District PLUS Tips and ideas for successful district leadership
Essential Skills for Effective School Leaders
After three years of research, the New York State Education Department is releasing "Essential Knowledge and Skills for Effective School Leadership," a profile detailing these nine essential characteristics for school leaders.
1. Leaders know and understand what it means and what it takes to be a leader
2. Leaders have a vision for schools that they constantly share and promote
3. Leaders communicate clearly and effectively
4. Leaders collaborate and cooperate with others
5. Leaders persevere and take the "long view"
6. Leaders support, develop and nurture staff
7. Leaders hold themselves and others responsible and accountable
8. Leaders never stop learning and honing their skills
9. Leaders have the courage to take informed risks
Source: N.Y. State Education Dept.
Helping Kids Cope with Military Parents Overseas
At Calcium Primary School in Calcium, N.Y., 85 percent of the 450 students have at least one parent or guardian in the army. The school's close proximity to Fort Drum is what makes its proportion of military children so high, notes Principal Lana Taylor. Having parents away on secret missions and overseas assignments are a way of life for many of these K-4 students.
Often they stay in the area with a relative or friend of the family while dad, mom or both are away. In light of current events, it seems wise to talk openly with students about military activity in Afghanistan. Taylor says it isn't. Her guidance from mental health educators is not to talk, but to listen and look for changes in behavior. "If we say, 'You poor thing, your mom is away,' it sometimes obligates the child to feel sad,' " she explains.
Instead of focusing on military parents, teachers at Calcium Primary get to know the children, says Taylor. "Many parents will let us know they will be away," says Taylor, adding that prior knowledge helps teachers and administrators deal with children's reactions. They try to keep the school atmosphere as normal and as safe as possible.
How to Deal with a PR Nightmare
There was the case of the district that mistakenly shredded ungraded state-mandated English assessments tests just taken by more than 200 eighth graders. Or the teacher in another district who asked students to calculate the volume of gas needed to fill a Nazi extermination chamber. Then there are ongoing controversies, such as the urban district trying to dig its way out of a series of land buy scandals that have earned community distrust.
All districts find themselves in an embarrassing or scandalous situation sooner or later. Karen Kleinz, associate director of chapter requests and public engagement activities at the National School Public Relations Association, offers this advice to districts facing a sticky situation:
--For single incidents: "If you're practicing good public relations, what you're going to do is be open and honest about what happened. You say, 'Here's what happened, here's what we're going to do about it,' and you go on," Kleinz says.
--For ongoing controversies: "You've really got to dig and find out why there's been so much controversy. You rebuild relationships by being honest and then demonstrating that you do what you say," Kleinz says. Questions to ask yourself: Do people trust us? Do we have credibility? Why or why not? What can we do to rebuild?
Recruiting Road Trip
Everyone knows that recruiting teachers is a hard job these days. But imagine being in a poor, rural district in one of the states that ranks near the bottom of teacher pay. This is the reality for Jack Crews, the assistant superintendent in the Lake Havasu (Ariz.) Unified School District No. 1.
To attract teachers, Crews set up a partnership with the College of Education at Southern Utah University. In 1999, Crews spent a few days learning about Southern's education program and what areas students were being certified in. Then he brought a team of officials to the school to explain to students the school district and the area (Lake Havasu is about a sixhour car trip from SUU). The district offered student teaching opportunities, or full-time jobs once the students graduated. Immediately, four students started student teaching in the district, with one later taking a full-time job. The district now has six fulltime teachers from Southern and three student teachers.
What Went Right At New Bedford High
Educators and administrators learned much from the tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. The importance of establishing good communication between students and adults tops the list.
In the end, it was open and confidential communication that prevented a similar incident at New Bedford High School in Massachusetts in late November. Three teens were thwarted in a plot to blow up the school and act out a Columbine-like student and faculty shooting and suicide.
"There is a lot that went right in that situation," says Julie Lewis, staff attorney for the National School Boards Association. "There was communication taking place between the right people: the police, school officials and faculty members." In October, a student told a faculty member that she had overheard two boys planning an attack. That teacher then told other officials, says Lewis.
The school's two resource officers-who had just started working at New Bedford this fall-also played a significant role, she adds. Their placement there had grown out of a city-wide community policing initiative. It was one of these officers, a former student of the school and a confidant of many on the faculty and numerous students, who headed off trouble. By following up on the threat, the police uncovered a box containing a partially completed bomb in a nearby apartment building. At that point the police could not make an arrest, although they did interview suspects. Weeks later, when a school janitor found a letter in the trash outlining the plot's details, police were able to make arrests.
