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District Administration, September 2014

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Cover Story

Five years after the Great Recession officially ended, many superintendents continue to grapple with educating today’s students and preparing for tomorrow’s—with yesterday’s funding levels. The worst recession since the Great Depression lasted from December of 2007 to June of 2009, according to the federal government, and many superintendents are only now starting to glimpse limited financial relief.

Features

As the economy continues its slow crawl out of the recession, school districts that had put off capital purchases are now replacing outdated equipment and buying new technology. However, administrators are still considering large-scale acquisitions with caution.

Sports teams in a growing number of school districts can only return to their fields, gymnasiums, rinks and pools each September with the support of parent-run booster clubs. As budgets tighten, these clubs, which have provided high school athletes with everything from uniforms to scoreboards to travel money for competitions or games, are expanding into elementary and middle schools.

Five years after the Great Recession officially ended, many superintendents continue to grapple with educating today’s students and preparing for tomorrow’s—with yesterday’s funding levels. The worst recession since the Great Depression lasted from December of 2007 to June of 2009, according to the federal government, and many superintendents are only now starting to glimpse limited financial relief.

It’s 7:30 on a Monday morning at Bethany Elementary School in Beaverton, Ore., and Nina Fekaris is crouching on the playground, busily picking up peanut shells left from a weekend community party. Fekaris, a nurse for over 20 years in the Beaverton School District, checks her list of students with peanut allergies to make sure they are kept inside the school building and out of harm’s way until all of the shells are picked up.

District CIO

District CIOs looking to save money on computers are increasingly turning to refurbished technology. Buying preowned equipment puts more devices in the hands of students and keeps old machines out of landfills.

Schools that can’t afford to compete with the private sector in hiring technology specialists are looking to other options, such as hiring part-time experts, bringing in volunteers or finding funds to retrain teachers.

Wyoming’s Laramie County School District implemented its first student information system more than 15 years ago so teachers could enter grades electronically and share student progress with other educators. Almost immediately, district leaders realized they needed additional information systems to compile special education data, monitor No Child Left Behind standards, track visits to nurses and send emergency notifications.

Opinion

This is the disturbing opening from a Los Angeles Times article published a year ago:

“Two students from separate schools committed suicide within days of each other this month—which is National Bullying Prevention Month—and both boys apparently had been bullied. Now, parents are asking questions not just about bullying but also about anti-bullying videos, which both schools aired shortly before the incidents.”

In schools across the country, students are swapping their pencils and bubble sheets for computing devices and online tests.

Proponents say online assessment is the wave of the future. Opponents say teachers and students aren’t ready. Students from poverty may be at a disadvantage when taking online tests, they argue. I would counter that school should be the place that levels the playing field for those who don’t have access to technology at home.

Just when you thought you had devices figured out, it’s becoming apparent that apps are a new, true threat. BYOD has led to BYOA—bring-your-own-app—and focus must now shift from devices to software.

Solutions

Alvin Crawley relishes the days he can get a little dirty. One recent day, he played kickball with students at Maury Elementary School, and then dusted off his new suit before returning to his office. Another day, he played drums and told African folk tales to fourth-graders during a lunch break at Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy, an elementary school. And on still another, he and Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille rapped in a student-created music video to stem the cases of bullying.

Iowa’s Clinton Community School District has incorporated two cutting-edge programs into its learning environment in hopes of giving students a better chance at graduating and succeeding in college or career.

Briefings

About 12 percent of male and 8 percent of female high school athletes reported using prescription painkillers for nonmedical purposes at least once in the past year—an increase from previous years, according to a study published recently in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse.

Measuring and even changing a student’s brain activity was once a science fiction concept. But technology advances are pushing to market more products that use attention levels and plasticity of the mind to raise academic achievement.

If compost can make it there, it can make it anywhere.

In an effort to reduce its garbage footprint, the New York City Department of Education has partnered with the Department of Sanitation to launch its Organic Waste Collection Program in the city’s schools.

The effort was inspired by a 2012 self-funded pilot program organized by a handful of PTAs in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, says John Shea, chief executive officer at the New York City Department of Education.

