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Meet the 2015 Superintendent of the Year

Meet the 2015 Superintendent of the Year

Georgia Superintendent Philip Lanoue was honored for his work closing the achievement gap and rebuilding the community's trust in Clarke County School District. By Wayne D'Orio

Superintendent Philip Lanoue of Clarke County School District in Georgia was chosen National Superintendent of the Year by the AASA on Thursday. Lanoue, who was selected from a group of four finalists that included the recently fired MaryEllen Elia of Florida’s Hillsborough County Public Schools, has been in charge of the 13,000-student district since 2009. In addition to reducing the achievement gap in a district where four out of five students are eligible for free and reduced lunch, Lanoue also solidified the district’s finances and rebuilt the community’s trust in the schools.

“Public education is the fabric of our country,” he said at the ceremony in San Diego. “Sometimes it feels as if it’s battered and torn, and it is, but we’ll withstand it." While Lanoue cited “great progress” in education nationwide, he was quick to point out that hard work remains. “We’re not done yet.”

The other two finalists for the honor were Patrick Murphy of Arlington Public Schools in Virginia and Patrice Pujol of Ascension Parish Schools in Donaldsonville, Louisiana. Elia was fired by her board just days after AASA officials met to make their final choice in January.

Under Lanoue, a former science teacher, Clarke County has racked up several achievements. The district won the state’s top award for its Response to Intervention program, was the top large district in the state in terms of closing its achievement gap, and has been chosen as a model technology school district.

Lanoue finished his comments by saying education needs to continue to change, at a pace faster than before, to best serve students. “Our future work is hard. We’re moving so quickly in this world, that I think the future becomes right now.”

Credit: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Whole Picture


Most administrators reach for test scores when they think of data-driven decision-making. With geovisual data, you can consider the demographics of your district. By Heather Beck

In the Lake Oswego School District, we’re working hard to create an exceptional learning environment that meets the needs of all students. And one way we do that is by using data to support our decision-making.

Our teachers use the results of formative assessments to monitor their students’ progress and make sure they are on track toward meeting grade-level standards. We also use student achievement data to inform teachers’ professional learning and drive continuous improvement.

Our efforts aren’t confined to using classroom analytics, however. We are now deploying district-level analytics, including demographic information from our community, to anticipate future needs, plan ahead, and make the best decisions possible for our students and their families.

We were fortunate to be recognized by ZipRealty this past summer as a top-performing school district with affordable housing. This kind of recognition brings more interest from prospective families, and as families move into the district, we need to know where best to allocate our limited resources.

That’s why I’m excited about a new decision support tool we’ve just adopted called GuideK12. It’s an administrative decision support platform that allows us to overlay information from our databases onto a map of the district and then interact with the data. This lets us see the information through a whole new lens, adding another dimension to our strategic planning.

Here are three key ways that a geovisual support tool will benefit our district.

1. We can allocate resources more effectively.

We can use the software to visualize certain trends and patterns to anticipate future needs. For instance, we can see where our elementary students who struggle with math live, and we can assign an extra math specialist at the middle schools where those students are most likely to attend. This enables us to be proactive instead of reactive in addressing our biggest challenges.

2. We can plan more efficiently.

A couple of examples come to mind. We can draw a radius from any point in the district and determine the students living in that area to inform them of any emergency information needed. Secondly, if we were to add National Weather Service data on top of our student map during a weather-related emergency, we could see which schools and students would be most affected by the storm, and we could plan accordingly—such as figuring out the best locations for emergency shelters.

3. We can visualize the outcome of various choices.

We can run different scenarios to see how certain decisions would affect our community. Each scenario we run is stored in the software for future discussion. We can use this feature to make hard choices about sensitive subjects like school boundary changes with as little disruption as possible, reducing the emotion throughout our decision-making process. With a few mouse clicks, we can visualize the populations of students that would be affected, simply by drawing different boundary lines or making other changes.

Finding the ideal place for special programs that meet our students’ needs, understanding the shifts in our rapidly evolving demographics, analyzing the impact of various scenarios, and making smarter, more strategic decisions: All of these are now possible when we add a geographic element to our data use.

Being able to visualize such a wide variety information in real time will make us much more informed and efficient. Our teachers and administrators are excited about the possibilities for using data in much richer, more creative ways.

And expanding our thinking beyond student achievement data lets us use resources more effectively, and it allows us to be more proactive in our decision-making—which will serve us well as an evolving district in demand. Being able to see individual student information to help kids in the classroom is a high priority to ensure every student excels.