All involved took the matter seriously, notes Lewis. This relates to a key finding that came from the U.S. Secret Service's study of the Columbine incident: Teenage assailants almost always talk to other students about their plans. "We are living in a time when this has to be taken quite seriously," says Lewis.
Judy Wurtzel, executive director of the Learning First Alliance, says there are other lessons that can be learned from the incident in New Bedford High School. Each student in the school should have at least one adult that knows him or her well. "Without opening a file, at least one adult should know the kid's name, how he or she is doing in class, and who that kid is hanging around with," she says. In the recently-issued report by the Learning First Alliance titled, Every Child Learning: Safe and Supportive Schools, Wurtzel stresses the importance of school activities for all students, not just the athletes who often receive praise, or for the students who gravitate to student government. She advocates expanding school activities for students-not just the gifted or elite.
Anthrax Contamination Stalls SAT Results
Students of Edgewood High School in Ellettsville, Ind., have eagerly waited for the results of the SAT tests they took on Oct. 13. So have the students in Ottumwa, Iowa, and in dozens of other high schools across the country. About 7,800 students who took the SAT at 90 testing locations nationwide waited. But the results never came.
Blame the delay on anthrax.
When the post offices in Trenton and Princeton were closed in October because of anthrax contamination, it left students across the country in a holding pattern at the height of the application season. The Princeton post office was re-opened in early November. The Trenton Post Office was still closed at press time.
The tests are run by the College Board, based in New York City, but they are scored by the Educational Testing Service located in Princeton, N.J.
The College Board allowed the students to retake the test on Dec. 1 or Dec. 15 at no additional charge. Students could also receive a full refund of the $25 test fee.
Students who retake the SAT have the option to use the higher scores if and when the test results that are stalled in the mail eventually show up. In all, 550,000 students took the SAT on Oct. 13. The postal facility shutdown delayed about 1 percent of the tests taken.
While grateful to have a solution, students note that the delay has added to college-application anxiety. "I'm 10 times more worried about getting into college," Victoria Dall, a senior in Indiana told the Associated Press. "I'm worried spaces will fill up quickly and I won't get in." College and universities are being asked to be flexible in handling the affected students' applications.
Georgia Signs on with AOL@SCHOOL
Georgia has become the sixth state to sign on to use AOL@SCHOOL, a free service from AOL for administrators, teachers and students.
AOL@SCHOOL, which was introduced in mid-2000, is a portal to a number of free educational materials. Turner Broadcasting, part of parent-company AOL Time Warner, will be a content provider via CNNfyi.com, a news Web site with links for K-12 students. Teachers and students can access content from Blackboard Inc., Classroom Connect, Riverdeep, Merriam-Webster and a host of other content partners.
The service provides teachers with the state's content standards, training and assessment resources and planning calendars. Teachers can also be linked to the state's education Web site, "Georgia Learning Connections," which includes information on revisions to the state's core curriculum and a Teacher Resource Center.
In all, AOL@SCHOOL offers four portals for students: one for primary K-2 grades; another for 3-5; a portal for grades 6-8; and one for high school students. Students and educators can also use standard AOL's services, including e-mail and instant messaging.
Georgia's state superintendent of schools, Linda Schrenko, introduced the service to superintendents with a letter that listed the benefits. AOL@SCHOOL features a pop-up window with links to state education information, she notes. "By including Georgia's Focus Feature Window, AOL@SCHOOL will include links to the Georgia Department of Education Report Card, legislation affecting public schools, testing information and State Board of Education rules," she says. Approximately 8,000 Georgia school administrators and 88,000 teachers have access to the service. Georgia currently has 2.8 million students enrolled in public school.
AOL@SCHOOL is already used statewide in Virginia, Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Colorado.
The Battle to Control Philadelphia's Schools
Pennsylvania's Gov. Mark Schweiker was barely one month into his new job when he was engrossed in a battle with Mayor John Street over control of Philadelphia's public schools. The governor's sweeping reform of the district calls for private companies to manage 60 of the poorest performing schools in the 264-school district. A lead provider would be contracted to manage 45 of the 60 failing schools, and be tapped to invest $75 million in the books, materials, technology and professional development in those schools.
