Articles in the American School Board Journal category

Common Core tests and school board success stories in the March issue of ASBJ

The Common Core State Standards are coming, and they will have a huge impact on how teachers are expected to teach, students are taught to think, and how both students and teachers are evaluated. In this month’s issue of American School Board Journal, online now, Senior Editor Lawrence Hardy looks at how schools around the country will now be facing not only common standards but also common tests.

Also in March:

A Michigan superintendent and two board members describe how they used test scores and other data to refocus and turn their district around.

In our continuing series of school board success stories, we feature an Arizona school board and superintendent team using a new approach to boost reading and math scores.

Also, make sure to vote on this month’s Adviser poll to see where your opinion on a sticky situation stacks up.

Kathleen Vail|March 5th, 2013|Categories: School Boards, Teachers, National Standards, School Reform, Student Achievement, Assessment, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , , |

NSBA Annual Conference speaker Geena Davis on gender stereotypes

She played quirky in “The Accidental Tourist” and presidential in “Commander in Chief.”  Harried housewife-on-the-run in “Thelma & Louise,” she celebrated a different sort of rule-breaker in “A League of Their Own.”

Along the way, Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis became something of a modern day Renaissance woman, qualifying for Mensa and taking up archery (and nearly making the U.S. Olympic team) in her early 40s.

Indeed, there didn’t seem to be anything that Davis, who will be a keynote speaker at NSBA’s Annual Conference in April in San Diego, couldn’t accomplish — except, perhaps, shielding her young daughter from the damaging female stereotypes she had so gleefully busted throughout her career.

They were watching television, she and her then-2-year-old, about a decade ago when Davis noticed how few female characters there were in children’s entertainment — and how limited these characters’ roles often were. In 2004, she founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which has collected the largest body of research on how, and in what way, females are portrayed in the media.

She recently talked with American School Board Journal Senior Editor Lawrence Hardy about gender stereotyping, playing unusual characters, and why she took up archery.

Watching G-rated movies with your daughter really alerted you to the gender imbalance in entertainment media. What did you do then?

At first I just wanted to mention it to people. I didn’t think I was going to make it my life’s mission or anything. But it seemed like nobody was noticing, and when I talked to people in the industry, if I happened to have a meeting with a producer or a studio executive, I’d say, “Have you ever noticed how few female characters there are in G-rated movies?” And they would say, “Oh, no. no, no, that’s been fixed.” So it seemed that everybody either didn’t notice or thought it was already fixed.

What did the institute’s research discover?

The results were quite startling. In family film ratings — which would be G, PG, and PG-3 — for every one female character there were three male characters. And if it was a crowd scene or a group scene, only 17 percent of the characters were female, which is kind of mind-boggling. This is both in live action and animated films.

We also looked at the quality of the characters and found that the majority of female characters in these family films were either very narrowly stereotyped or hyper-sexualized. In animated films the female characters wear the same amount of sexually revealing clothing as in G-rated movies, which is also extremely strange and disturbing.

Why is this important?

We are, in effect, training kids from the beginning not to notice gender imbalance in our society. We’re training them to see worlds where female characters don’t take up half the space. This is all unconscious, of course.

Did you ever find yourself pigeonholed in your film career or asked to play stereotyped roles?

Well, my first role was in the movie “Tootsie.”  I spent most of the time in my underwear. The joke was that Dustin [Hoffman’s] character, pretending to be a woman, shared a dressing room with me, and it was very uncomfortable for him. So [the part] was just all about being sexy and whatever.

But, you know, I’ve been very lucky — part of it is by planning and part not — but I’ve always wanted to play unusual characters, characters that aren’t just the girlfriend. Certainly, I was offered those parts, but I really always wanted to say, “Yeah, but what do I do? What do I actually do?” So then, I ended up in kind of unique movies, like “The Fly.” And eventually I got to be a baseball phenomenon, and a fire captain, and a kind of a road warrior in ” Thelma & Louise,” so I feel like I escaped a lot of that from pretty early on.

How did you get into archery?

I know — it seems so random. It was just from watching the Atlanta Olympics on TV. There was a lot of coverage of archery because the American men were doing extremely well. I just was kind of taken with it, and said: “Wow, that’s so beautiful and dramatic. I wonder if I could be good at archery?” I took it up at 41, and two and a half years later I was a semifinalist in the Olympic trials. So that was pretty crazy to find myself at 43 at the Olympic trials.

