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District Administration, October 2013

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Cover Story

Relationships between school districts and the parents of special needs students are notoriously adversarial, and lawyers sometimes get involved in the disputes that arise. Given the increase in students diagnosed with disabilities and the costs involved in serving them, district leaders who want to provide the proper instruction and care, and avoid costly litigation, must stay abreast of the law.


Relationships between school districts and the parents of special needs students are notoriously adversarial, and lawyers sometimes get involved in the disputes that arise. Given the increase in students diagnosed with disabilities and the costs involved in serving them, district leaders who want to provide the proper instruction and care, and avoid costly litigation, must stay abreast of the law.

The question of whether prior experience as an educator should be a required qualification for superintendents has been asked for a number of years. The issue comes to the forefront of education reform efforts, particularly in big city school systems, where former corporate CEOs, politicians, or military officers without prior K12 experience have been appointed district CEO or superintendent.

When Hurricane Sandy hit Long Beach, N.Y., a year ago, floodwaters and strong winds destroyed 95 percent of the houses in the small beach community, and damaged all six public schools. Administrators were left to deal with the unprecedented disaster wreaked by the storm, scrambling to relocate students to temporary schools and continue education under extremely adverse conditions.

The district’s most severely damaged school, West Elementary, reopened for the first time this fall.

New platforms are giving parents the chance to track their children’s progress without having to schedule a parent-teacher conference.

The substantial number of high school graduates who land in higher education unprepared academically and have to take remedial courses to catch up are more likely than other students to quit before earning a two- or four-year diploma. Now, districts in several states are intervening more aggressively than in the past to better prepare struggling high school students for college-level classes.

The player gets to be an archaeologist trying to stop a criminal who’s defacing ancient Mayan temples. But the player doesn’t get laser cannons or magic swords. Catching this video game vandal requires solving geography puzzles, answering math questions, and passing reading comprehension tests.

District CIO

The Brevard County Public Schools in Florida has instituted energy-saving measures that have cut electricity costs by almost $4 million—or by 25 percent. In upstate New York, the Beaver River Central School District has a plan that could save and restore teacher jobs. And the Kent School District outside Seattle is discovering that it can afford to do more to maintain aging buildings.

Two-thirds of educators say that a major frustration in searching for instructional materials online is the number of irrelevant results, a 2013 survey found. The Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI), created by the Association of Educational Publishers and Creative Commons, seeks to solve this problem by providing a framework for describing educational content and products on the web.

Developing small robotic helicopters that can navigate rooms on their own is a task usually left to engineering experts. But now, students seeking hands-on STEM experience can work with U.S. Air Force experts on this and other real military projects, including rescue technology and GPS satellites.


The country’s obsession with high-stakes testing is an expensive, destructive failure. Students who can least afford it pay the biggest price.

When upgrading security, can districts afford to wait the weeks or months the purchasing process sometimes takes? A widely available but not very well-known funding option can speed things up.

We know there is a sense of urgency around funding safer schools—just think about the title of President Obama’s school safety plan: Now is the Time! The good news is that for district leaders who are willing to explore a new purchasing method, time and cost savings may be on the way.


Today, the Merrillville Community Schools Corporation, located in a suburban town outside Gary, Ind., is an award-winning district, having achieved a 90 percent graduation rate in 2012 with 78 percent of its students demonstrating proficiency in English, math, and science.


Most students who took the ACT risk falling behind in college and lack the skills necessary to join the modern workforce, according to a report from the company that offers the test. Meanwhile, 31 percent of students tested did not meet any of the assessment’s college benchmarks, which the report says demonstrates the need for a more rigorous curriculum in U.S. schools.

New helmet sensors are helping high school football coaches identify students at risk for concussion by recording the severity each time a player is hit in the head during a game.

Students who earn college credit while pursuing their diploma at early college high schools are more likely to graduate and go on to higher education than their peers who attend traditional schools, according to a new study from the nonprofit American Institutes for Research.

Women, minorities, and low-income students from these schools were more likely to earn a college degree than those at other high schools, the study also found.

Zombies will be feeding the minds of STEM students using a new program created by Texas Instruments that blends science and math concepts with popular television shows and movies. The “STEM Behind Hollywood” program provides free teaching materials that also feature forensics, space, and superheroes.

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded $12.3 million to 35 school districts in 17 states to expand counseling programs, as ongoing budget cuts have led to reductions in the numbers of counselors and other support staff.

New Superintendent

Lynn Moody will become superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury School System in North Carolina in October. She is former superintendent of Rock Hill Schools in South Carolina, where she launched a $9 million initiative to provide an iPad to every student in grades 4 through 8.

A bookkeeper’s calm demeanor in talking down an armed intruder saved her suburban Atlanta school from experiencing another potential Sandy Hook tragedy on Aug. 20.

West Virginia educators now have access to an updated oral health curriculum for students, as written by the state’s Department of Health and Human Resources and Office of Maternal, Child and Family Health this past summer.

Head Start programs across the nation have eliminated services for over 57,000 children this school year due to across-the-board sequester cuts, according to reduction plans submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 18,000 Head Start employees will be laid off or receive pay cuts, and 1.3 million days will be cut nationally from the program’s school calendar, the plans state.

After years of torment from bullies, 15-year-old Bart Palosz of Greenwich, Conn., took his own life on the first day of school in September. His death has led many to question the effectiveness of district bullying policies, and whether or not school leaders are responsible for identifying students who may harm themselves.

Almost two out of three Americans have never heard of the Common Core State Standards, and those who have understand little about them, a new poll finds.


David Kirp’s book, Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools (Oxford University Press, 2013), is different from many education titles on the market. While other authors go to great lengths examining where our schools fail, Kirp, a former journalist who is a public policy professor at the University of California at Berkeley, shows what works.

Youth, Education, and the Role of Society: Rethinking Learning in the High School Years

Harvard Education Press

This book’s author, Robert Halpern, argues that education leaders need to expand, enrich, and diversify the learning opportunities available to young people today. The initial chapters explore productive learning experiences for adolescents. The rest of the book looks at how various institutions—including schools, after-school progams, businesses, and nonprofit and civic organizations—can make unique contributions to those crucial learning experiences.