By Lee Ann Murphy
Leslie Montgomery of New Orleans waves at her two children getting off the bus at the Austin, Texas, Convention Center.
The devastation inflicted by hurricanes Katrina and Rita may have faded from the front page, but for school districts in the affected areas, the hardship continues. Some districts have lost more than half their buildings, while scores of teachers and staff members have relocated. More than 300,000 students are displaced.
To address the needs of districts struggling to stay on track, educational organizations and institutions nationwide formed a consortium known as vSKOOL. Virtual schools and not-for-profits joined technology, media, and instructional software companies to provide education-related relief with
a special focus on technology. The site launched on September 7, 2005, and has been working since then to put affected districts in touch with the technologies they need to keep their students learning.
“The effort came out of the notion that the government had its hands full,” says Douglas Levin of Cable in the Classroom, a leading national advocacy group for media literacy education and the use of technology and media for learning. Levin helped spearhead vSKOOL on a volunteer basis. “We saw everything that was happening and asked ourselves, as a community that sees the value of technology, what can we do,” he says.
The answer was deceptively simple. As long as students have access to a computer, whether it’s in a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer that has become a makeshift school or in the homes of relatives in Houston, Miami, or Boston, they have access to courses, testing materials, tutoring, and other resources. So the group assembled a list of resources about online learning.
“Not everyone is familiar with or comfortable with the concept of online learning, so we wanted to put together a place where people could learn about what was available and how online learning can help,” Levin says.
One of the online learning options now found on vSKOOL is Florida Virtual Schools (FLVS). Just days after Katrina, Julie Young, president and CEO of FLVS, sent an e-mail to her teachers, alerting them that the school wanted to find a way to help affected districts. Immediately, teachers from FLVS began donating seats in their online classes and, at final count, had made nearly 1,600 seats available. To date, only 189 students from affected areas have registered for classes, but more pop up every day. The schools’ ongoing enrollment allows new students to start courses anytime. Although the offer for the donated seats expires on June 30, 2006, Young plans to see at that time how much progress has been made. “Many of the districts are still working to locate their students and assess their needs,” Young says.
In some ways, the overwhelming outpouring of charity provided too many options for districts to wade through. “vSKOOL gives districts a place to come to sift through the offers and zero in on what they need,” Young says.
For many students, especially high school seniors, the offerings available through vSKOOL are the only chance they have of taking the challenging college-preparation courses they need. Take Kasey Snell, for instance. She, her mother, Debbie, and her younger sister are all lifelong residents of St. Bernard County in Louisiana. After their house was destroyed, they moved in with relatives in Florida. When Kasey went to register at her new high school, she found out it did not offer any of the Advanced Placement, gifted, or honors classes that she was taking back home at Andrew Jackson Magnet High School in Chalmette.
So the staff at the Florida school put her in touch with FLVS, and she enrolled in an advanced calculus class. Her home school district in Louisiana and FLVS communicate to ensure her credits will be applied in her home state so that her college plans remain on schedule.
vSKOOL has also been able to assist districts in hands-on ways. Over the holidays, vSKOOL volunteers coordinated the donation of mobile computer learning labs to several districts severely affected by the hurricanes. The labs are designed to be wheeled from classroom to classroom and provide access to a wide range of instructional opportunities, including online learning and testing. Each lab includes 16 Dell Latitude laptops and a mobile cart and is loaded up with a variety of software and other online learning resources.
Educational-technology experts like Levin and Young see a bigger picture in all this. They believe vSKOOL can become a blueprint for the way the educational community responds to disasters in the future. “I think we’ve discovered a process by which we can use technology successfully to respond to crisis,” says Levin. “Education is organized by political boundaries and by state lines and districts, all with their own regulations. But the educational–technology community can distribute content, courses, and resources across those boundaries in a crisis, and people are getting more comfortable with that.”For more information on vSKOOL or to read its blog, go to www.vskool.org.