Schweiker paid Edison Schools $2.7 million to study the district and to make recommendations. Edison made some startling observations. Its report claims that 80 percent of the district's students score below proficient in reading and math. The current budget deficit is in danger of ballooning from $216 million to $1.2 billion during the next five years, it added.
Edison's answer for Philadelphia is major reform.
Initial recommendations call for the 55 top management positions in the school district be turned over to a private company. Sixty of the district's poorest performing schools should also come under private management; 45 of these schools going to one lead provider. The private education company also suggests in its report that it could provide the services needed to improve the schools.
At this, the critics balked. Mayor Street has fought from the beginning to keep control of the Philadelphia school district. After intense discussion, he managed to get Schweiker to give up the part of the plan that would turn over the top 55 executive positions to a private company. Street refused to even discuss other parts of the plan until this was off the table, he told the press.
The Nov. 30 deadline for coming to some compromise came and went. At press time the governor was expected to make a final decision about the school takeover plan by late December.
Edison's recommendations, and Schweiker's initial plans, has sparked debate between the various political action groups and education professionals.
Schweiker's statement about the school takeover plan includes quotes from several supporters. Gail Hawkins-Bush of the Overbrook Coalition says,"This plan provides the building blocks for education reform." Hawkins-Bush adds that the privatization plan is best for teachers, students and parents. Helen Gym, a member of the steering committee for Philadelphians United for Public Schools, takes a different view.
"We don't believe this is the answer," says Gym, whose coalition represents 30 local citizens and teacher interest groups.
"The conversation about privatization has focused on costs, instead of on quality education," adds Gym, a former elementary school teacher in Philadelphia. Gym is especially critical of Edison, which "after collecting $2.7 million in taxpayer money, recommended itself."
Is Microsoft's Settlement Plan Good for Schools?
After coming under fire for its proposed settlement plan-released in November-that would give $1 billion in technology and cash to the nation's poorest schools, Microsoft sought to calm critics with a mid-December alternation.
Under the new proposal, which was still before a judge at press time, Microsoft would grant schools more power to select the technology they would use. The company was also inviting two outside software makers to join the foundation that will dispense the money and technology.
Microsoft's original plan came under attack almost immediately. On Nov. 26, the day before U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz was to begin hearing arguments on whether to accept or reject Microsoft's proposed settlement, the Computer and Communications Industry Association issued a critical letter to the court. "The settlement before you would inflict great harm upon the technology markets," writes Edward Black, the association's president and CEO. The proposed settlement would do nothing to deter further anti-competitive conduct, he adds. CCIA members include Sun, AOL, Quest, Verizon and Yahoo. Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs issued a statement saying the proposed settlement would allow Microsoft to "make inroads into education, one of the few markets left where they don't have monopoly power." He adds that Apple has 50 percent of the education market share.
Still, Microsoft was praised by several school superintendents. "I've been fighting the digital divide for the last 10 years. It has always been two steps forward and two steps back. This new program is a phenomenal gift to all economically challenged children and families in America. It gives us a quantum leap forward in achieving technological equity," says Anthony Amato, school superintendent in Hartford, Conn.
Microsoft's proposed plan would provide $1 billion for training, support, hardware and software to as many as 12,500 schools, says CEO Steve Ballmer. Eligible schools are those with 70 percent of students receiving free or assisted lunch. About 14 percent of schools nationwide stand to receive something if the settlement is approved.
Microsoft plans to give schools "tens of millions of dollars" in software during a five-year period. Schools will also be entitled to a free upgrade during the five-year period, which starts when the plan is approved by the court. Microsoft, which was initially accused of overcharging for products, has no plan to reduce the cost of its software to the education market. "There is nothing in the settlement that relates to the price of our software," says Tom Burt, deputy general counsel. "In Microsoft's view, our software has always been very reasonably and competitively priced." Microsoft officers note that part of the money given to schools could be used to purchase any type of software, not only Microsoft products.
Red Hat, a company that produces software for Linux operating systems, offers an alternative plan. It will give schools free software indefinitely, allowing Microsoft to concentrate on giving schools hardware only. CEO Mat Szulik estimates that one million computers would make it into schools under his proposal, more than the estimated 200,000 that he believes would be given to schools under Microsoft's plan.
Other aspects of Microsoft's proposed plan include $150 million in seed money for technology spending and an additional $160 million for technology support programs to assist participating schools. The software company plans, as well, to give $90 million over a five-year period to train teachers, school administrators, and support personnel.
