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District Administration, June 2014

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Cover Story

The new breed of robots rolling, dancing and flying into classrooms is giving educators at all grade levels an engaging new tool to fire students’ enthusiasm for math, computer programming and other STEM-related subjects.

Features

The new breed of robots rolling, dancing and flying into classrooms is giving educators at all grade levels an engaging new tool to fire students’ enthusiasm for math, computer programming and other STEM-related subjects.

A step for districts going paperless is to stop accepting cash or paper checks from parents. Many school systems have had vendors set up secure online portals where parents can pay for AP courses, lunches and field trips, among other items.

As New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio neared his 100th day in office, he could already boast of an achievement that may not only shape his legacy, but also take part in transforming the nation’s largest school system: universal prekindergarten.

De Blasio, who entered office promising to make full-day pre-K available for all 4-year-olds in the city, pressured the state legislature to allocate funding for programs statewide.

After much tussling, New York lawmakers approved $300 million for the city, some $40 million shy of what de Blasio estimated pre-K programs would cost.

Over the past two years, elementary teachers in Weston Public Schools in Connecticut have been learning to implement Singapore Math, a highly regarded program that delves deeply into concepts ranging from understanding numbers and length to rounding and adding fractions.

Weston’s three-day summer institute for high school educators is focused on teaching writing in science, history and social science classes.

District CIO

Districts that have implemented BYOD successfully have found building a powerful Wi-Fi network, developing explicit acceptable use policies, and communicating those policies clearly to students, parents and teachers are critical steps in the technology transition.

Education technology-focused startups are experiencing their biggest boom ever, with 99 new companies raising over $500 million in the first quarter of 2014. This is up from just 20 companies that raised $64 million in 2009, according to startup activity database CrunchBase.

Opinion

Education and business stakeholders continue to call for more rigorous curricula, instruction and assessments in order to adequately prepare students for the demands of the 21st century.

But even if implemented well, does the Common Core fully capture the knowledge and skills students will need to succeed in college, the workplace and life? And what do tougher academics and more challenging courses really require of schools in terms of how best to support the diversity of student populations?

In a 2011 National Crime Victimization Survey, close to 1.2 million students reported that someone was hurtful to them at school once a week or more. This rate has not significantly declined since 2005. Of this number, close to 540,000 students say this happens “almost daily.”

Furthermore, over 700,000 students reported they were “fearful of attack or harm” at school “sometimes” or “most of the time.”

Public education is embarking on a digital transformation. We are shifting from consumption-based learning to creation-based learning. These are moves in the right direction, but they require us to provide our students with access to the tools and devices needed to connect them to all the available resources.

Solutions

When students in music class at Jennings School District in Missouri started taking violin lessons, they would show when they were frustrated. After a year of playing beautiful music, the students wait a beat, and calm down, instead of acting out. With troubled schools where standardized test scores are abysmal, absenteeism runs rampant and aspirations of breaking out of poverty feel like a pipe dream, the district in urban St. Louis County has the look and attitude of a feisty kid that wants to overcome the long odds for success.

Briefings

Some 136 of 590 New Jersey districts require parents to provide government-issued identification or a social security number before enrolling a child in school—a barrier for illegal immigrant families and a violation of federal law, according to an April survey from the state’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter.

In a New Jersey seventh-grade history class, students put Christopher Columbus “on trial” to determine whether the explorer was a good or bad leader.

An austere doctor’s office with three cadavers laid out on stainless-steel examination tables awaited students from seven Illinois high schools. Reminiscent of a scene from CSI, it was a lab where advanced biology students got a hands-on experience of medical science by dissecting human bodies.

New and pending laws in several Southern states are reaffirming students’ rights to pray during the school day and at school-sponsored events such as graduations and football games.

Laws passed in South Carolina in 2012 and Mississippi in 2013 allow students to pray at assemblies, athletic events and other school functions. A 2007 Texas law lets student express religious viewpoints when they speak at school events.

Go Public: A Day in the Life of an American School District is a recently-released documentary film about Pasadena USD that shows the challenges, triumphs and personalities of a moderate-sized public school system.

As of July 1, students will have a harder time getting their hands on junk food in public schools, as stricter standards raise the nutritional value of what’s available in cafeterias, campus stores, snack bars and vending machines.

The arts are driving up test scores and closing achievement gaps in more than 30 Mississippi schools that are blending music, theater, visual art and dance into core subjects.

Autism rates soared by nearly 30 percent between 2008 and 2010, according to an April study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About one in 68 eight-year-olds was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in 2010—a rate that has more than doubled since the year 2000, when 1 in 150 children were identified.

The largest school infrastructure project in Connecticut history is nearing its one-year anniversary. The Fairchild Wheeler Interdistrict Magnet Campus in Bridgeport, Conn., was completed last August for $126 million and is the state’s most environmentally friendly school.

Beth Schiavino-Narvaez, a deputy superintendent in Montgomery County Schools in Maryland, was named superintendent of Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut in April. She has worked in Montgomery County since 2011, where she oversees the district’s 202 schools and supervises principals. She will start the job in Hartford on July 1.

Field testing for the Common Core assessments wrapped up in June, with districts in 36 states reporting mostly successful first runs despite some challenges around technology, test questions and scheduling.

High schools in Connecticut and Texas have blocked a new social media app from school Wi-Fi servers after several reports of cyberbullying.

Departments

High schools often report their students’ SAT score averages as a badge of honor—and with good reason; high scores are perceived as the mark of a good school.

Creating educational materials has taken on a whole new meaning as more schools are bringing 3D printers into classrooms. Science, technology, art and engineering classes are using this new technology to build their own lab tools and to bring sculptures to life, among other projects.

Despite this innovation, districts still need traditional paper printers for everyday memos, marketing materials and letters.

Positive Relations @ School (& Elsewhere): Legal Ramifications & Positive Strategies to Address Bullying & Harassment

Embrace Civility in the Digital Age