- The Arkansas Department of Education assumed control of the Midland School District last month after the district failed to propose a way to relieve itself of financial distress. Midland’s superintendent, Tommy Thompson, was replaced by Charles Vondran, former superintendent of McCrory School District. School board members were also relieved of their duties.
- Michael Sellwood, Palm Springs (CA) Unified School District superintendent, announced his retirement, effective June 23, 2006. Sellwood, 61, became superintendent in June 2003 after serving as the district’s assistant and deputy superintendent of personnel services for 12 years.
- After nine years as superintendent for Lufkin (TX) Independent School District, David Sharp retired in January. He had intended to leave his post at the end of the 2004–05 school term but extended his stay to assist Roy Knight, former principal of Lufkin High School, make the transition to LISD superintendent.
- Bill Prenevost, superintendent of Monroe (WA) Public Schools, will retire at the end of the school year after spending 37 years working in the district. Prenevost began his work as a teacher in 1969, and he became the district’s leader in 1993.
- Eugene Vasile, superintendent of Parsippany–Troy Hills (NJ) School District, retired last month. Filling in as interim superintendent is James J. Dwyer, who has worked as either an interim superintendent or interim administrator at nine districts since 1992. Dwyer was also the school chief at Somerville (NJ) Public Schools for 19 years
By Alexander Russo
Frustrated with the quality of new teachers being turned out by existing methods, a handful of urban school districts including Boston, Denver, Chattanooga, and Chicago are pursuing a promising new middle road between traditional university-based programs and fast-track alternative certification: district-run teacher preparation.
Developing one of these programs is not for the faint of heart, say those who have led the way. “This is a really challenging alternative to starting a fast-track program,” says Jesse Solomon, director of the Boston program. “You have to have your stuff together.”
That’s because the district, rather than a university-based teacher education program, is responsible for training and certifying its own teachers. The district develops its own curriculum, trains and mentors teachers on its own, and credentials them once they graduate.
The Boston Teacher Residency program is probably the best known of these fledgling efforts. In place since 2003, it includes a yearlong, full-time internship in a school with tailored instruction based on Boston’s unique student population, history, and curriculum approach. The instructors of the program have a mix of field experience and academic qualifications, and everyone who participates comes out with a dual certification in a subject and in special education.
The Boston program has 53 students clustered in 10 schools and 43 graduates from the first two years out teaching in the district. Working four days a week with master teachers plus one day as students, participants get their master’s degree and a $10,000 stipend in exchange for an agreement to teach in the district for at least three years.
There are variations among the different district-based efforts. The $5 million Chicago program, called the Academy for Urban School Leadership, groups its 48 trainees at just three teacher training schools (including two elementary schools and one high school), provides a $30,000 stipend, and requires a five-year commitment in exchange for a master’s degree and intensive training. The district provides about half of the funding for the project.
Regardless of these design variations, preparing even a small portion of the new teachers needed every year is not an easy task for districts already stretched thin with other responsibilities.
Boston enjoys several advantages over other districts considering this approach. There was already a state law allowing the district to train and certify its own teachers. Thanks in large part to the reputation of its highly regarded superintendent,
Tom Payzant, the district was able to generate foundation support for the effort. The district also benefits from the Boston Plan for Excellence, a nonprofit organization that implements this and other programs on behalf of the district.
Even then, creating and running the program is challenging. Boston had to invent its own curriculum and think through its relationships with existing teacher training programs. It had to figure out new ways to select and support the mentors who work with candidates and also develop a recruitment and selection process that addresses the district’s needs for diversity as well as math and science teachers. Roughly half of the current Boston candidates are nonwhite, and not everyone who applied is accepted into the program.
One remaining challenge in Boston will be whether the district ramps up its contribution to the program. This year, the district is paying a quarter of the $2 million in costs and is slated to cover 40 percent next year. An influx of federal dollars via the AmeriCorps program, however, could take some of the financial pressure off.
Another challenge will be winning the respect of the traditional teacher preparation community and the principals who hire new teachers. Thus far, the teachers union has been supportive, while the higher-education community has been skeptical. In response, the Boston program is in the process of applying for NCATE accreditation.
