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District Administration, December 2015

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Cover Story

Selected from more than 2,100 nominations, the editors of District Administration magazine proudly present the 2015 Readers’ Choice Top Products. This annual award program alerts superintendents and other senior school leaders to the best products their colleagues around the country use to achieve district excellence.

You—the nation’s top K12 leaders—submitted testimonials about your favorite products throughout 2015. Our editorial board carefully narrowed down the list based on the quality and quantity of theses testimonies.

Features

Selected from more than 2,100 nominations, the editors of District Administration magazine proudly present the 2015 Readers’ Choice Top Products. This annual award program alerts superintendents and other senior school leaders to the best products their colleagues around the country use to achieve district excellence.

You—the nation’s top K12 leaders—submitted testimonials about your favorite products throughout 2015. Our editorial board carefully narrowed down the list based on the quality and quantity of theses testimonies.

Lighting is often the overlooked energy hog in the room—accounting for 26 percent of the energy used in a typical school. Retrofitting lighting can reduce that by as much as 50 percent, and it's is often simpler and less expensive than upgrading HVAC systems, producing a quick return on investment.

Teaching research skills once meant asking students to turn stacks of library books into essays on the poetry of Emily Dickinson or the causes of the Civil War. But today, it’s just as likely to mean asking second-graders to design a museum exhibit on the physics of flight or encouraging a 10th-grader to make the case for backyard chicken coops.

Injecting the arts into science, math, engineering and technology encourages students to think creatively and critically in traditional STEM subjects that, until the recent and widespread adoption of new standards, didn’t often encourage students to think outside the box.

District CIO

Developers created some of the world’s most recognized software in garages and college dorms. The same do-it-yourself spirit thrives today across public education. School innovators customize software that ranges from small applications used within a single classroom to programs that support a district’s full administrative functions.

Analysts expect 3D printer shipments to double worldwide to nearly 496,500 units in 2016—in large part due to demand from K12 schools and universities, according to a new report.

3D printers—devices that create physical objects from digital plans—are more common in STEM classes than in people’s homes, despite manufacturers’ initial expectations for the machines.

Opinion

Public school leaders have grown accustomed to the ground shifting beneath their feet. The one constant we could always rely on was this: Come fall, students would be there, waiting. These days, though, even that’s not a given.

With a windstorm of constant changes in education, are we forgetting some of the basics? I’m not talking about readin’, writin’ and ’rithmetic.

Have we, through the fog of technology and the pressures of highstakes testing, simply forgotten some of the basic concepts that veteran educators once took for granted?

Effective professional development is an essential part of every school improvement effort.

Traditionally, the process has included workshops, seminars, courses and conferences. These types of activities have varied in terms of effectiveness and often are quite costly.

Solutions

Superintendent Edward Gonzalez says teachers—and classified employees—can make wise decisions about the classroom and technical training they receive.So he gave each of his roughly 1,100 teachers $500 to spend as they choose on PD in 2014-15, and this year he extended that to classified employees.

Briefings

The standards-driven push for project-based learning and collaboration may inadvertently penalize introverted students who prefer to work quietly on their own, some educators say. An estimated one-third to one-half of the U.S. population identifies as introverted.

Mass shootings in the United States have tripled since 2011, according to Harvard University researchers. And as of late October, 29 shootings took place in K12 schools this year.

Since 2013, 156 shootings had rattled nerves, and had injured or killed students and staff members in both K12 schools and colleges, according to the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. In some cases, a gun was fired but no one was injured, the group reports.

Schools can be reimbursed for providing many general health services—a new benefit thanks to a change in federal law.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced the shift in December 2014, but many districts miss out on this source of federal funding that can lead to improvements in student health, experts say.

Learning to grow vegetables and flowers. Digging in the dirt. Understanding how seasons affect plants. Such learning experiences for students come with a green school roof.

Promoting green school roofs is part of New York City’s larger mission to combat air pollution, conserve energy and reduce the amount of stormwater flowing into sewers and waterways.

Green roofs also reduce the need for air conditioning, thus lessening the “urban heat island” effect—a phenomenon in which concentrated human activity and energy use make metropolitan areas hotter.

Many districts hesitate to integrate social media into district policies because administrators fear cyberbullying, class distractions or other negative consequences. But administrators embracing the new tech tools say social media enhances student and community engagement.

A first-of-its-kind, 50-city analysis of public education finds that while academic progress remains flat in most urban areas, underserved students in some parts of the country are gaining access to more rigorous learning.

Statistics instruction has become integral in K12 math curricula thanks to a push from the Common Core and a national demand for students with the skills to fill data-intensive jobs.

Districts provide more courses that teach students how to analyze data and integrate statistics across subjects, says Jessica Utts, incoming president of the American Statistical Association.

Kathy Kelly, superintendent of Columbia Heights Public Schools in Minnesota, received the 2015 L. Anthony Sutin Civic Imagination Award from the U.S. Department of Justice. The award recognizes Kelly’s efforts to build trust between law enforcement and students.

Working with the local police chief, Kelly instituted youth outreach programs designed to provide students with opportunities to interact with law enforcement and create an open dialogue. Juvenile arrests in the town dropped from 243 in 2007 to 106 in 2014. And K12 suspensions are down 130 percent.

Departments

Former Washington Post reporter Dale Russakoff's new book looks at what went wrong with Newark’s ‘Hemisphere of Hope’ and massive grant from Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg that supported the initiative. She says most funds went to hiring consultants, expanding charter schools, closing low-performing schools and subsequently firing teachers.