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District Administration, May 2015

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Cover Story

As states try to bring new rigor and accountability to their teacher evaluation systems, digital video is emerging as one tool for standardizing and enhancing the sometimes perfunctory ritual of classroom observation.

Features

As states try to bring new rigor and accountability to their teacher evaluation systems, digital video is emerging as one tool for standardizing and enhancing the sometimes perfunctory ritual of classroom observation.

No nonsense, persistent and protective, native son and superintendent Michael Yazurlo strives to move Yonkers, N.Y. schools from a segregated past to brighter future, and transform the culture of one of New York state's “Big 5” largest urban districts.

We interact with computing devices every day—so should we have a better understanding of the science behind them? An increasing number of districts are saying yes—this year, 25 states require computer science courses for high school graduation, compared to only 11 states in 2013.

Magnet schools have made a big comeback in America’s education system, offering curricula that span the spectrum—from medicine to the arts to language immersion. The revitalized programs provide plenty of hands-on experience, while the academic themes are infused into traditional classes such as math and English.

When a classroom is sweltering, nobody is productive. More and more teaching days are being lost to hot, humid weather even though there is a way to mitigate the problem: air conditioning. But the challenge is justifying the cost of installation and maintenance at a time when competition for budget money is fierce.

District CIO

A large majority of district technology leaders report moving some crucial IT services to the cloud this year, according to a March report from the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN).

More than 65 percent of IT leaders say their district now uses productivity tools such as Google Apps for Education that run through the cloud—a rapid increase over last year, when only 10 percent reported using these services, the 2015 “K-12 IT Leadership Survey Report” found.

Only a handful of school districts attempt rigorous, round-the-clock monitoring of social media traffic to spot threats against their schools or students. Leaders in these districts say the extra level of security acts as an early-warning system that can prevent young people from hurting themselves or others.

Opinion

Several years ago, I attended a four-day training on instructional coaching at the University of Kansas, led by Jim Knight, an expert in the field. During this training, Knight presented a comprehensive model that can easily be implemented as part of internal professional development in schools.

As the academic year began at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, we discussed how this could constitute an effective and important model for our own professional development.

When I tell colleagues that our district is in its second year of a transition to project-based learning (PBL) districtwide, only a few questions emerge.

Years ago, I would have expected “What is PBL?” Now there are many districts in our region who have opted for the structured approach, led by the Buck Institute for Education.

Gaps in high school graduation rates are narrowing. National Center for Education Statistics data shows that nearly every racial and ethnic subgroup has seen a growth in graduation rates.

President Barack Obama’s proposed FY16 budget invests in programs that have improved student outcomes. Some highlights that will provide more funds for college-and-career readiness include:

Solutions

Immersing students at Cave Creek USD with foreign language catapulted them above state average test scores. Superintendent Debbi C. Burdick and the governing board launched a world language program that included Spanish and Chinese programs beginning in elementary school.

Briefings

In the middle school STEM lab at New Canaan Public Schools in Connecticut, students frequently choose to learn with flight simulators rather than 3D printers, video games and other technological options.

“It’s definitely our most popular tool,” says Vivian Birdsall, New Canaan’s middle school STEM teacher. “Not only do the flight simulations expose our students to aviation, they’re so exciting and fun that our students often don’t realize how much they’re learning from them.”

Responding to the growing diversity of its students, Chicago Public Schools has launched a new curriculum focused on the cultures of Central and South America and the Caribbean.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the passage of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The law fundamentally changed the way students with disabilities are educated in America, and the way states fund their K12 education programs.

IDEA requires the federal government to provide 40 percent of the average per-pupil expenditure in the United States, multiplied by the number of special education students in each state, to educate students with disabilities.

Superintendent David Stegall of Newton-Conover City Schools in North Carolina had a simple idea two years ago: The fees collected when community groups rent district facilities—instead of going to the general fund—could be given to students and staff to develop innovative programs.

The Innovative Grant program launched last spring. In its first year, students, teachers, parents and community members were awarded between $500 and $1,500 to bring a variety of projects to life.

New York City students are getting a taste of carpentry and other trades through a partnership with the National Park Service (NPS) focused on refurbishing historical buildings.

Former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar challenged NPS’ New York regional department about five years ago to gather ideas to increase involvement with local communities that were not engaged with urban national park sites.

Students join African drum circles in Virginia, debate immigration in the Bronx and participate in overseas book clubs in Minneapolis and Philadelphia. Teachers have brought these activities and others to their classrooms from a growing number of globally-focused teacher prep and professional development programs.

A mentorship program’s $200 incentive for academic achievement is successfully motivating students in a district located in the heart of the declining automotive industry. "Champions of Wayne" was created by a school psychologist who mentored a handful of students and engraved their names on a four-foot trophy if they achieved an academic goal.

New York City Public Schools will become the first large urban district to observe two major Muslim holy days in the academic calendar. The move has sparked other ethnic and religious groups to fight for recognition of their respective holidays.

Parents have taken over Facebook and, to a lesser extent, Twitter. This has sent device-laden students flocking to social media apps such as Instagram, SnapChat and Yik Yak, and the shift has created new challenges for administrators trying to root out cyberbullying and threats of violence.

When 11 former Atlanta Public Schools educators were convicted in March of racketeering for altering student standardized test scores in a systemic cheating scandal uncovered six years ago, it left many shocked and others concerned about the tests themselves.

State investigators concluded that cheating had occurred in at least 44 schools, with nearly 180 employees accused of fixing students’ incorrect answers and inflating test scores.

Alton L. Frailey, superintendent of Katy ISD in Texas and president of the Texas Association of School Administrators, was elected 2015-16 president-elect of AASA, and will begin his post in July.

Frailey became Katy ISD chief in 2007, after previously serving as chief of DeSoto ISD in Texas and Cincinnati Public Schools. “AASA champions the efforts to improve the lives” of public school children, Frailey says. “I look forward to advancing the mission in my new role.”

Departments

STEM and the City: A Report on STEM Education in the Great American Urban Public School System

Information Age Publishing

Providing students with the right academic resources is crucial to their success. Whether it’s finding printed books, e-books or other research materials, new software can help librarians organize materials and make them easy to find.

In The Teaching Brain: An Evolutionary Trait at the Heart of Education, Vanessa Rodriguez and co-author Michelle Fitzpatrick go to the intersection of education, neuroscience and daily experience to explore how the mind of a teacher works, and more important, how it can be made more effective.