June 2014 Dashboard


After a school stabbing, community asks: Why?

Why would a quiet student -- described by one classmate as a “really nice kid” -- go on a rampage, wildly stabbing at classmates with two kitchen knives?

That’s a question that will be debated for a long time in Murrysville, Pa., a middle-class community east of Pittsburgh.

Sixteen-year-old Alex Hribal went on a stabbing spree at Franklin Regional Senior High School on April 9, striking out at students as he moved down a hallway. Twenty-one students and a security guard were wounded before an assistant principal tackled the teen.

Several students suffered life-threatening wounds. Hribal was charged as an adult and faces four counts of attempted homicide, 21 counts of aggravated assault, and one count of possessing a prohibited weapon on school property.

In the days following the attack, it was still unclear what sparked Hribal’s attack. But the young man’s attorney suggested that an undiagnosed mental illness might well provide answers.

Two-thirds of Texas students will be Hispanic by 2050

Hispanic students first outnumbered white students in Texas public schools in 2010, but the time is not that far off when Hispanics will outnumber all other racial and ethnic groups -- combined -- by a 2-to-1 margin.

According to the Texas Education Agency, white students were the only ethnic group that declined in grades K-12. Overall, the state’s student enrollment increased 21.6 percent between 2000 and 2010 -- four times the national average.

By 2050, student enrollment in Texas should reach 9 million, a sizable increase over this year’s 5 million enrollment. While the number of Hispanics will swell to nearly two-thirds of that total, Anglo students will drop by half to about 15 percent.

States debate a retreat on Common Core

It’s an astonishing reversal of fortune for the Common Core State Standards Inititative. Only a few years ago, 45 states and the District of Columbia eagerly agreed to replace their hodgepodge of state academic standards with the new, more rigorous national standards.

Now lawmakers in more than a dozen states are having second thoughts -- seeking to repeal, scale back, or delay implementation of the standards.

What’s behind the pushback? Objections are voiced from many quarters. Conservatives view the standards as another federal intrusion into public education. Liberals worry that the collection of new testing data will erode student privacy. Teachers point to flaws in the rollout of standards, and parents worry about excessive academic rigor.

Such criticism is unlikely to derail the implementation of the Common Core, says Chester E. Finn Jr., a former assistant U.S. education secretary and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. “It is a drag and it will slow things down a little bit,” he told The New York Times. “But it is not a mortal wound.”


School officials worry about wasted food

More than $100,000 worth of food is thrown out each day -- about $18 million a year -- by students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Nationwide, it’s estimated that $1 billion worth of school food goes to waste.

School officials say part of the problem is that, under federal nutrition rules, schools don’t get reimbursed for meals unless they put a fruit and vegetable on food trays. But if students don’t want the food, they just toss it out.

“What can we do about this?” David Binkle, the district’s food services director, told the Los Angeles Times. “We can stop forcing children to take food they don’t like and throw in the garbage.”

Nutrition experts argue that schools can influence student eating habits by providing tastier meals and scheduling recess before lunch.


You do what?

Members of the public say the funniest things. And they often have little clue about what school board members actually do.

We asked our Reader Panel members to name the biggest misperception that the public has about school board work.

“That a board member is there primarily to solve their individual problems rather than for policy purposes.“ Norman Robbins, school board member, Texas

“Many people do not really understand the board's role. They think you know every detail of what happens in the school and every detail on personnel. The board's job is not to micromanage. Most details are not our concern and really not any of our business.” Sheila Urban, school board member, Illinois

“That we are the MIGHTY OZ of the district. That we are all big-time lawyers, accountants, or executives, and we each know how to run a district by ourselves. People forget that we are volunteers and it takes all of us, working mom or stay-at-home mom, labor worker or executive, to work together and use our talents to help do all the work associated with the board.” Rebecca Powers, school board member, Arkansas

What common misperceptions have you heard about board service? Send one to editor@asbj.com and we may run it in an upcoming issue.


NSBA.org: Mobile-friendly content focuses on you

NSBA has redesigned and relaunched its website to reflect the New NSBA and its position as a leading advocate for public schools.

The new website “enables us to connect with local school officials and the general public much more easily,” says NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “We have enhanced the search function, reorganized how content is presented and made the site mobile-friendly, so it will be a great, convenient source of information, accessible anywhere.”

Lisa A. Bushey, associate executive director for public advocacy & communications, says that the new website is “all part of being more dynamic. This is the New NSBA.” With the creation of the new website, she says, “We are at a perfect pivot point to really focus on the advocacy agenda of the organization.”

The site is based on a cost-effective, dynamic Drupal open-source content management system and is driven by Apache’s Solr search engine, which can quickly search all of its content.