Heather Beck is superintendent of the Lake Oswego School District in Oregon.

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Audio and the Core Assessments



Audio and the Core Assessments

All you need to know to choose between headphones and earbuds for test-taking students. By Tim Ridgway

 When school technology directors and administrators are thinking about this year’s newly mandated audio requirements for language arts assessment, their minds immediately turn to headphones and headsets. And they should. However, there’s another audio option that many may not be aware of, one that involves a much smaller investment: earbuds, which come in a variety of models that sport diverse features to fit the needs of any classroom. 

Both PARCC and Smarter Balanced require audio technology be available to students for use during the English language arts test. Students who require text-to-speech features on the mathematics test also need this option. Earbuds fulfill Common Core State Standards assessment requirements.

Not all earbuds are created equal, though. Here is what decisions makers should look for when selecting earbuds for student use.


All school district leaders, regardless of district size, are looking for cost-effective solutions to maximize budget when investing in education technology. Earbuds are a budget-friendly strategy to prepare for assessments and equip students with a single-use solution in today’s classrooms. At a fraction of the cost of headphones, earbuds fulfill both assessment and daily-learning requirements.


An important factor to consider when purchasing audio ed tech is whether the tools come with a warranty. Saving money in the short term doesn’t help if you spend more later. Select earbuds include a one-year warranty specifically to cover use in schools. Read warranties carefully as consumer brands typically consider school use as “institutional” and more demanding than less stressful home usage. Those warranties may not cover the day-in and day-out demands placed on products by students in classrooms.


Headsets aren’t the only audio tools to feature microphones. Many earbuds offer inline microphones on the cords to support speech intelligibility and develop speaking and listening skills defined in state standards. Finding earbuds that include this feature can save money by investing in a single device for multiple types of work.


Not all learners are the same. Earbuds that include an extra pair of ear pads can better fit younger learners.

 Diverse Plugs

With 1:1 initiatives continuing to roll out in districts around the country, earbuds that are available with a variety of plugs are versatile tools that can work with a number of mobile devices. Some earbud options include a 3.5mm plug and similar plugs that can be used with computers, tablets, and smartphones, while some earbuds feature a USB plug for increased compatibility with devices. Each plug is designed to fit the needs of individual classrooms and can be chosen based on student learning needs and device availability.

 Single Use and Reusable

Because earbuds can be single use or reusable, they are appropriate for multiple educational settings. Single-use earbuds are the most affordable option for providing audio equipment, so they are a cost-savvy strategy for fulfilling testing and classroom needs. Reusable earbuds are an alternative option for classrooms using audio equipment in learning environments other than a one-time testing situation.

 Just as not all schools are the same, not all earbuds and AV equipment are the same. The advantage of this is that you have the opportunity to select from a diverse pool of solutions in order to maximize your technology investment and support learning and assessment goals in your district.

Tim Ridgway is vice president of marketing for Califone International LLC. To learn more about choosing the right audio equipment for your school, visit califone.com/blog

Image: Getty Images


Check costs, demand guarantees, and don’t forget to ask for references.
By Rob Waldron

As detailed in the first article in this series, administrators and district leaders are tasked with finding products and services that support and meet the ever-changing needs of teachers and students. This challenging process can be simplified by following some key steps.

In this second article based on Curriculum Associates’ Guide to Purchasing EdTech the Right Way, additional steps to help successfully navigate the ed-tech purchasing process are provided. 

8. Pay Attention to Service. It is important to discuss service—including account management, data migration, roster sign-on, and the product roadmap—at length during the sales process. At the end of this process, administrators should know the following: how different tiers of support are handled; what the company’s contract renewal rate is; who will be the account manager (make sure to meet that person); and the CEO’s (or other executive’s) mobile phone number in case something needs immediate attention.

9. Understand Total Cost of Ownership. It is important to have a clear understanding of what a given product is going to cost, including any hidden fees, such as the professional development needed for staff to implement the product, ongoing costs for licensing, installation training, IT support, and troubleshooting. Regarding PD, a good rule of thumb is to assume that it will be 20 percent more than what was originally budgeted, so keep this in mind during the procurement process.

10. Demand Guarantees and Assurances. Administrators should always ask for a money-back guarantee and pricing assurance when negotiating a new contract for their district. To prevent being overcharged, ask vendors to send the last 10 sales prices (per student served) for districts of your size and ask that the vendor’s CFO certify the authenticity of this information.