You said your talks with producers and studio executives have been very positive – that they’ve been genuinely concerned about gender imbalance their works and want to do something to help. Where would you like to see this lead?

Basically, what we’re trying to do is change what kids see from the beginning. The ideal would be that if they could grow up seeing boys and girls sharing the sandbox equally, then that’s the ratio they will come to see as normal and expect in their work environment.

More information about NSBA’s Annual Conference in San Diego April 13 to 15 is available at the Annual Conference website.

Lawrence Hardy|February 19th, 2013|Categories: American School Board Journal, NSBA Annual Conference 2013|Tags: , , |

Agents of Change: Indiana school board overcomes leadership churn

Leadership churn — the revolving door of superintendents — is a problem that bedevils many school districts. An Indiana school board that overcame this challenge is the subject of February’s Agent of Change story in American School Board Journal.

In 2007, the Warsaw Community School District was losing yet another superintendent. It had seen five superintendents in eight years, and it showed in middling achievement for the 7,000-student district. The board knew something had to be done.

Six years a later, the board’s strategic plan and hard work, along with the hiring of Superintendent Craig Hintz, has boosted Warsaw’s achievement and its standing in the state.

Read the story of how they accomplished this on and stay tuned for more school board success stories in upcoming issues.

Kathleen Vail|February 15th, 2013|Categories: School Boards, Student Achievement, Leadership, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , , |

February ASBJ online now with features on technology, school board success

More and more people are using tablets and other handheld devices in their daily lives, so it’s not surprising that their use has spread into the classroom, as well. The February issue of American School Board Journal is online now, and our cover story on the Tablet Revolution gives examples of how districts are using the devices and how school boards are justifying the investment in the technology.

Also in February is the next in our series of school board success stories. This month’s Agents of Change features an Indiana school board that worked to overcome superintendent churn and siloed departments to become a top-rated system.

While you’re visting, you can take our Adviser poll, like us on Facebook, and check out our topical anthologies, open to ASBJ subscribers.

Kathleen Vail|February 6th, 2013|Categories: Educational Technology, Board governance, American School Board Journal|Tags: |

School board success story: Improving graduation rates in Montana

Missoula County School Board Chair Toni Rehbein and Superintendent Alex Apostle.

Missoula County School Board Chair Toni Rehbein and Superintendent Alex Apostle.

January’s American School Board Journal (ASBJ) features the success story of the Missoula County Public School Board of Trustees’s goal of having 100 percent  of its students finish high school.

Examine how a superintendent, school board, and community leaders  in Missoula, Mont. banded together to identify the scope of the problem, develop strategies to improve the graduation rate, and then implemented a program that’s making a difference in student lives—and has inspired the Montana state government to start a similar program of its own.

This is a new feature for 2013 in  ASBJ  and each month an innovative school board success story will be profiled.

Alexis Rice|January 31st, 2013|Categories: Governance, High Schools, Board governance, Student Achievement, Leadership, Student Engagement, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , , |

Top education books of 2012

If you could see my office, you’d know how much I love books. They line my window sill and shelves, and they’re stacked up in piles on my floor. One of the best things about being managing editor of American School Board Journal is that I receive lots and lots of books from publishers.

As much as I like getting and reading through books, it’s always hard to choose the best education books of the year for school leaders. A majority of the books that come to my office are workbooks for teachers – useful, to be sure, but not appropriate for our readers.

Most school board members are not professional educators, but they know much more than the average citizen. They straddle the professional and the laymen worlds, and so the books that we choose for our list must reflect this. We choose books that tell stories, start conversations, or give you insight to help you do your job.

Our newest list includes the latest offerings from longtime education writers Jonathan Kozol and Lisa Delpit, writing about race and poverty. Paul Tough, who wrote Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America, is back with another book, this time on how schools and other institutions can help even the poorest children overcome the challenges of poverty.

Check out our list of the top education books for 2012. Let us know which books you’d add or subtract. Happy reading.

Kathleen Vail|January 11th, 2013|Categories: School Boards, Professional Development, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , , |

NSBA Technology Innovation Showcase brings new solutions to school boards

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) recently announced its first Technology Innovation Showcase, which will help school board members realize the potential of new and innovative educational technology products for their schools.

The Technology Innovation Showcase is designed to show emerging companies that represent the diversity of new solutions in education, according to Ann Flynn, NSBA’s Director of Education Technology.

