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District Administration, November 2015

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Cover Story

The 35 school systems honored in this round of District Administration’s triannual Districts of Distinction awards program represent creative initiatives from 19 different states that have successfully prevented dropouts, increased college acceptance rates and fostered early language skills for children in poverty.

Features

The 35 school systems honored in this round of District Administration’s triannual Districts of Distinction awards program represent creative initiatives from 19 different states that have successfully prevented dropouts, increased college acceptance rates and fostered early language skills for children in poverty.

Injecting “social responsibility” lessons into social studies classrooms better prepares students to become informed citizens eager to participate in a democracy. Educators will learn about the many ways to reach this goal at this year’s National Council for the Social Studies conference.

Educators have long stressed the importance of showing students how classwork connects to future careers.

And this year, the importance of forging real-world connections is taking center stage at the Association for Career and Technical Education’s annual CareerTech Vision Conference, taking place in New Orleans from Nov. 19 to 22.

Preparing students for an increasingly global workforce means teaching them not only how to speak a second language, but how to think critically in that language and have a deep understanding of the culture and geography that are embedded in it.

Increases in rigor and depth are a focus of this year’s American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) conference, which will be held Nov. 20 to 22 in San Diego.

With national attention intensifying on preparing students for college and careers, the nation’s estimated 103,000 school counselors in K12 schools are playing a more critical role in preparing students for life after graduation.

District CIO

Students can explore the Great Wall of China and the surface of Mars using wearable technology products that are dropping in price and becoming more education-focused. Wearable technology, a new report says, will be mainstream in schools within four to five years.

A district’s website presents contrasting demands. It needs to be a constant digital presence: always up and always available. Yet its content and functionality are ever changing.District leaders solve this challenge in several ways.

Opinion

In my 10 years of teaching the ninth grade, I have struggled with a certain category of students—the low performers. These are the students who walk into class on the first day of school expecting to fail. They know nothing about me, but I represent every adult who has ever failed them in the past.

The need to teach technology and “current century” skills (formally known as 21st century skills) is well documented. Establishing these proficiencies in our students is not just critical to the next generation of job-seekers, but to the economic health of the nation overall.

However, as any school administrator who has tried in the past can attest, digital devices—and training teachers to use such tools—require significant investments. Given the academic importance, the effort demands skillful leadership.

As school districts around the country experiment with various reforms aimed to increase graduation rates and prepare student for college, one such initiative already has established a proven track record of success.

Solutions

Superintendent John Rouse sits on a jackpot of sorts—chief of Rains ISD in a community not far from Dallas, he says a little luck helped his district acquire about $8 million. The story starts two centuries ago.

Briefings

Maryland’s largest district dropped final exams for many high school students this fall, with more of the state’s schools following suit to cut back on time students spend preparing for and taking tests.

Disproportionate suspension rates for black students and disabled students have created a national “discipline gap,” making it more difficult for these students to succeed academically, according to the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA

Several months into the school year, many districts nationwide still face the worst bus driver shortage in recent years. Some are offering signing bonuses and increased wages to attract more people to the job.

Only 6 percent of school bus contracting companies nationally had enough drivers this year, compared to 15 percent with no shortage in 2014, according to a survey from School Bus Fleet magazine. Nearly 30 percent of respondents said they had a “severe or desperate” shortage of bus drivers this year.

Regular access to a computer varies for students around the world.

Some countries, such as Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, boast less than two students for every computer at school.

Others, such as Turkey and Tunisia, have 45 and 53 students for every school computer, respectively.

It’s been five years since many states adopted more rigorous college and career readiness standards, but most classroom assignments do not meet the high bar that was established, according to a September report from The Education Trust.

Recent surges in charter enrollment—and reported scandals—have led some states to pass new laws that seek more accountability from the schools, their administrators and their sponsors.

Forty-three states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws permitting charter schools to operate. In 2013-14, 2.57 million students enrolled in charters nationwide—up from 1.29 million in 2007-08, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

December 14, 2012 is a day of tragedy that claimed the lives of 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Victoria Soto, a 27-year-old first grade teacher who died trying to protect her students, has been honored by her hometown of Stratford, Connecticut, with the a newly constructed $18 million magnet elementary school bearing her name.

Mastery trumps class time in competency-based education models now catching on in more U.S. classrooms—from New England to the Midwest to Alaska.

Students must show they grasp a concept fully before they can move on to the next unit. Those who get a low grade or score can’t advance until extra instruction by a teacher reveals that students demonstrate comprehension, says Susan Patrick, president of CEO of iNACOL.

The organization promotes the new approach through its ComptencyWorks initiative and provides support to schools making the transition.

Alan Tenreiro, principal of Cumberland High School in Rhode Island, was named 2016 National Principal of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals in October. Under Tenreiro’s leadership, the high school (which is part of the Cumberland School Department) has seen increases in academic achievement, graduation rates, and the number of students admitted to college.

The school has also doubled its Advanced Placement class offerings and expanded its STEM courses to include pre-engineering and robotics.

Departments

Politicians often express concern over the widening achievement gap between black and white students in this country. But there was a time when that gap was reduced by as much a half. The reason? Integrated schools.

Eighth-graders have made no academic progress in U.S. history, geography or civics programs over the last five years, according to the latest test results from “The Nation’s Report Card,” released this past August by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).