11. Find Ways to Save. Work together with the potential vendor to figure out how both parties can save money. When asking for discounts, get a sense of the vendor’s real costs, such as having one of their employees travel to an all-day training at your district, and then discuss ways to economize. This could include having a company representative fly out and train everyone at the district once over a few days rather than making multiple visits, or exploring the differences between seat-based and site-based licenses. The top vendors will be able to provide the district with the best ways to be cost-efficient.

12. Ask for References. While this may seem like a no-brainer, references are one of the best ways to gauge a potential vendor. E-mail or call at least five references and leave the following message, “If you think the product and service of [the company] is truly outstanding, please call me back and leave a message. Otherwise, there is no need to call me back.” If the references don’t respond, you might want to find another vendor.

13. Implement, Implement, Implement. For a product to be successful, it is very important that it is implemented correctly and that everyone on staff who will use or support the product receives the proper training. Administrators should strive to find a product that works well for an “average teacher” first—not the highest performer or a struggling teacher—and then work to get everyone using it to take its usage to the next level.

14. Remember, it’s a Journey. With ever-changing technology advances, as well as curriculum requirements, there is no product that is truly future-proof. So it is important to focus just as much on which vendor you want to engage in a long-standing partnership with, and how well you believe they will adapt to any necessary changes. 

The last piece of guidance really sums up the ed-tech purchasing process: it’s a journey. Administrators should remember this and plan accordingly to make it a successful one for all involved.

Rob Waldron is CEO of Curriculum Associates. To download a complete copy of the Guide to Purchasing EdTech the Right Way, with in-depth information on each tip, visit www.curriculumassociates.com/lp/EdTech-buying-guide.aspx.

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7 Steps to Making Successful EdTech Purchases


7 Steps to Making Successful EdTech Purchases

How to determine what you need to purchase to meet your goals.
By Rob Waldron

From blended learning and flipped classrooms to BYOD and 1:1 initiatives, the adoption and use of educational technology has grown exponentially in the past several years in many schools and districts nationwide. It has become an embedded part of the teaching and learning process. Now, with the transition to the Common Core State Standards, technology has the potential to play an even more pivotal role in classroom instruction if it is implemented properly. With the new, more rigorous standards, administrators and district leaders are tasked with finding products and services that are built for the CCSS to help students—and teachers—thrive.

Purchasing educational technology—either to address the CCSS, or to complement other teaching and learning initiatives—can be challenging. It can be simplified, however, with some guidance. This is the first article in a two-part series based on Curriculum Associates’ Guide to Purchasing EdTech the Right Way, authored by me and my colleagues, which will provide 14 steps to help you successfully navigate the ed-tech purchasing process. 

1. Take Inventory. It is important to take an audit of what technology—hardware, software, and apps—is already in place and being used regularly before looking to purchase new technology. When conducting the audit, which can be done electronically using a free tool like Zoomerang, be sure to ask all staff members: “Which tools are you using most?” “Which tools are you using least?” “What are your top three favorite tools?” “Which are your least favorite?” And, for all of these questions, ask “Why?”

2. Determine Your Educational Priorities. Create a small committee of three to ten people and share the results of the audit with them. Then, ask the key question put forth by Clay Christensen, author of Disrupting Class, “What is the product being hired to do?” When you figure out what that answer is—for instance, to increase student math scores by 10 percent, or move 25 percent of teachers from an effective to highly effective rating on their evaluations—make sure your committee unanimously agrees upon it.

3. Don’t Customize (Too Much). While each district has unique traits, it is important for administrators to remember that their technology needs are most likely not that much different from the needs of other districts. The bottom line is that spending extra money on customizations can often be unnecessary. Administrators should be specific with a given technology provider about what they want but be careful not to overreach.

4. Consider Collaborative Buying. By becoming a member of a purchasing consortium or buying cooperative, schools and districts can purchase products at a negotiated price lower than the one companies list. This can help a district save money, as well as time, since many of these organizations typically have already completed lengthy RFPs.

5. Make Real Comparisons. Require that vendors make clear, apples-to-apples comparisons of their product versus competitive products based on specific, data-driven criteria. Also, make sure to ask specific questions, such as “What are the results from your program in other schools?” and “What is your renewal rate as a percentage of sales?”

