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District Administration, September 2013

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Cover Story

With the start of football and the rest of the 2013-2014 school athletic calendar, districts are looking at new laws and training recommendations to help avoid deadly health problems among the 7.5 million students who will play high school sports this year.


Do you ever think about air quality when putting a new floor into a school? Only in the past decade has this been among the questions purchasing officers have seriously considered.

From maintenance to color to price, the options for a school floor—an investment that is expected to last 25 to 30 years—are numerous. Amy Bostock, global brand manager for nora systems, Inc., says it’s only recently that administrators have begun considering different types of flooring. Because easy maintenance was previously the primary, and sometimes only, factor, schools typically had wood floors.

Professional associations have a reputation for being averse to both change and risk, but they have started to look ahead and almost start from scratch to attract more diverse members and retain the ones they have.

With the start of football and the rest of the 2013-2014 school athletic calendar, districts are looking at new laws and training recommendations to help avoid deadly health problems among the 7.5 million students who will play high school sports this year.

It’s been a decade since Louisiana established the Recovery School District to take over the lowest-performing schools in the state. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the RSD took over almost all the schools in New Orleans, and in the process restructured the city’s school system on an unprecedented level.

Over the past 10 years, New Orleans schools have gone from being some of the lowest performing in the country to becoming a working laboratory for a bold experiment in restructuring an urban public school system.

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Superintendent Barbara Nemko of the Napa County Office of Education in California approached the Napa Valley Vintners Association about a decade ago to see if its members would participate in an adopt-a-school program. The vintners, a logical partner as the region’s key employers, were receptive.

Winery owners and school principals arranged for employees to tutor elementary school students, organized field trips to wineries, and hosted wine-and-cheese receptions for teachers. “We left it up to them,” Nemko says. “That worked out pretty well over the years.”

A new pilot program aims to address the lack of women in technology fields by starting early—giving more middle school students a deeper knowledge of computing.

The AspireIT program, from the nonprofit National Center for Women & Information Technology, pairs female high school and college students with K12 education organizations, such as ISTE and The College Board, to run computing outreach programs for middle school girls. The first program launched in June.

Districts may have more affordable access to broadband internet service as early as fall 2014, thanks to an FCC proposal to reform the federal E-rate program that connects schools and public libraries to the internet. The proposal marks a step forward for President Barack Obama’s ConnectED initiative to bring high-speed internet access to 99 percent of U.S. students within five years.

Visit the classrooms of Burlington High School in the Burlington (Mass.) Public School District and you’ll see the school’s two-year-old 1-to-1 iPad initiative in action. Some students might be taking notes using Evernote, rather than pen and paper. Others may be translating and recording first-aid terms for a Spanish lesson. A music class could be rehearsing with the Garage Band app.


School lunches are at the front lines of the country’s childhood obesity and nutrition crisis. First Lady Michelle Obama, star chef Jamie Oliver and the “Renegade Lunch Lady” activist Ann Cooper have helped draw the public interest to the problems in school cafeterias.

Since 2009, I have worked with The Culinary Institute of America’s Menu for Healthy Kids initiative. We have provided school districts in New York’s Hudson Valley with tools to improve the food served to students.

The superintendent of the K12 school district where I first taught held a drive each September to encourage teachers to join state and national education associations beyond our local union. We knew that participation, at least in the NEA—which functioned as a professional association in some states and a labor union in others—was not really optional, especially because our enrollment level at 100 percent was announced each year as a matter of pride.

Since No Child Left Behind was passed in 2001, trying to close the achievement gap has been on every educator’s mind.

Key to that law has been the requirement of measuring achievement through the administration of standardized tests to determine the extent to which schools are making “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) toward that goal.


Knox County Schools is a flourishing district in Tennessee, with most of its 15 high schools having graduation rates above 90 percent. Within the last five years, the district has also has also seen modest gains in reading/language arts, math, science, and social studies as measured by the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests for grades 3 through 8.


A new flexbooks program will be implemented this fall in math classrooms across a suburban Atlanta school district to keep up with changing state requirements and reduce textbook costs.

Henry County Schools is using Edgenuity software on newly purchased iPads in its math classrooms, nicknaming the program “flexbooks” because teachers and administrators will have the flexibility to create customizable math content for each classroom and student, says Assistant Superintendent Aaryn Schmuhl. Parents will also have access to the content online so they can help students with homework.

North Carolina, a state once seen at the forefront of progressive education policy, has become a battleground where reformers and teachers’ advocates are clashing over a wide-ranging new voucher program and the elimination of tenure-based pay.

