrators started shopping for new social studies textbooks in 2013, they found only a few options aligned to new Tennessee state standards. Rather than wait for newer textbooks to be released, the district embarked on the ambitious project of creating its own.

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