A growing workplace health trend is moving to classrooms: More schools are adding standing desks as a tool to increase alertness and combat childhood obesity.

With electronic cigarette use among middle and high school students having more than doubled over the past three years, administrators nationwide are banning these products on campus.

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are battery-powered devices that provide doses of nicotine and other additives in aerosol form. The FDA Center for Tobacco Products said last spring that it will regulate e-cigarettes but has not yet issued any rules. Until the FDA does more intensive testing of these products, little will be know about the chemicals inhaled or the potential impact on health.

With state pension systems remaining underfunded, more teachers are investing in supplemental plans to increase savings in hopes of ensuring financial stability after retirement.

About one-third of all teachers are now contributing to supplemental, voluntary investment programs called 403(b)s, which are designed for education and some nonprofits. They are similar to 401(k)s, says Bruce Corcoran, managing director of institutional development for the K12 market at financial services company TIAA-CREF.

Copan Public Schools in northeastern Oklahoma is trying something new to attract teachers and reduce absences: a four-day week.

Though some districts have chosen this schedule to lower transportation and utility costs, saving money was not a reason for the change, Superintendent Rick Ruckman says.

Districts that treat students with emotional disabilities with a “one-size-fits-all” behavioral approach across the system must change their policies, according to federal findings in a case against the Prince William County Public Schools in Virginia.

Angela Ciolfi, legal director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s JustChildren Program, and two other attorneys filed a complaint in November of 2012 with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education.

The beginning of the school year brings new construction projects in many districts, including Rockford Public Schools in Illinois and North Shore Central School District in New York.

At Rockford Public Schools, a district of 28,000 students in Illinois, all four of the district’s high schools were under heavy construction over the summer that will continue throughout the school year.

Districts far from Central America are experiencing record surges in immigrant student enrollment this fall—and must find the funding to accommodate these students but also provide them with mental health and English language services. Since October, more than 57,500 unaccompanied minors from Central America have been detained at the Mexican border.

New Orleans public schools have made great strides in the eight years since the state took over most of them due to consistently low academic performance and the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

But several challenges still remain for the decentralized school district, according to an August report from the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives at Tulane University.

More than half of Des Moines’ 60 public schools will soon offer free breakfast and lunch for about 17,000 students without them having to apply for it.

School districts that spend more per pupil do not necessarily perform better, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress.

After examining more than 7,000 districts nationwide, researchers found that only 37 percent of the districts in the top third in spending were also in the top third in achievement.

Joplin Public Schools in Missouri opened the doors to the brand new Joplin High School/Franklin Technology Center on Aug. 25.

The original high school, along with a technical school, two elementary schools and a middle school, was destroyed in May 2011 after a tornado devastated the area.

Instead of essays and book reports, more schools are turning toward multimedia projects in the classroom to make lessons more engaging and even stem the tide of bullying and tolerance.

While implementing technology initiatives such as 1-to-1 and using audio and visuals such as photographs, administrators at Crosby ISD in Texas also wanted to see what their teachers could do to “beef up” their instruction, says Patricia Kay, assistant superintendent of instruction.

Superintendent Grayling Tobias of the Hazelwood School District in St. Louis County, Mo., started school as planned in August, despite the recent death of an unarmed 18-year-old who was shot multiple times in a confrontation with police in Ferguson, Mo.

Tobias arranged for extra police patrols at all buildings, and asked principals, social workers and counselors to be visible for students who need to talk or express their feelings.

Departments

Technology is revolutionizing the study of science in K12. New products for chemistry, biology and physics labs allow more engaging and, in some cases, safer experiments.

Following the BYOD and 1-to-1 trend, many of these products come with mobile apps so students can take their inquiries outside the classroom and analyze data instantly in the field.

When Charles Reigeluth and Jennifer Karnopp titled their book Reinventing Schools: It’s Time to Break the Mold, they meant it. Reigeluth, an education researcher from Indiana University, and Karnopp, head of school at the Robert Frost Charter School in New Hampshire, propose radical changes.

School Reform City: Voices from An American Experiment

New Haven Independent Press

Instead of locking horns with the local union, New Haven Public Schools in Connecticut took a more collaborative approach to school reform—the district let teachers manage a failing school.