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District Administration, November 2014

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Cover Story

Nearly 50 school districts that are leading the way with innovative and effective new ideas have been named Districts of Distinction, District Administration magazine’s new tri-annual award program. The honorees, which were selected from hundreds of nominations submitted from around the country, are districts of various sizes and demographics that represent 28 states.

Features

Career and technical education isn’t what it used to be. For example, sessions scheduled for the Association of Career and Technical Education’s annual conference in November cover training teachers to use smartphones to improve literacy and how students learn "higher-order thinking” through reading, writing and group learning.

Districts working to prevent mass shootings and other violent campus attacks are hiring more school resource officers to patrol their buildings, particularly at the elementary level. These SROs, elevated from a more passive role, are now an integral part of school safety planning.

Studying controversial events can show students how past events and current conflicts are connected. Examining these stories also can foster critical thinking skills and hone the ability to debate. But such discussions can be a minefield for educators trying to navigate touchy topics.

Foreign language has become a necessity for “global competence”—the ability to use a language beyond the classroom, in the workforce and in social settings. The idea of global competence encompasses sensitivity, respect and understanding of other cultural perspectives.

School visitors are no longer just writing their names in a notebook when they sign in. Districts are now scanning fingerprints and eyes to check if a visitor or contractor has a criminal record. The new methods not only provide background checks, but can also track how many times someone has visited a school.

District CIO

The move toward personalized learning and the ability to deliver resources via the cloud are transforming the way districts purchase digital content for math, reading and other parts of the curriculum. As this landscape changes, district also are spending more on digital resources.

High-speed broadband is in and phones are out, according to the recent FCC order to update the federal E-rate program. Administrators will have new funds to expand district Wi-Fi capacity, but will need to make up for lost phone and email subsidies.

Opinion

Technology has provided administrators with some great opportunities for communication and data analysis, but for our students it means so much more.

To help our students, we need to show that with all these opportunities come responsibilities. All administrators have read, or lived through, instances of cyberbullying, sexting and even suicide that have come from the misuse of technology.

In an age of assessments, every school today knows how it is performing and understands the stakes of failing to meet expectations. Yet vast numbers of schools across the nation have been unable to improve, despite the threats of sanctions or outright closure.

Holy Redeemer School, a Catholic K8 school in Minnesota, is focused on delivering an educational environment that differentiates the learning experience for each child’s specific needs.

Part of that initiative involves giving every student, including those in kindergarten, a tablet to engage them in their education. We had heard stories of failed tablet implementations in other schools, and were determined to avoid similar mistakes in our own rollout.

Briefings

Many districts are charging up their K12 STEM courses with the use of robotics. The clear benefits of robotics are increased student engagement and collaboration—but there’s more.

A student athlete with a concussion doesn’t face challenges only in returning to play. Their injury also can hinder their performance in the classroom, and administrators must make sure students who need rest or have to work more slowly are able to keep up with schoolwork during recovery.

Teacher preparation programs have been criticized for not providing educators with sufficient classroom skills, as noted in the National Council on Teacher Quality’s “Teacher Prep Review 2014.”

Lawrence Public Schools is the first district in Kansas to adopt federal sex education standards that go beyond what’s required by the state.

Kansas requires all schools to teach some form of human sexuality and HIV awareness, but doesn’t stipulate a curriculum. The Lawrence school board voted last year to adopt the national standards, which provide a more detailed framework for age-appropriate sex education in K12, says Vanessa Sanburn, vice president of the school board.

Record numbers of students are taking the ACT exam and expressing an interest in higher education—but scores on both the ACT and SAT are lagging, according to test administrators.

More than 1.84 million 2014 graduates—a record 57 percent of the national graduating class—took the ACT. This is a 3 percent increase from 2013, and an 18 percent increase compared to 2010, according to the ACT’s annual “Condition of College & Career Readiness” report, released in August.

Critical Exposure is a nonprofit after-school program that trains District of Columbia Public Schools students to use photography and advocacy to make real changes in their schools and community.

High school students gain skills in documentary, photography, leadership and advocacy as they critically examine their schools and communities, and document issues that affect their lives. The photos are shared with the public through travelling exhibits in galleries and libraries. They are also shown to public officials as a means of advocating for policy changes in the community.

Superintendent Casey Wardynski of Huntsville City Schools in Alabama said in September the district has reviewed social media accounts of some 600 students since January to respond to potential threats.

Students are investigated only if school officials receive a tip, he says. The monitoring came to light after the National Security Agency alerted the district to a potential threat a student made against a teacher on Twitter.

Students in Louisiana will commemorate the upcoming 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans with a new curriculum created by the education team at the state’s Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.

Grenade launchers and M16s are some of the weapons school districts are now giving back to the U.S. government. Now, amid widespread criticism, some districts have returned the weapons to the military.

Departments

Great teachers are those who have tapped into how we learn at a deeper level, and that, author Elizabeth Green says, is a skill that can be passed on. In her book Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works And How To Teach It To Everyone, Green shows what happens in the classrooms of great teachers and how that can be scaled to an entire school or district.

Administrators striving to align instruction with the Common Core have an ever increasing range of curriculum programs from which to choose.

Several new social studies programs focus on keeping students abreast of current and archived news while other materials spotlight America’s history.

The Power of Teacher Leaders: Their Roles, Influence, and Impact

Routledge Education

In The Power of Teacher Leaders, top educational researchers describe the many ways teachers are leading.

In each chapter, the contributing experts present original research, case studies and programs in practice.

The topics covered include how teachers become leaders, and the effects their leadership has on school communities and student success.