Districts of Distinction winners show off projects at FETC

Overall winner Klein ISD made learning relevant with real-world challenges
By: | January 29, 2021
In the wake of HurrIn the wake of Hurricane Harvey, a group of Klein ISD students explain their PBL idea for protecting houses from flooding.icane Harvey, a group of Klein ISD students explains their PBL idea for protecting houses from flooding.In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, a group of Klein ISD students explain their PBL idea for protecting houses from flooding.

Klein ISD’s student Water Warriors designed flood barriers to protect their Houston-area neighborhoods and school buildings from a repeat of a Hurricane Harvey and similar extreme weather events.

Project-based learning and real-world challenges form the backbone of STEM instruction in the suburban district, which was the overall winner of District Administration’s 2020 District of Distinction program.

“One of the things we’re passionate about in Klein ISD is leveraging student voice in the design of learning experiences,” said Superintendent Jenny McGown, who described the program during a special session at the Future of Education Technology Conference® Friday.  “And we heard from students that they wanted more opportunities to solve real-world problems.”

Students participating in the award-winning initiative also developed experiments for zero-gravity environments and designed medical packs for delivering refrigerated medicine to disaster areas.

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“We’ve certainly observed increased student engagement and enthusiasm for the content,” McGown said. “That’s mainly because the challenges are actual problems to solve in the world and students get to do it by collaborating with peers and experts.”

Several other districts were recognized as winners in individual Districts of Distinction categories:

Professional development

Poway USD, which also presented at FETC on Friday, created the Voyager program to support teachers in implementing blended learning and ed-tech strategies to increase student engagement and interest.

“Ed tech allows our students to connect with the world and engage with ideas that help them ask more organic questions,” Superintendent Marian Kim-Phelps told District Administration last year.


Minecraft: Education Edition drives learning in a wide-range of subjects in the Cherokee County School District in Georgia. For instance, students have made models of the water cycle, recreated the cities of the British empire and studied supply and demand.

“We believe that game-based learning programming like Minecraft Education is one of the best ways in which to engage students and have them own their learning,” Superintendent Brian Hightower said.

Career and technical education

Leaders of Wichita Public Schools and business leaders teamed up to develop an aviation manufacturing pathway to fill high-paying jobs in local industry. Wichita’s ninth-graders and 10th-graders take foundational courses in airplane manufacturing to prepare them for advanced college-level training.

“When the industry realized how many students we graduate in a year, we became a spotlight for them,” Superintendent Alicia Thompson said. “Our kids have become a potential workforce to drive the economy.”

Achievement gap

Software developed by New York’s Williamsville Central School Districtalso an FETC 2021 presenter, automatically assigns students who are struggling with math to labs where they receive extra support.

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“Our program focuses on growth and improvement instead of grades, so students can really move forward in the curriculum and understand the concepts,” Superintendent of Schools Scott Martzloff told District Administration. “Having a real-time formative assessment that happens on a daily basis really drives this improvement forward.”


The ASCEND program was developed by Maine Township High School District 207 to provide extra supports and improve accessibility for Hispanic students. The district offers weekly workshops and summer sessions that have, for instance, help  grow the number of Latinx students enrolling in AP classrs.

“If education stands for anything, it’s for making a more equitable, fair and just society,” Superintendent Ken Wallace said.

Community engagement and business partnerships

Meetings and activities attended by hundreds of parents have helped fueled an academic turnaround in California’s Bakersfield City School District in California.

Superintendent Harry “Doc” Ervin has made community engagement a priority since taking helm in 2014.  “We told parents, ‘You have to play a role,’” Ervin said. “We cannot be the biggest elementary district in the state and be considered one of the lowest-performing.”

Leadership development

The “Focused School Support” coaching initiative in South Carolina’s Greenville County Schools has helped improve in achievement in the district’s  high-poverty, Title I buildings.

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“We’re not just saying we need to improve eighth-grade math or third-grade ELA,” Superintendent Burke Royster said. “We’re targeting within the subject, within the grade level, down to the teacher’s classroom.

Social-emotional learning

The extensive behavioral supports offered to families by Jurupa USD in California begin with prenatal care and continue through high school graduation.

Driving the initiative is a central referral system that connects families with support, including when it’s more care than the district can offer internally. “Many kids have obstacles, but the obstacles don’t have to be limits,” Superintendent Elliot Duchon said. “A major way for children to get over these obstacles is to build a sense of self confidence and self-efficacy.”