Districts of Distinction: Paving new paths to success

30 school systems honored for innovative programs that improve student achievement
By: | Issue: July, 2015
June 29, 2015

From early-learning to entrepreneurship to the environment, innovative instruction propels students to meet more rigorous standards and graduate high school better prepared for their next steps in life.

The 30 school systems honored in this round of our Districts of Distinction national recognition program have shown courage and creativity in launching initiatives that have narrowed achievement gaps, enhanced professional development and brought greater equity to education.

Weslaco ISD near the Mexican border in Texas partnered with surrounding day care centers on an early-childhood reading curriculum designed to close elementary school achievement gaps. By sharing a digital reading program with the day cares and training providers, district leaders have seen a substantial increase in the number of hours students spend reading.

When the graduation rate at Lincoln Public Schools in Nebraska dipped below 80 percentÑwith even lower rates for students of colorÑthe community pulled together. Local organizations now provide students with greater access to mentoring, dropout prevention services and mental health therapy. And even though the district has increased the number of credits required for graduation, more black, Hispanic and American Indian students are earning diplomas.

Brownsville Area School District is providing economic opportunities for students in an effort to keep young people from leaving a southwest Pennsylvania community that has seen many of its downtown businesses boarded up. Entrepreneurial classes begin in middle school, teaching students how to start a business from the ground up. Products developed in the program are now sold on the open market.

Threat of a state takeover in a small urban district in Michigan led administrators to spread classes out over the entire year. Beecher Community School District’s extended calendar has reduced the impact of summer-learning loss on students, who can do catch-up work during regular breaks instead of having to wait until summer school.

Oyster River Cooperative School District in New Hampshire is focused on preserving the local environment. Students have built school gardens, done energy audits on their buildings and studied farm-to-school nutrition. Each school is located near woodlands, which allows students to use the “outdoor classrooms” for nature identification and other environmental-based science projects.

Some of the advancements involve physical enhancements to schools. For professional development, Paradise Valley USD in Arizona has equipped some classrooms with one-way windows that teachers can use to observe each other. The teachers under observation are known as “teacher-innovators” who demonstrate creative, research-based instructional techniques.

These and the other programs honored by Districts of Distinction were selected in part based on replicability to inspire other school systems to create effective solutions for their own challenges. Readers can learn more about all of the Districts of Distinction by reading the following profiles, and by visiting the links below each listed honoree.

For more information about Districts of Distinction, including how to apply and a list of all current honorees, visit www.districtadministration.com/dod.