By Lee Ann Murphy
These administrators turned crooks are more proof that crime doesn’t pay, at least not for long. As Georgia’s former state schools superintendent begins her corruption trial, we’re sadly reminded that she has too much company.
The kids, the parents, the teachers, the taxpayers—they all suffer when school officials turn criminal. And the law-abiding, good-intentioned educators nationwide—the vast majority—lose a little bit of their credibility every time one of their counterparts decides to use the school budget as his or her personal feeding trough.
Another downside: Once millions of dollars go missing, states tend to clamp down on districts, sometimes in ways that make your already complicated job just a little bit harder. Just what you need.
The corruption trial of Linda Schrenko, former Georgia state schools superintendent, is scheduled to begin in federal court on March 6, 2006. Schrenko faces charges in an alleged scheme to steal more than $600,000 in federal education money. Federal officials say about $250,000 was diverted to Schrenko’s failed campaign for governor in 2002.
Former Roslyn, New York, Superintendent Frank Tassone pleaded guilty in September 2005 to grand larceny charges for what State Comptroller Alan Hevesi has called the “most extraordinary theft” from a school system “in American history.” Tassone pleaded guilty to one count each of first- and second-degree grand larceny, admitting that he financed, among other things, European vacations via the Concorde with taxpayer funds. Six people have been charged to date in the theft of $11.2 million from the Roslyn School District.
Angelo Petrone, a former Yonkers, New York, schools superintendent, was sentenced to five years of probation and 750 hours of community service in December 2005 after pleading guilty to perjury and records tampering. Petrone resigned last year after admitting to two felonies that involved the hiring of his daughter’s boyfriend to a $90,000-a-year job in the school district’s finance office.Former Sauk Village, Illinois, Schools Superintendent Thomas Ryan pleaded guilty in November 2005 to theft and was sentenced to eight years in prison. He also was ordered to pay $400,000 in restitution. Prosecutors said Ryan’s crimes included using $68,000 in district money to pay his daughters’ college tuition, awarding a $72,000 lighting contract to a friend, and receiving a number of kickbacks. Ryan also gave principals, teachers, administrators and other staff bonus checks and then demanded cash kickbacks. Two other people—building and grounds supervisor Edward Bernacki and former school board president Louise Morales—have also been charged in the case.
By Pamela Wheaton Shorr
When was the last time you took a look at your district’s vocational classes? Has wood shop or metal class received the same attention as the rest of the curriculum?
According to James R. Stone III, director of the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) and a professor at the University of Minnesota, career and technical education (CTE) is no longer the low-tech world of your father’s Oldsmobile. “I love to use auto mechanics and the grease monkey example,” Stone says. “Do you know there’s more computing power in a car today than powered Apollo 11?” So whatever is built into the car must also be built into the curriculum, and that means vocational education has gone decidedly high-tech.
Stone says that technological advances in the workplace are the reason for what he calls the up-skilling of students. It’s no longer enough to show kids how to use a wrench—they have to understand how to repair the global positioning system in your car, too. Moreover, the accountability movement has led to increased focus on advanced skills and the quality of CTE teachers, who are now being pushed to offer real-life work experience with a healthy dose of educational pedagogy thrown in.
Randy Trivette, manager at the Bureau of Program Review for the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE), who has been with the department for 17 years, says he has seen a transition in voc-ed taking place nationwide. “[Workers] need to know how to read high-tech manuals and architectural plans and to manage software and hardware.” He says there’s still a lingering perception that some occupations—like machinists—are “greasy,” but these jobs, too, are computer based nowadays.
CTE course offerings reflect the shift. According to research from the National Center for Education Statistics, between 1990 and 2000, the most recent figures available, health care and communications technology became hot while materials production (metal, wood, and plastics), personal services, and business services declined. And since 1983, four additional Carnegie units have been added to CTE graduation requirements, and all have been in math and science.
