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Designing new buildings or retrofitting existing ones to meet standards for natural disasters is an especially complex challenge for school leaders. But building to a more modern code makes a district eligible for more federal assistance

Students and administrators of Clark County School District in Nevada launched construction on six new elementary schools, part of a 10-year, $4.1 billion construction campaign.

Growing evidence shows that well-maintained and updated school facilities promote learning, as well as student and staff health, and help curb long-term school expenses.

Meeting students’ psychological needs, improving STEM programs and fueling college and career access exemplify innovative solutions increasing student achievement nationwide. The 24 school systems honored in this round of District Administration’s Districts of Distinction national recognition program found creative ways to raise graduation rates and to build up administrative effectiveness.

More than five years after Congress required schools to serve healthier food, districts are using social media, technology tools and old-fashioned personal outreach to connect with parents. The goal: persuading them that today’s school meals are nothing like the sometimes unhealthy foods they remember from their own childhoods.

Literacy changes taking hold in schools recognize the subject’s expansion from traditional textbooks to online readings, images and audio. New learning standards ask students to read more closely and write more analytically, meaning teachers must adapt curriculum to get students reading earlier.

A teacher at Howe Elementary School in Wisconsin, above, shows a student the steps of how to submit a digital artifact into his own e-portfolio. (Photo: Photo credit: Digital Student Portfolios, Matthew Renwick/Thinkstock.com: 123dartist)

Decades ago, portfolio assessment meant finding room for bulging binders stuffed with paper. But digital technologies that make it far easier to collect, curate, share and store student work have dismantled the physical barriers that once made portfolio assessment daunting.

In seeking to save money while also boosting teacher recruitment and retention, the Pierce City R-VI School District in Missouri switched to a four-day school week this school year.

The time is made up by extending the school day 30 minutes. It increased learning time by 20 hours. “We want to create a culture where our good teachers want to stay,” Superintendent Russ Moreland says.

Teachers say they feel refreshed after their routine three-day weekends—a key reason for doing it, he adds.

This third-grade class at Vanderburg Elementary School in Clark County Schools operates on a year-round calendar that’s divided into five tracks. .

Educators have sometimes likened a school year to running a marathon. A balanced calendar may offer more chances to rest and refuel—enabling a strong effort in the next leg of the race.

Students who end up in detention more than just once or twice may be hungry for any kind of attention because they crave a relationship with a teacher or are neglected—or worse—at home, says Fred Hanna, author of the book Therapy with Difficult Clients.

“You will settle for bad food sometimes if that is all you can get,” says Hanna, who has taught classes about challenging teens at Johns Hopkins University. “For some kids, poor-quality attention is better than none at all.”/p>

A successful partnership with a transportation contractor, above, can give a district administrator more time to focus on educating.

Xenia Community Schools in Ohio faced a crisis in 2012 that forced administrators to slash $10 million from its annual budget. The district signed a five-year contract with a transportation contractor and saved $458,000. Still, such a move can be a challenging—and sometimes controversial—issue for many districts.

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