Low Science Scores Disappoint Educators
The grades from The Nation's Report Card: Science 2000 were disheartening to science educators. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, issued in mid-November, show the average scores for fourth and eighth graders were flat since the last science report card in 1996. Worse yet, scores for high school seniors had declined by three points.
The science scores are in direct contrast to the 2000 mathematics assessment, released in August 2001, that showed significant improvement for fourth and eighth graders. High school seniors, however, showed declining scores in math, as well.
The NAEP aims for every student to score at proficient or above in its testing. Almost 30 percent of the 4th graders achieved this mark, while 32 percent of 8th graders scored proficient or higher. Only 18 percent of 12th graders, or about one in five, reached the proficient level.
The results show that no major racial or ethnic group scored higher in 2000 than they did in 1996. Although white students, on average, had higher science scores than black or Hispanic students, the white students in 12th grade scored lower on the 2000 assessment than the same subgroup in 1996.
On average, boys in fourth and eighth grade scored higher than girls.
The NAEP notes that eighth graders whose teachers majored in science education scored higher than those whose teachers did not. Fourth and 8th graders who used computers to play learning games or simulations and analysis scored higher.
U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige says: "If our graduates know less about science than their predecessors four years ago, then our hopes for a strong 21st century workforce are dimming just when we need them most."
The good news to be gleaned from the report is in the higher performance of students enrolled at the U.S. Department of Defense Schools that serve students whose parents are in the armed forces. Some of the highest 8th grade science scores are attributed to these schools, located in the U.S. and overseas. "How do DOD schools take diverse, highly mobile groups of students and do so well? The answer is startlingly simple and familiar-they set high standards," says Paige.
As for the response from the nation's science teachers, Harold Pratt, president of the National Science Teachers Association, blames the problem on a lack of resources, an incoherent curricula and unqualified science teachers.
"This isn't the first indication that we have a problem," notes Pratt. The results of the Third International Math and Science Study released three years ago revealed that eighth graders have slipped below the average performance when compared to students from other countries. U.S. high school students were near the bottom of the list, adds Pratt.
"The country hasn't accepted the importance of the task. You can't expect big changes in student achievement when we haven't made big changes in the way students learn science."
Two Districts Win Prestigious National Quality Award
Two of the winners of this year's Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award are school districts. This year's slate of winners is the first to include schools-a point of pride for Chugach School District in Anchorage, Ala., and Pearl River School District in Pearl River, N.Y. Both won for a number of quality advancements and test score gains. Originally established in 1987 by Congress to recognize performance excellence in American institutions, the national quality award was expanded in 1999 to include the education and health care categories.
The Chugach School District spans 22,000 square miles of remote south central Alaska. Thirty faculty members educate 214 students in a district that encompasses Anchorage and Fairbanks. Chugach includes students, parents, community members and local business leaders in setting academic goals. The approach is working: achievement test results had improved in all content areas between 1995 and 1999.
The Pearl River School District, located 20 miles north of New York City, has 2,460 students and 330 faculty members. The percentage of students graduating with a Regents diploma-a key objective-has increased from 63 percent in 1996 to 86 percent in 2001.
DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION will profile these districts in the February and March issues.
New York Program Gives Kids Computers to Take Home
When Elisabeth Stock started the non-profit organization Computers for Youth, based in New York City, she wanted to do a few things differently than other technology charities. For starters, her emphasis is on getting computers into kids' homes. Computer access in schools and libraries-while necessary-isn't sufficient, she argues. The best way to close the digital divide is to give kids access to technology at school and at home.
She bases her approach on previous work experience. She spent a year at the White House, working for the Computers for Learning program where she helped distribute surplus computers to schools.
While a worthy effort, Stock notes that teachers were often barriers to technology learning. "They were afraid," says Stock. "We felt if we could get computers to kids, they couldn't be afraid. We would get much more use out of the computers."
She also saw disadvantages in giving computers to isolated students in different neighborhoods. Often they have no one to network with, she says. Some of the computers never come out of the box. "The complaint is that it is too complicated," says Stock.
Which is why Computers for Youth gives computers to entire school communities, instead of giving them to a few individuals. The program sets up e-mail accounts for everyone in a school system. This way, students, teachers and parents have a built-in network to e-mail information and to share technical pointers.