Trivette believes there is still a need for workers with entry-level vocational skills, but the goal, at least in New Jersey, is to get students to recognize that there are career ladders to climb. The state offers training from county vocational schools to specialized programs in comprehensive high schools to a career academy system, and technology is a key component of all of it.
The goals of CTE remain constant: teaching kids about working, preparing them for the workplace, and educating them through occupational training. But Stone says there’s growing buzz about also using CTE as a giant, project-based learning program to teach math, science, and technology. So far, Stone thinks it’s more talk than reality, but certainly a growing number of sophisticated career-focused programs offer education that rivals any traditional program.
Take New Jersey’s Academy of Allied Health and Sciences, which prepares students for a career in the health field. Allied Health students must complete a rigorous science-based curriculum as well as four years each of physical education, English, world languages, and humanities. Students can also take 24 credits at area colleges.
In a recent NRCCTE survey, high school principals said they no longer see career tech as a dumping ground for students, and that the sophistication of many of these programs means students have to be supported or they will simply fail. But Stone says we still have a long way to go in convincing educators and parents of the academic quality in career tech education. “We’ve sold the American public on the four-year college dream,” he says. “If you recognize that kids learn in different ways, you see that they can benefit from other things.”
By Jamie Hall
If necessity is the mother of invention, it’s time to get imaginative with any technology programs funded by federal monies. The Senate’s vote to cut domestic programs resulted in slashing $59 million in education-technology funds. Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT), a major source of federal funding for educational technology, was the hardest-hit program.
“Because of the reduction in funding, districts will have to be creative to come up with these dollars,” says Peter Kaplan, director of regulatory affairs for Funds for Learning. He sees applying for grants as the best way to keep technology programs afloat without federal money. The grant application process generally requires a proposal submitted long before any money is actually needed and requires “the community to buy in to what the district is doing,” says Kaplan.
While the government taketh away, Scholastic Administr@tor helps you find other sources of money. For more information, go to www.scholastic.com/administrator/funding.htm.
CoSN’s 11th Annual K–12 School Networking Conference
Measuring the Value of Education Technology
March 6–7, 2006
Hyatt Regency Crystal City Arlington, Virginia
The K–12 School Networking Conference, sponsored by the Consortium for School Networking, is the premier event for education leaders on technology. The conference attracts more than 800 district, state, and national education-technology leaders.
The NAEA Annual Convention
March 22–26, 2006
Chicago Hilton and
This National Art Education Association convention provides substantive professional development services for the purpose of improving visual arts instruction in America’s schools. As such, it is the world’s largest art education convention.
11th Annual TechEd International Conference & Exposition
Sharing the Vision
March 27–29, 2006
Pasadena Conference Center
Educators will have access to hundreds of hands-on computer workshops, preconference workshops, spotlight sessions, special-interest symposiums, concurrent sessions, round tables, vendor-solutions sessions, and an interactive exhibit floor. Keynote speakers include David Cavallo, famed MIT research scientist, and Dr. Jennifer James, urban cultural anthropologist.
NAESP 85th Annual Convention and Exposition
Take the Reins of Leadership
March 31–April 4, 2006
San Antonio, Texas
Join the largest professional development experience created for elementary and middle level principals by the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Keynote speakers include Christine Todd Whitman, New Jersey’s first female governor.
ASCD 61st Annual Conference and Exhibit Show
Constructing the Future, Challenging the Past: Excellence in Learning, Teaching, and Leadership
April 1–3, 2006
Lakeside Center at
The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development Annual Conference & Exhibit Show is where superintendents, principals, classroom teachers, and many other experts come together to explore the big ideas in education today. Topics will include academic vocabulary, differentiated instruction, closing achievement gaps, and school leadership.
66th Annual NSBA Conference
April 8–11, 2006
Lakeside Center at McCormick Place
Designed for school board members and administrators to experience innovative practices for raising student achievement. General Session speakers include General Colin L. Powell (Ret.), Jane Goodall, and David McCullough. For dialogue about timely issues that can affect your district’s future, check out the Focus on Education lectures.