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District Administration, June 2015

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Cover Story

The U.S. public school system’s focus on struggling students leaves high-achievers—especially minorities, the economically disadvantaged and English-language learners —without a challenging enough education, experts say.

Features

The U.S. public school system’s focus on struggling students leaves high-achievers—especially minorities, the economically disadvantaged and English-language learners —without a challenging enough education, experts say.

As Common Core standards require students to write extensively across the curriculum, more districts are using automated assessment tools to save teachers time and give students immediate analysis.

The biggest changes in reading instruction center on embedding literacy across all subjects. Engineering concepts, for example, can be used to break down the plots of stories and analyze characters. And ESL specialists should collaborate with subject teachers to align instruction so students are learning the same words and concepts.

Students in Port Angeles School District in Washington get a taste of the real world of science from their local river. For the past 10 years, they have been working like true scientists collecting and analyzing data gathered from the Elwha River in nearby Olympic National Park near the Pacific coast.

A “culture of safety”—at all levels of a district—is the first and most critical step in dealing with occupational injury. It also guides the prevention of, response to and mitigation of hazards in the workplace, including staff behavior.

District CIO

Widespread use of digital learning materials, an intensifying focus on achievement and the influx of digital devices into classrooms are increasing districts’ need to have some form of learning management systems (LMS), experts say.

A new wave of apps connects teachers with mobile access to professional development and expands opportunities for collaboration with mentors and peers.

“When apps first started, they were basically for entertainment or information,” says Robbie Melton, associate vice chancellor of mobilization emerging technology at the Tennessee Board of Regents. “As mobile devices evolved, we now have a wealth of information and apps for education and workforce development.”

Opinion

In today’s education landscape, it’s common for teachers, school counselors and administrators to encourage students to graduate high school and earn a four-year college degree.

For years, we have seen this as the “right” path and perhaps the only path to success. But this one-size-fits-all approach isn’t a viable one. While many graduating seniors are excited to head off to college, many students with great skills and big dreams are struggling to decide on their next step. So, what’s the right path for those students?

Relegating handwriting to the back burner of early childhood education ignores the close relationship between fine motor skill development and early success in math and reading.

Technology isn’t the enemy, but jumping to keyboards and calculators before mastering pencil and paper may not be developmentally appropriate for young learners.

When your job is to manage the IT infrastructure for more than 83,000 students, across 150 schools, who use more than 340 different pieces of education software, it would not be too surprising to be singing the blues.

But in Music City—Nashville—our district is singing up-tempo and thriving even as we enter year two of a sweeping technology initiative to equip all students for 21st century learning and future colleges and careers.

Student assessment in public education has taken on an unprecedented primacy during the 2014-15 school year, as states scramble to administer one of two new national assessments.

Solutions

Driven by a passion to create an environment where teachers and students can reach full potential, Superintendent Darwin Stiffler has implemented programs to support the migrant workers and military families whose children attend the Yuma Elementary School District in Arizona.

Briefings

American Indian students consistently trail all other minority groups on standardized tests. But this population had the largest reported graduation rate gain of any demographic between 2010-11 and 2012-13, rising from 65 percent to nearly 70 percent in two years.

The jump is perhaps due in part to greater numbers of native teachers and administrators returning to reservation districts, some experts say.

San Diego USD student athletes now play in a new football stadium, baseball field, track and other sports facilities as an $11 million improvement project was completed in April.

The project’s funding came from Proposition Z, San Diego USD’s general obligation bond passed by voters in 2012, as well as from the State Schools Facilities Funds. Construction began in winter 2014.

An Ohio law requiring certain ratios of art teachers, nurses, librarians and other staff was struck down by the state board of education in April.

The state now joins most others nationwide that allow local administrators to control personnel decisions, and superintendents are facing pressure to keep these positions amid budget cuts.

Transforming school libraries into communal learning “playgrounds” offers students technology support, remote access to research resources and expanded opportunities for creative exploration. One of the biggest trends is “makerspaces” where students use their imaginations to create crafts, electronics, videos and other projects.

A curriculum framework initially developed for special education students is gaining traction in general ed classrooms nationwide during Common Core implementation.

English language learners (ELLs) perform better academically and achieve greater language proficiency when they have high-quality English language instruction, according to a 2014 study in the American Educational Research Journal.

These extra programs require additional funding above the average per-student amount.

Principals shifting their roles from building manager to instructional leader need more extensive PD to ensure top performance from teachers and students, according to a new policy brief from ASCD.

Millions of students took Common Core tests this spring—and while it was business as usual in many districts, the spreading opt-out movement left some administrators caught between concerned parents and state requirements.

Schools with high minority populations not only have fewer resources for athletics, but the number of sports offered and the chance to play are even further limited for girls of color.

These opportunity gaps exist for females in 40 percent of heavily minority high schools, but were found in only 16 percent of predominantly white schools, according to “Finishing Last: Girls of Color and School Sports Opportunities,” a report by the National Women’s Law Center and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council.

Curtis Jones began his job as the new superintendent of Bibb County School District in Georgia in April. On his first day on the job, he met with every school board member.

His first task was finalizing the board’s governance handbook and the 2016 district budget. Jones says he also wants to focus on the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support program the district implemented this year.

Departments

From videos to games, tools to help students learn to read are all about fun.

Programs that are compatible with mobile devices allow students to improve reading and literacy skills in and outside the classroom. On the educator side, many new products track students’ progress and offer assessment tools.

Vocabulary.com

Vocabulary.com

In his book A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger says the art of inquiry is the foundation of advancements in science, medicine, mathematics and more. Yet, in our schools—the one place that should emphasize questioning—we value rote answers to standardized tests over challenging inquiry.