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District Administration, February 2015

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Cover Story

Teacher quality is crucial to the success of schooling, yet the teacher-hiring process is sometimes rushed and ad hoc. A late-summer flurry of activity in which subjective factors—from where a candidate went to high school to how many resumes an exhausted principal has already reviewed—can weigh as heavily as meaningful evidence of academic achievement or instructional effectiveness.

Features

District leaders across the country are broadening and personalizing their approaches to attendance because the old way of sending truants and their families to court often fails to bring students back to school.

Teacher quality is crucial to the success of schooling, yet the teacher-hiring process is sometimes rushed and ad hoc. A late-summer flurry of activity in which subjective factors—from where a candidate went to high school to how many resumes an exhausted principal has already reviewed—can weigh as heavily as meaningful evidence of academic achievement or instructional effectiveness.

In many schools, psychologists have time for little more than assessing students. That prevents them from using their range of skills in counseling, data analysis and preventing bullying, suicide and violence. 

One student generates about five pounds of waste in 180 days from simply drinking a carton of milk each day of the school year, according to the Carton Council, a national industry-sponsored recycling organization. Add in glue bottles, old test papers and leftover lunch, and it’s no wonder schools are looking for ways to reduce both the amount of waste filling trash bins and the money spent to have it hauled away.

From designing more creative and flexible science classrooms to developing community service projects that engage girls in STEM, this year’s National Science Teachers Association conference in March is all about K12 students connecting learning to the real world. Implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and an accompanying push for hands-on learning is bringing new ways to think about integrating science—and scientific thinking—into everyday experiences.

District CIO

Student-centered CIOs must now focus more on the user experience than on just keeping networks and machines functioning.

“To be successful you have to dedicate 80 percent of your resources toward the service side of IT, and 20 percent to keeping the boxes working,” says Jason Saltmarsh, an education technology consultant and former district technology director. In the past, before students were in charge of their own devices, the opposite was true.

The increasing shift to online learning and collaboration has created new concerns around student privacy. Keeping data as secure in the cloud as it would be in a locked file cabinet requires communication, diligence and strong policies.

Opinion

As it does for many families, local school district quality played a primary role in our real estate choice.

But open-enrollment demanded research. My spouse and I have 35 years of teaching experience between us, so we devised a plan. On one day we scheduled five interviews with five principals from five schools. One essential question drove our discussions: What is your teacher turnover rate?

While home environment, access to books, and social and economic factors all play a part in children’s literacy development, brain differences also play a crucial role.

As more school leaders adopt cloud-based technology to support educator and student achievement, the need for efficient processes to run student and teacher accounts increases.

In the past, printed instructional materials would be received, sorted, labeled and distributed to classrooms. Materials traveled from the office to the teacher, then from the educator to the student. But for cloud-based materials, the distribution process looks quite different.

Solutions

Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent Bruce Borchers has worked with his board and administrators, and partnered with local businesses, to create a multifaceted program to bolster STEM education. His city was founded by the U.S. government in 1943 as a secret production site for the Manhattan Project and is steeped in technology to this day.

Briefings

A National Council on Teacher Quality report citing a lack of rigor and grade inflation in teacher preparation courses is being disputed by the organization that represents college and university education programs.

The era of school choice and open enrollment has driven many district leaders to create innovative programs and to more aggressively publicize their offerings to compete with charters and private schools that have drawn away families and funding.

Here, three districts turned the tide on enrollment with enhanced communication, construction and even recruitment initiatives.

The term “dual language” makes most educators think of Spanish. But dual-language programs taught in less-common tongues can help families preserve their cultural identities as new generations are born in the United States.

After more than two decades, rural schools in South Carolina are tasting a sweet historic victory.

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in November that the state funding formula denies many poor, rural students their right to an adequate education—21 years after several districts first filed the lawsuit.

As debate over the Common Core continues to spread in major media outlets, local administrators must address parent and community concerns to keep the focus on student learning.

“The need for parent communication with the Common Core caught many administrators by surprise, because this idea of having standards and revising curriculum isn’t new for district administrators,” says Sandra Alberti, director of field impact at Student Achievement Partners, a nonprofit started by Common Core creators to help educators implement the standards.

Security dogs trained to detect the vapors in ammunition and bombs are being used in school district security for the first time. Calhoun County Schools in Alabama became the first district in the nation this year to pilot a vapor wake detection service with a canine officer.

What do you do when your school district grows by 12,000 students in 10 years?

In Rutherford County Schools in central Tennessee, the answer is build. One of the fastest growing districts in the nation, Rutherford’s enrollment rose from 29,600 in 2003-04 to 41,000 this year. It is now the fifth-largest in the state behind districts in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga.

A truancy reduction bill sponsored by Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, became law on Jan. 1, and could keep kids from getting behind the wheel. When a student between 14 and 18 years old applies for a driver’s license, they must now submit a letter from school officials stating that they have met attendance requirements.

Departments

In his book How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens, New York Times science reporter Benedict Carey examines well-worn advice about learning, only to find much of it misguided or outdated. Instead, recent research shows that sometimes contradictory study techniques may actually lead to greater success in the classroom.