School leaders often spend time, energy, and money looking for strategies to fix problems within their districts, improve student achievement, or support teachers in new, effective ways. Districts that are particularly successful are recognized as a District Administration’s District of Distinction, a national program that honors innovative, problem-solving school districts.
These districts lead by example and their strategies can be studied and implemented in other districts across the nation.
For example, when Spring-Ford Area School District administrators were faced with closing the doors of their smallest school due to low enrollment, they decided they had a better idea: Turn it into a hybrid learning school that gives each student an integrated online and face-to-face, small-group learning experience as they rotate through the classroom.
The Spring City Elementary Hybrid Learning School in Pennsylvania is one of only a handful of such schools across the country and the first of its kind on the East Coast. Its technology, as well as an emphasis on small-group learning, allows teachers to customize lessons for students, utilize daily assessments, and intervene more quickly when students begin to struggle.
Before the Paulding County School District launched the TechEds program in 2014, 33 percent of teachers reported using technology monthly or less frequently in the classroom. The Georgia district was falling behind on technology integration, a problem leaders combatted with a rigorous professional development program that included six days of training, ongoing individual coaching, and continuous virtual learning.
The effort was a resounding success. Today, 100 percent of teachers in the district report using technology on a daily or weekly basis, and they say their students are using it, too.
Third graders in the Weslaco Independent School District were falling behind, and leaders traced the cause of their achievement gaps all the way back to before pre-kindergarten. That’s why the district launched the Weslaco Reads! 0-3 program with 34 area daycares in Texas to increase and track the hours infants and toddlers spent reading digital books embedded with multimedia.
Since launching the program, the district has seen a 12 percent increase in the amount of K-2 students reading at grade level.
A multi-million dollar deficit, declining enrollment, and low staff morale were just a few of the challenges facing Lansing School District in Michigan a few years ago. A massive redesign of its schools and alignment of its instructional practices has allowed the district to maximize building space and increase student achievement.
Now, teachers and administrators can easily collect and organize information on everything from student engagement and classroom organization to a student’s academic support so that changes and improvements can be made as needed.
When Leyden High School District 212 issued 3,400 Chromebooks to its students in 2012, it did so at the risk of straining the district’s limited Tech Support Department. Innovatively, leaders of the suburban Chicago school district opted to launch a Tech Support Internship program to train students to provide tech support to classmates and run the help desks on each campus.
Beyond the Chromebooks, students also get real-world experience working with and fixing PCs, interactive whiteboards, projectors, and printers, which helps many students land full- or part-time jobs and internships in the tech industry.
Teachers in the Paradise Valley Unified School District can find instructional inspiration from their peers by observing selected “teacher innovators,” who are committed to demonstrating creative, research-based techniques.
First- through sixth-grade classrooms at two of the schools in Arizona have been equipped with one-way observation windows and live-streaming cameras to enable other educators, as well as local education students, to study new strategies for integrating things like technology, music, and movement into their own classrooms.
Congratulations to all these Districts of Distinction honorees!