6. Know Data-Integration Capabilities. It is essential that all technologies be seamlessly integrated across multiple platforms and that the data garnered from those technologies is easily shareable among stakeholders. Administrators should work with companies that integrate and partner with other providers so that extra work is not being created for district staff members.

7. Consider a Pilot. Once a product has met a district’s initial criteria, administrators should consider launching a pilot. A pilot offers what a free trial often does not—the ability to use the product in one’s own schools with one’s own students. When coordinating the pilot with the vendor, it is essential that the planned pilot has the following: specific goals, internal champions (or eager volunteers), a sufficient length, a planned conclusion, transparency, and some type of monetary investment.

The second part of this article series will cover seven additional steps for making the ed-tech procurement process a smooth—and successful—one.

Rob Waldron is CEO of Curriculum Associates. To download a complete copy of the Guide to Purchasing EdTech the Right Way, with in-depth information on each tip, visit www.curriculumassociates.com/lp/EdTech-buying-guide.aspx.

 Image: Hiya Images/Corbis/Media Bakery

Immigrant Parents and Student Learning


Immigrant Parents and Student Learning

Learn their needs, offer adult courses, and help them acclimate to a new community.
By Audra Nissen Boyer

Many studies have documented the benefits of parent involvement in learning. Students whose parents are involved in their schooling tend to have better academic performance and fewer behavioral problems, and are more likely to graduate from high school.

While fostering parental engagement can be hard work for any school, that challenge is multiplied for schools with immigrant populations. Newly arrived American families can struggle not only with language barriers but also with cultural, economic, and technological barriers. Communities that address the needs of families holistically will be more successful in engaging parents and promoting positive learning outcomes for students.

Understanding Your Parent Population

The first step to engaging your parent community is understanding their unique challenges and needs. For example, at Mankato Area Public Schools, we have experienced a significant population increase over the past two decades of East African refugees. From 2000 to 2010, the non-white population of Blue Earth and Nicollet counties increased from 3,188 to 4,770. At Mankato schools, there are 33 languages spoken in the K-12 households and 23 countries represented in our Adult Basic Education student population.

The majority of the student families are headed by single or widowed women from Somalia who speak no English and have had no previous access to schooling. To help these parents and their children learn English simultaneously, we created a family literacy program for adults that pairs adult education courses such as English as a Second Language (ESL) with on-site preschool. On average, about 275 adults are enrolled in Adult Basic Education ESL each school year.

Look at the Whole Learning Picture

As our new American population grew, we came to see that their learning needs extended beyond English literacy. New Americans often need help learning about cultural differences and expectations so they can successfully integrate and interact with the community both within and outside of school.

To help address these needs, Mankato Area Public Schools’ Lincoln Community Center has become a hub for adult immigrant learning, offering Adult Basic Education classes, including courses such as General Educational Development (GED), College Prep, and FastTRAC, which addresses the skills gap in the in-demand areas of the workforce. Within the past five years, enrollment in ABE classes has spiked 32 percent, from 761 students in the 2008-09 school year to 1,008 students this year.

Just as important as the adult education classes are the district’s cultural liaisons. Three Somali staff members, who can speak with new immigrants in their native language and who have personal experience adapting to American culture, are employed to bridge new American families in their school experiences.

Remove Barriers to Learning

School readiness for all students is a goal of Mankato Area Public Schools. Providing regular access to books and technology for students is one strategy for helping to increase school readiness. Mankato has seen a 28 percent increase in kindergarten readiness skills over the past six years, which is attributed to our focus on increasing access to resources for students and support for parents.

In 2014, we began rolling out a program to make digital learning resources remotely accessible for families with preschool-age children. MyON, a software program, allows families to read digital books online and get personalized reading recommendations; at the same time, it lets teachers and administrators track students’ reading activity and growth.

The Adult Basic Education Family Literacy Program extended the reach of this program by partnering with the Give Mac program offered by Mac to School, through which we have been able to secure donated computers for households that lacked a computer. The Family Literacy students are trained on the use and maintenance of the computer, as well as the use of the myON reading program in their home. 

To date, we have 106 early childhood students in the district with access to myON. Our ultimate goal is to make this program available to all homes with preschool-age learners across the Mankato school district.

While not every community has resources and support to create the types of programs we have in Mankato, I believe that helping immigrants acclimate to their new home will pay tremendous dividends over the long run. The sooner new American parents are able to communicate and positively participate in the community, the sooner they can support their children in becoming educated and productive citizens themselves.

