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Some technology experts, including Will Richardson, a well-known social media blogger, say that social media has some value right now, but it's just a first step. He believes that schools in America are still way behind the business world, including journalism, in terms of how social media is used for learning. "We're not yet at the point where it's really altering the landscape, and much of that is because the assessments just want to keep measuring information and knowledge, not learning and skills," says Richardson, who is also a columnist for District Administration.

Mark Edwards compares the start of school to Christmas. That's when the superintendent of the Mooresville (N.C.) Graded School District, north of Charlotte, says the district invites students in grades 4 through 12 to pick up a gift: their own laptop for the academic year.

"It's extremely exciting to see the look on students' faces," Edwards says. "Last year I heard numerous students say—a week before school starts—'I wish school was starting tomorrow.' I thought, 'I've never heard that before.'"

Saint Paul (Minn.) Superintendent Valeria Silva

Having spent 25 years at Saint Paul (Minn.) Public Schools, Valeria Silva has seen more than just a few changes in her district. Since 1990, the number of English language learner students has more than tripled from 4,633 students to 15,772. In 1975—10 years before Silva arrived—the district had 100 students from Asia. Today there are 11,000. Silva has spent her entire career at SPPS, which now has 64 schools and 38,500 students, and became its superintendent in 2009.

Brigadier General Anthony "Tony" Tata of the U.S. Army had one of those "ah-ha" moments in April 2006 when, on the eve of an operation he was heading in Afghanistan, an Al Qaeda rocket shattered a nearby school. The attack killed a teacher and seven students and wounded dozens more. "It occurred to me then that our enemy really sees education of the population as their enemy," says Tata (pronounced TAY-tuh). "They know that once young men and women have access and can think on their own, they will seek liberty and freedom and more opportunities."

When Cathie Black was first nominated to be New York City Schools chancellor last fall, some predicted the former chairwoman of Hearst magazines to last six months, but the prediction ended up being optimistic. Ninety-five days after her start date, she is out, and deputy mayor Dennis Walcott, an educator, as well as former CEO and President of the New York Urban league who has long aided mayor Bloomberg in educational matters, is in.


Neil Leist is fond of saying that his office, filled with perfectly usable repurposed goods, is a snapshot of the money-saving mission he has pursued in the four years since he became superintendent of rural Clermont Northeastern Schools (CNE), east of Cincinnati.

"My desk is from a federal building in downtown Cincinnati, which shut down," explains Leist. "My computer, fax machine and copier are from a closed Ford plant. My desk and chairs are from a facility shut down by the Ohio Department of Education. My filing cabinets are from the Social Security office in Batavia."

According to the national Assessment of Educational Progress' Long-term Trend Assessment (NAEP), since the 1970s, gaps among under-performing demographics have been slowly shrinking, while the gap has widened at the top end of student achievement.

Minnesota is among many states trying to close this "excellence gap" through innovative curricula. In 2009, Minnetonka Public Schools Superintendent Dennis L. Peterson helped to launch the Navigator Program, which offers charter- school-like access to programming for gifted students aged 8-11.

A district is as stable and grounded as its superintendent, according to some leaders and education experts. And given findings in a recent report from the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS), which specifically states that the average tenure of urban superintendents increased from 2.3 years in 1999 to 3.6 years in 2010, an increase of 56 percent, educators across the nation are celebrating.

There is nothing new about the fact that school superintendents come and go. Some retire, and some are recruited into other school districts or opportunities. But let's face it, some are let go.