“The education market sector is experiencing rapid growth from investors and creative entrepreneurs, yet few of the nation’s 90,000 board members and their school districts are fully aware of the innovations enabled by technology that can transform old practices,” said Flynn. “NSBA wants to be a bridge between the entrepreneurial community and the nation’s decision-makers by encouraging districts to embrace a culture of innovation that is open to new approaches and looks to the Showcase examples as a way to ignite those conversations.”

The 2013 Technology Innovation Showcase includes the following companies:

  • BloomBoard – Helping educators grow by providing a free platform to manage the entire feedback cycle for improving educator effectiveness (e.g.: observations, coaching, and individualized learning plans, etc.), connected to recommendations from an open marketplace of professional development resources.
  • Guide K12 – Using the power of geovisual analytics, districts can look at student data in new ways for the purpose of forecasting, capacity planning, and boundary discussions and get immediate answers to “what if” questions.
  • Nearpod – An all-in-one solution for the synchronized use of iPads (and other mobile devices) in the classroom that is helping redefine the traditional classroom lecture through interactive presentations and real-time assessments.
  • TenMarks – An engaging web-based learning environment that super-charges math instruction by delivering contextual help, automatic interventions, real-time assessments, and a personalized curriculum for every student.
  • VizZle® — District Edition / Monarch Teaching Technologies – Committed to providing technology-enhanced solutions that offer districts more effective, yet cost-efficient data-driven tools that support children with autism and other special learning needs.
  • World Wide Workshop, Globaloria – A blended-learning platform with a results-proven curriculum and educator support system to teach youth to produce STEM games with industry-standard methods and tools to increase digital literacy and global citizenship skills, and promote engagement in STEM and Computing.

The 2013 class will be featured by NSBA in an exclusive Innovation Showcase Pavilion and Showcase session during the NSBA Annual Conference in San Diego, April 13-15, 2013. In addition, they will be featured in NSBA’s magazine for school leaders, American School Board Journal, and highlighted in a February 27th webinar hosted by NSBA’s Technology Leadership Network. Go to to register.

Submissions were solicited from start-up companies providing new approaches to challenges across the K-12 curriculum, administrative operations, and communication channels. Reviewers included educators from NSBA’s “20 to Watch”, a recognition program that honors emerging technology leaders.

TLN, launched in 1985 by NSBA and its state school boards associations, helps advance the wise use of technology in K-12 education to support learning, operations, and communications.


Joetta Sack-Min|January 4th, 2013|Categories: Announcements, STEM Education, Student Achievement, 21st Century Skills, Student Engagement, American School Board Journal, Technology Leadership Network|Tags: , |

January ASBJ online now with Change Agents, Common Core backlash

The January issue of American School Board Journal is online now. This first issue of 2013 fittingly features our inaugural series on excellence in school governance: Change Agents. Each month we’ll tell the stories of reform-minded school boards that faced challenges and found solutions through strong leadership. January’s story shows how the Missoula, Mont., school board set a goal of having 100 percent of its students finish high school, and how the district responded with Graduation Matters Missoula.

The Common Core State Standards are coming — by the 2014-15 school year, more than 40 states will be introducing these math and language arts standards to their classrooms.  At least, that’s the plan.  Senior Editor Lawrence Hardy writes of the pushback the standards are receiving from both ends of the political spectrum in “The Backlash Against Common Core.”

Also in the new issue: an essay by education writer and commentator Alfie Kohn on the perils of top-down reform. And another article shows how last summer’s drought may be affecting school food service prices.

Kathleen Vail|January 3rd, 2013|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, National Standards, School Reform, Nutrition, Food Service, Board governance, Student Achievement, 21st Century Skills, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , , , , , |

Schools safer in the wake of Columbine shootings and 9/11, say educators and security experts

Ronald D. Stephens has worked in school security for nearly 28 years. As executive director of the National School Safety Center in California, he’s consulted with school officials in places linked forever with school shootings — places like Red Lake, Minn.; Paducah, Ky., Broward County, Fla.; and Littleton, Colo.

But, in one sense, Newtown, Conn., is different, Stephens said.

“I have never seen a school shooting that has been so vicious, so heartless, so callous” as the one that killed 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Stephens said.

The majority of the victims, as much of the world now knows, were 6- and 7-year-olds. Six adults were also shot and killed at the school, including the gunman, Adam Lanza, who took his own life and that of his mother, whom he shot in their home before driving to the school.

Given the horrific nature of the crime, the next point Stephens made might be hard for the public to grasp: Children are safer in school than outside of it. About 100 times safer, if you do the math — and Stephens has.