Audra Nissen Boyer is director of community education and recreation for Mankato Area Public Schools in Minnesota. She is a native Minnesotan and has worked and lived throughout the state. You can contact her at aboyer1@isd77.k12.mn.us.

 Image: Media Bakery

Six Ways to Land More Grants

Use these ideas to snare both mini and major grants.
By Stan Levenson
In my 40 years in education, I have written a lot of mini grants and major grants. Most of the grants were funded. Others weren’t worth the paper they were written on. And I have learned some important lessons in the process. Below are six tips to help you bring in more dollars to your school or district than you ever thought possible.

Tip 1: Start With Mini-Grants

It’s a good idea to start writing mini grants before you attempt to write major grants. I think of a mini grant as any grant under $5,000. Regardless of the size of the grant opportunity, however, there are still six basic components to any application.

1. Needs Assessment. This analyzes the extent of the problem and the conditions you wish to change. The statement of the problem or need represents the reason for your proposal.

2. Goals. Goals are general in nature, broad-based, and overarching. They summarize what you want to accomplish in your grant application. I recommend that you state just one or two goals in your application.

3. Objectives. These should be measurable and time-specific and become the criteria by which your program will be evaluated.

4. Activities. The activities (methods) section of your application will explain in detail how you are going to achieve the desired outcomes stated in your objectives. The activities section should flow smoothly from the needs statement and the program objectives.

5. Evaluation Specifications. This part of your application should help the funding agency determine the extent to which the objectives of your project will be met and the activities carried out. Be certain to describe your evaluation plan as clearly and succinctly as you can.

6. Budget. The budget you present to the funding agency delineates the costs involved in carrying out your project and expresses what you are trying to accomplish. A number of funding agencies have their own budget page that they want you to complete. Others ask you to prepare your own budget page. You might want to consult with your business manager on this section as you break out your costs.

Once you learn how to write a mini grant, you are well on your way to writing a major grant. When writing a major grant, give yourself and your staff adequate time to do the task at hand, follow the directions carefully, and expand your budget to meet your goals and objectives.

Tip 2: Apply for Federal and State Grants

It’s important to remember that when you write a major grant, such as a federal or state grant, you are competing with the big boys and girls on the block—and, in most instances, large city school districts. If you are not in this category, it will be a lot more fruitful to go to corporations and foundations for both mini and major grant opportunities.  In all my years in education, I have found it easier to get corporate and foundation money than federal money.

Tip 3: Apply for Corporate and Foundation Grants

Corporations provide support to nonprofit organizations, including schools, through their own private foundations, direct-giving programs, or both. These separate legal entities maintain close ties with their parent organizations, and their giving philosophies usually mirror company priorities and interests.

In my work in the public schools, I have discovered that corporations typically contribute in those communities where their employees live and work. Become familiar with all the corporations located in or near your school district and involve and welcome their representatives into your schools.

Tip 4: Apply for Grants From Independent Foundations

Independent foundations are interested in funding “excellence” and innovation in the public schools. Most recently, a number of independent foundations have become interested in the charter school movement and have given millions of dollars to these schools. I don’t see anything wrong with supporting the charter school movement. In fact, I encourage any external funding that would enhance K-12 schools just like the external funding that goes to public colleges and universities.

Tip 5: Apply for Grants From Community Foundations

There are more than 700 community foundations across the United States. These foundations are usually made up of individuals, businesses, and organizations located in specific communities or regions. Community foundations are becoming more interested in the public schools. A number of theses foundations are offering mini-grant programs for teachers. Take the time to locate the community foundations in your area of the country and get to know the people who are responsible for awarding grants and gifts.

Tip 6: Access Available Resources for Additional Help

You’ll find a wealth of available resources to broaden and enhance your background in grants and grant writing. There are also a number of resources that you can recommend to individual classroom teachers. Below is a sampling of some of the best resources.

Grant Announcements (for teachers and schools)



Education World: The Grants Center

Foundation Center: GrantSpace

The School Funding Center

Government Grant Opportunities

U.S. Department of Education


Federal Funding Tools and Links (Michigan State University)

Corporate and Foundation Grant Opportunities

Foundation Directory Online

Community Foundations

Corporate and Private Foundations

Inside Philanthropy

Stan Levenson (stanlevenson.com) is the author of The Essential Fundraising Guide for K-12 Schools: A 1-Hour Book With More Than 350 Links, available at Amazon.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in edu Pulse are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.