Test scores improved and teacher salaries hovered at the national average under former Gov. Jim Hunt’s second term, from 1993-2001. Now, teacher pay in North Carolina is 46th in the nation and the number of schools meeting federal performance measures is consistently low, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.

Students who are physically active during school get better grades, even as nearly half the nation’s administrators have cut time from PE classes and recess in the last decade to focus more on math and reading, a new report found.

Some 44 percent of administrators have made the cuts since the passage of NCLB in 2001, putting students further at risk for obesity, says “Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School,” a report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

A first-of-its-kind coalition of five of the nation’s largest districts is working to improve the reputation and quality of school food. The Urban School Food Alliance celebrated its one-year anniversary this summer, and includes districts in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Dallas, and Orlando.

Students at the new Rancho Mirage High School will be learning in a state-of-the-art performing arts center, cutting-edge science labs, and a complete culinary arts kitchen.

McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. completed the $100 million high school in July for Palm Springs USD in southern California. The 332,000-square-foot school, which opens this September, was built on more than 60 acres in the city of Rancho Mirage, and will help alleviate overcrowding in the district’s three other high schools.


ALAS, Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents
Oct. 16-19
Denver, Colo.

ASBO, Association of School Business Officers
Oct. 25-28
Boston, Mass.

AECT, Association for Educational Communications and Technology
Oct. 29-Nov. 2
Anaheim, Calif.

Most U.S. teacher preparation programs are failing to adequately train teachers for the rigorous Common Core standards—a fact administrators need to consider when hiring, according to a report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).

The comprehensive NCTQ Teacher Prep Review, released in partnership with U.S. News & World Report in June, represents data from 1,130 institutions that prepare 99 percent of the nation’s traditionally trained teachers.

The role of the chief state school officer is becoming increasingly political, with the rise of tough accountability standards and mounting tension over the funding of charter schools.

These pressures were on display in August, when Florida Commissioner of Education Tony Bennett resigned amid accusations that, while serving as Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction last year, he changed the grading formula to benefit charter schools, including one backed by a prominent Republican donor.

A Nebraska superintendent has added his own program to the increasing number of academies designed to teach his peers critical management skills that they may not have learned during their formal education.

Keith Lutz, superintendent of Millard Public Schools in Omaha, Neb., worked with two professors from the University of Nebraska to develop the Midlands Superintendent Academy for new administrators. Classes, which began this fall at the university, focus on topics such as strategic planning, structuring district administrations, and marketing.

Michael Flanagan, superintendent of the Michigan Department of Education and chair of the state board of education, received the Distinguished Service Award from NASBE. Since taking the job in 2005, he has spearheaded a push for more rigorous high school graduation requirements.

A new state law requires Arizona school districts to teach financial literacy skills. Arizona joins 24 other states that mandate some degree of K12 financial literacy instruction.

Missouri, Tennessee, and Utah, which require students to take one semester of financial literacy in high school, have the strongest laws while other states, like Arizona, are only required to blend financial literacy into other subjects, such as math or economics.

States and school districts could win some authority back from the federal government under a controversial update to the Elementary and Secondary Schools Act (ESEA) passed in July by the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Student Success Act would eliminate the adequate yearly progress measures of No Child Left Behind and allow states to create their own benchmarks. And federal programs like President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top initiative would end, leaving states and districts to develop their own plans for turning around underperforming schools.

The Common Core State Standards are no longer coming—they are already here.

School districts working to close budget gaps are increasingly requiring parents to pay fees for their children’s textbooks, lab materials, computers, and after-school activities.

It’s a regrettable but widespread trend, says Bruce Hunter, associate executive director of advocacy, policy and communications at the School Superintendents Association. “The recession lasted longer and cut deeper than anyone thought it would,” Hunter says. “Districts try to charge as little as possible, because it’s not popular. It’s a last resort.”

Jack Martin took the helm of Detroit Public Schools in July as the district’s new emergency manager, with goals of getting the academically and financially troubled district back on track. Three days after his appointment, Detroit filed for bankruptcy.

It is the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, with roots in the decline of the auto industry and racial tensions that drove residents out to the suburbs.


Even before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the city and the state had been the focus of school reform. The Recovery School District project aimed to turn around underperforming schools on a grand scale. But Katrina gave officials a reason to wipe the slate clean in poverty stricken New Orleans. Hope Against Hope (Bloomsbury Press, 2013), by Times-Picayune reporter Sarah Carr, examines those reform efforts from the perspective of the teachers and families they affected.