In operation for almost three years, Computers for Youth has provided 750 computers to three New York City school communities. The most needy schools are selected for the program. In each case, more than 90 percent of students in the schools are receiving free or subsidized lunch. Computers for Youth has worked with schools in the Bronx, Manhattan's Harlem neighborhood and in Brooklyn.
The program provides a day of training for students and parents. Parental involvement is required, notes Stock. Every family and teacher receives a computer and software. equipment is donated from corporations and is must be Pentium speed or faster. Stock has been able to keep the costs contained to $850 per family. "That's for everything-the technology and the training." The day of training is conducted at the chosen school on a Saturday. There kids and parents actually work with the computer they will have at home, learning how to set up the system and connect it to a printer and other hardware. "We walk them through the basics. They practice sending and receiving e-mail messages," she says. The emphasis is on inter-generational use. If the kids take to the technology first, that's fine. They will help train the adults. The program provides ongoing training.
Recent data shows that 90 percent of students in the Computers for Youth report using the home computers. That's significant, says Stock. Pervious studies have shown that there is a great disparity in computer use between wealthy and poor school districts. Students who are art of the Computers for Youth program are using their systems at the same rate as other students in other economic groups across the county.
Students also report that computer and Internet use has changed their attitudes about school. They are neater, more organized and more creative. One East Harlem teacher reports that the Computers for Youth program adds "a lot to the sense of community: the excitement, the 'did you see,' the sense of connectedness."
Author Terry Moe's View On the Supreme Court And the Cleveland Voucher Case
Educators await the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on the Cleveland voucher case, which will be heard early this year. Arguments about vouchers often become heated. One side fears public education will crumble if the Supreme Court rules in favor of voucher programs. Others argue that vouchers guarantee quality education for students who would otherwise have no options.
Terry M. Moe's new book, Schools, Vouchers, and the American Public, outlines his argument for a voucher system. The result, he says, will not be a radical shift toward privatization, but the incremental development of a mixed system-one that relies more heavily on choice and competition than today's system, but still affords a central and guiding role for government.
Q:What will the U.S. Supreme Court be deciding on, exactly?
A:The court is not deciding if vouchers, per se, are legal. No one seriously claims that vouchers are unconstitutional. The question is if public money can go to religious schools.
Q:Do you have a prediction on what the court will rule?
Q:Do you have a prediction on
what the court will rule?
A:It is reasonable to suggest that they will conclude that at least under some circumstances, voucher programs are constitutional. It is unlikely that religious schools cannot under any circumstances qualify for voucher programs. I bet they uphold the Cleveland voucher program, but will specify conditions.
Q:What's your response to the argument that vouchers will create a racial divide in education and that some parents will opt to send their children to schools where there is no diversity?
A:There are people who believe that vouchers lead to racial separation, or inequities. I think they are incorrect.
The Cleveland case is about poor children. The case gives these children opportunities they could otherwise not afford. Vouchers give them a chance to not go to terrible schools. The voucher proponents will be making this argument in court.
Q:What will happen if the justices rule in favor of the Cleveland voucher program?
A:It gives a boost to the voucher movement. States will be able to set up programs that include religious schools. If voucher programs don't include religious schools, there are almost no schools from which to choose.
Q:What if the justices rule against vouchers in this case?
A:I think it is extremely unlikely they will rule that under no conditions can vouchers go to religious schools.
But suppose that happens. This says nothing about vouchers going to non-religious schools. We could still have voucher programs. We would have to make the vouchers big enough to encourage a supply of non-religious schools.
High Court Rejects Moment of Silence Case
Late last year the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to a Virginia state law that required children to observe a minute of silence in schools. Virginia has defended its minute of silence by stressing that children can use the time as they see fit, providing they are quiet for the 60 seconds. The law was passed in 2000.
The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law with a suit filed on behalf of seven students and their parents. The ACLU argued that the minute of silence was "enacted specifically to facilitate and encourage school prayer." CNN.com contributed to this report.
Alabama Puts Warning Stickers on Biology Textbooks
This fall, the Alabama Board of Education voted to put disclaimer stickers on the covers of 40,000 biology texts to be used in public school classes.
The stickers will specifically say that evolution is "a controversial theory. Instructional material associated with controversy should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered." This is the second time that Alabama has put such stickers on textbooks. The first time was in 1996. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Supreme Court to Hear Drug Testing Case
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that debates whether public schools can require students to take drug tests if they want to participate in competitive extracurricular activities. The case will be heard later this year.