Each year American School Board Journal’s Magna Awards, sponsored by Sodexo School Services, honors school districts that show exemplary examples of innovation and excellence in school governance.
For the past 17 years, the Magna Awards panel of independent judges has reviewed programs that showcase school district leadership, creativity, and commitment to student achievement. Magna nominations are judged according to three enrollment categories (under 5,000 enrollment; 5,000-20,000 enrollment; and over 20,000 enrollment) with one Grand Prize Winner in each category that receives a $4,000 contribution from Sodexo.
This year’s deadline to nominate your district is Oct. 31, and only nominations made online using the online Magna Nomination form will be considered.
Here is an example of one of last year’s Grand Prize Winners, Moreland School District in San Jose, Calif.
In 2006, Moreland School District’s Anderson Elementary School was the lowest performing elementary school in Santa Clara County, Calif. The school’s Academic Performance Index (API) score was nearly 200 points below the California goal of 800, and far below the district’s highest-achieving school’s score of 915. Anderson’s student population was 81 percent Hispanic, 87 percent socioeconomically disadvantaged, and 78 percent English language learners. The school board and Superintendent Glen Ishiwata asked Anderson’s leadership to create a new approach to the schools’ teaching strategies to improve student achievement. Academic excellence for all students was the aim. With support from the board, administrators, and the community, Anderson’s leaders embraced the challenge. They developed an approach that uses current data to make decisions and trains teachers to use a standards-based method for instruction.
Anderson’s administrators use benchmark assessments to collect data to shape classroom instruction. The principal and assistant principal worked collaboratively with teachers to establish a system to analyze classroom data and identify concepts to address. To support this new system, the board approved the request to purchase an electronic assessment management program. Teachers then created curriculum maps to guide their instruction. This initial work with data and standards provided a focus for all future professional development and decisions about instruction, which is at the core of this program. Developing a testing cycle and feedback loop allowed teachers to get instant feedback about their students’ progress before moving on. By using flexible groupings, and small group instruction coupled with targeted intervention, teachers were able to address the deficiencies highlighted in the testing cycles. Using their community contacts, board members reached out to volunteers to support the small-group work. In additional to being a highly effective program for low performing subgroups, it has proven to be effective at raising the academic achievement of students of all levels.
The first goal of the district’s strategic plan is to close the achievement gap while raising the achievement of all students. After the 2006 API scores were released, the board made it clear that an all-hands-on-deck approach was necessary to transform student achievement at Anderson. The first step was to make staffing switches to support the aggressive goal, including hiring a new principal and assistant principal. Next, the board directed resources to support new methods, including additional professional development time and the purchase of targeted instructional programs. The board backed up its directive by frequently putting updates on the board agenda and scheduling site visits to see the new methods and talk with teachers.
By listening to Anderson teachers, board members heard the need for classroom volunteers. Using their role as community leaders, they reached out and found volunteers to support the small-group instruction in the classroom. The program consists of residents, retirees, church members, and district parents. It provides more than 80 volunteers annually who work up to three hours a week.
Learn more about how these programs dramatically boosted student test scores for Anderson.
Also, don’t forget to take a look at our new, searchable Magna Awards Best Practices Database, where you can browse through past Magna winners and other high-scoring programs for innovative best practices, proven and practical solutions, and new ideas.