Since the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999, districts have done many things to make schools safer. They’ve installed security systems and initiated better screening of visitors. Many have hired school resource officer. And they’ve adopted school safety plans, which anticipate threats and specify what adults and children will do in the event of everything from earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes, to a gunman on campus.

“After Columbine, there was a lot more emphasis placed on safe school plans,” said Eric Sparks, assistant director of the American School Counselor Association.

No longer simply a vague plan “sitting on a shelf,” the safe schools plan became a working document that addressed specific threats, including the threat of violence. Schools also took training for students and staff more seriously. They had lockdown drills and practiced the routines they would need to follow in case of emergency.

It’s perhaps hard to imagine anything worse than what happened at Sandy Hook. Yet without the kind of training staff members received — and the extraordinary degree of courage and composure they displayed — the Dec. 14 shootings might have claimed even more lives.

“As horrific as the tragedy was in Newtown, it could have been much worse had the teachers, the staff, the principal, the administrators not followed the lockdown procedures they had been trained to follow, had they not actually taken the children and secluded them, really depriving the killer of further targets,” NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón said on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal. “So it was their training to basically ferret out the children — keeping them safe, keeping them calm — that made this a less horrific tragedy than it could have been, in terms of numbers.”

In the days after the shooting, Negrón also spoke on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” where he said that the recent shooting by an external gunman represented “a turning point” in the discussion of school safety. He said this should elicit discussions between district officials and law enforcement about how to deal with a shooter from outside the school community. In the wake of Columbine and other school shootings, schools focused on internal issues, such as school climate and bullying, and on identifying students with mental problems. This kind of effort, while essential, does not address a threat posed from outside.

Negrón told C-SPAN that moves to arm teachers and administrators, which have been suggested by Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell and others, are not the answer because school staff members are not routinely trained in law enforcement.

“Teachers and administrators are hired to teach our children,” Negrón said. “That’s a very different skill set [from law enforcement].”

Sparks, of the American School Counselor Association, agreed.

“Having school staff with guns — that would be a challenging situation in terms of training and school safety,” Sparks said. “And it takes a whole different angle on the possibility of things going wrong.”

That could include gun accidents and other unintended consequences of adding firepower to some 120,000 places across the country that were designed for learning – what Stephens likened to creating “120,000 Fort Knoxes.” Is that the kind of climate we want for our children? he asked.

And even these actions would not ensure protection from a heavily armed intruder, unconcerned for his own life and bent on mass murder, Stephens said.

“I don’t know of a school district in America that is prepared to deal with assault-style attacks on their campuses.”

Lawrence Hardy|December 21st, 2012|Categories: Crisis Management, School Security, School Climate, School Buildings, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

State school boards associations offer support and resources after Newtown school shootings

When word arrived that a number of students and adults had been gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the staff at the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) recognized the need to offer immediate support to that town’s school board.

So, by the next morning, a crisis communications expert on contract with CABE was in Newtown to help school leaders with the media frenzy that descended on the school system—and to help provide whatever comfort and reassurances the district could provide to a shocked and distraught community.

“She was with the superintendent through most of Saturday [the day after the shooting],” says CABE Executive Director Robert J. Rader. “We also reached out to the school district that was going to take in some of those kids from Sandy Hook,” which was closed immediately after the shootings.

Meeting the needs of school boards was clearly on the minds of state school boards associations across the nation in the aftermath of the Dec. 14 shootings, the deadliest mass killing at a K-12 public school since a 1927 bombing in Bath, Mich. At Sandy Hook, 20 children—ages 6 and 7—and six adults died at the hands of a 20-year-old armed with an assault rifle and two handguns.

None was as proactive in the hours after the tragic shootings, however, than CABE, whose headquarters is only 50 miles from Sandy Hook.

In addition to offering its services to the Newtown school board, CABE rushed to post a “Dealing with Tragedy” webpage that listed resources for school boards seeking guidance on how to talk to students and parents about the shootings, as well as tips for dealing with the media and reviewing school safety measures. The new webpage was posted by Sunday evening, about 48 hours after association officials first learned of the shootings.

“We wanted people to have this information before school started on Monday,” Rader says.

In days following the shootings, many state associations found the most immediate need of local school leaders was to reassure the public that their community schools were safe—and that sound security practices were in place in each school.

Mirroring the quick response of CABE, the Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA) quickly posted a new webpage with a list of more than 50 online resources that school boards could access to help them with school safety issues and to respond to student, staff, and parent concerns about the shootings.

“We sent [a notice of the list] to every superintendent, every school board member, every school communications person that we had emails for in the state,” says Brad Hughes, director of member support services director for KSBA.

KSBA also provided regular reports on its online news service about media coverage of the shootings and how Kentucky school boards were responding to the incident. The goal, Hughes said, was to allow school officials to learn more about how their peers statewide were handling media attention and public concerns.

In Colorado, where school safety has been on the minds of school officials since the tragic 1999 shootings at Columbine High School, school boards are well versed in school safety issues and haven’t expressed much concern about reviewing their school safety plans, says Kristine Woolley, director of communications for the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB).

The most immediate concern among school leaders was to reassure the public about the safety of their schools, she says. Much of the communications among local school districts has taken place on a private list serve of school public relations directors.

“They are the ones who are information-sharing,” she says. “It’s a pretty active group. They’ve been talking: ‘I’ve got this issue in my district,’ and everybody jumps on board with ‘This is what we did in the past’ and ‘Here’s as sample of what we did’ or ‘Here’s how we responded.’”

The Missouri School Boards Association (MSBA) and the Missouri Department of Public Safety established the Missouri Center for Education Safety a few years ago. This partnership provides school safety expertise and resources to Missouri school districts. It is headed up by Paul Fennewald, the former director of the Missouri Office of Homeland Security. Brent Ghan, chief communications officer for MSBA interviewed Fennewald this week. The interview is posted on the MSBA website and on YouTube.

The Massachusetts Association of School Committees also has made available information about school safety issues, says Michael Gilbert, a MASC field director who consults with school boards. He says much of the conversation he’s heard among school leaders has centered on what steps schools already have taken to improve school safety—and the need to communicate that to the public.

One reason the state’s school officials are more confident in speaking to the public was that a new state mandate required an update of school security measures to include a first-response plan involving police, fire, and medical agencies, he says.

“Following Columbine, I watched the overreaction of many of our school boards to the immediacy of some of the information that came from that tragedy,” he says. For example, after some media accounts reported the shooters had worn trench coats, some school boards started banning these coats from schools.

“I’m not seeing that type of overreaction today,” Gilbert says. “I think our members are being much more thoughtful.”

In Pennsylvania, most school boards appear to have matters well in hand, says Steve Robinson, director of public relations for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA). “Many school districts have been proactive in contacting parents in some way, whether through automated calling systems or postings on their websites—just to remind parents of what procedures exist, to alleviate the fears that parents have, to remind them that their schools are safe.”

The similar experience is reported by the New York State School Boards Association, where Deputy Director of Communications Barbara Bradley says there hasn’t been an “uptick in calls” since the shootings.

“We saw that school districts were being proactive in getting messages out to their communities—that they were reviewing their security measures and making sure everything was in place,” she says. “And they’re reassuring parents in the community that the schools were safe.”

One of the more positive responses to the Sandy Hook tragedy came a few days after the shootings when OSBA was invited by state Attorney General Mike DeWine to participate in a new state initiative to review school safety.

“It’s encouraging that the Ohio Attorney General’s Office reached out to us and wants to include us in the conversation,” says OSBA Executive Director Richard Lewis.

As it happens, OSBA has developed a new school safety consulting program, led by the former head of the National Association of School Resource Officers. It’s a program that Lewis says was garnering interest from school boards even before the Sandy Hook tragedy.

“I suspect this is going to create so many conversations,” he says. “So many people are going to be looking for answers and solutions.”

One issue that OSBA hopes will be part of the conversation is the need to expand mental health services—for both students and community members, Lewis says. “We think that a key to school safety isn’t so much about coming up with more plans for school lockdowns and evacuations … but rather to spend some time on prevention.”

That thinking already is a part of the conversation in Connecticut, Rader says. CABE has met with a number of education associations and business community representatives to talk about their position on issues that might arise in the next state legislative session. One of those issues is likely to be the access and funding available for mental health services.

“We have a list serve of our school board chairs, and they’ve been discussing these issues and what they want to do in their own districts.”

State association officials say the repercussions of Sandy Hook will not be fully clear for some time. But many report a gratifying sense of camaraderie and mutual support among school boards across the nation. OSBA, for example, shared a message with CABE and the Newtown school board that an Ohio school board member—whose district also had endured a school shooting—was passing along her email and telephone number if she could help.

“It speaks volumes about the compassion that school board members have for one another,” Lewis says.

Del Stover|December 20th, 2012|Categories: Crisis Management, School Security, American School Board Journal, State School Boards Associations|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |
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