“One of our goals [with the website] was to humanize NSBA,” says Web Developer Erin Walsh, “telling stories from the perspective of our various members. Why do they do it? What do they get out of it? How does it affect their lives?”

“People don’t navigate [when they come to a website] -- they surf or search,” says Stephanie Todd, consulting online strategist. Research was done to determine where people were heading when they came to the website, and “we brought that content right, front, and center,” says Walsh. “Our website was a filing cabinet, and we have trimmed down our extraneous content.”

Central to the new website’s success is the dynamism of Drupal, the new content management system. “The ability we have to react to a breaking story is greatly increased now,” says Walsh. “Drupal is very dynamic. It is much easier to update and enter content now.”

Drupal is an open-source content management system, updated and pushed out for free, says NSBA’s Director of Creative Services Carrie Carroll. “In the past, upgrades would cost significant dollars. That will no longer happen.” She projects that in three to five years, “we will see a major shift in our [website] costs.”

“The development of the website truly has been a collective effort by many members of the staff in all internal NSBA departments,” says Gentzel. “This kind of collaboration is a great example of how NSBA is focusing on achieving great outcomes by using the talent of all our employees. I am very proud of the work they have done.”

What’s New on NSBA.org

• Cost-effective, dynamic Drupal open-source content management system.

• A mobile-friendly format that adjusts to whatever device you are using: desktop, tablet, or cell phone.

• Apache’s Solr search engine, capable of searching PDF documents.

• Essential content --  just what you are looking for.

• Key points pulled out on each webpage to simplify searches.

Margaret Suslick (msuslick@nsba.org), ASBJ editorial assistant

Chicago charter schools expel 11 times as many students as public

As chicago public schools works to replace zero-tolerance policies that fuel high student suspensions and expulsions, new data reveals the city’s charter schools are 11 times more likely to expel a student than traditional public schools.

The April issue of ASBJ reported that Chicago has made significant improvements in cutting suspension rates and keeping students in school. But the data on charter schools has city Mayor Rahm Emanuel encouraging charter schools to follow the city’s example.

“I can’t make ’em. But, I can persuade them, show them a different model,” the mayor told the Chicago Sun-Times. “And we think they’re going to be cooperative and work with us, because it’s so promising what we’re seeing at CPS.”

The new data reveals that, of the 25 schools with the city’s highest expulsion rate, 22 are charter schools.

Charter school operators have voiced a willingness to address the issue, and city officials said charter schools would be allowed to use the district’s alternative-to-expulsion programs.


New Orleans’ two school systems agree to cooperate

In a bid to improve services to their students, the Orleans Parish School Board and state-run Recovery School District have signed an agreement to coordinate services for students with disabilities, behavioral issues, repeated truancy, and criminal histories.

This new collaboration could mark a turning point in the troubled relationship between New Orleans’ two school agencies, which has been marred by mistrust and criticism since the Louisiana legislature established the Recovery School District to manage the majority of struggling city schools.

Dan Peterson, deputy superintendent for the Recovery District, told The Times-Picayune that he hoped the agreement would set “a new tone for how we can work together better in the future.”

Under the agreement, the city school district will take responsibility for identifying young children with disabilities, and the Recovery District will place or serve them. The Recovery District will provide more comprehensive services to fight truancy in the city, and the city district will provide funds for high-needs special education students.


California schools struggle with students’ health care needs

Nearly 1.4 million california children have chronic health issues, and a recent report finds that the state’s school districts are struggling to deliver complex medical care with inadequate resources.

Among the study’s findings is that more than half of the state’s public school districts have no school nurse on duty and unlicensed school personnel sometimes are tasked to provide medical care. The report was conducted by researchers at California State University-Sacramento’s School of Nursing.

The complexity of that care also is increasing. School personnel are being asked to administer medications, treat life-threatening allergic reactions, help students with feeding tubes, suction tracheotomies, and provide urinary catheterizations. Meanwhile, some students with healthcare needs aren’t identified and may not be receiving necessary assistance in school.

Researchers offered several policy recommendations, including improved data collection to identify and monitor children with special health needs, mandatory training for school personnel who provide health care, and more money aimed at school health services.

Later start for high school makes sense

Starting high school classes at a later hour improves students’ health and grades. It leads to less absenteeism, less tardiness, less substance abuse, and lowers the risk that a teen driver will be involved in a car crash.

These are the conclusions of a University of Minnesota study, which also dispelled one of the most frequent arguments used to oppose a later start time: A later school opening has no apparent effect on student participation in after-school sports or other extracurricular activities.

Some previous studies on a later school start time have been unclear about the impact on academic achievement. But this study, gathering data from more than 9,000 students at eight high schools, found that student grades improved, although the gains were small.


A troublesome 4-year-old? Suspend him

How often have you heard of a 4-year-old being suspended from preschool? It happens more often than you might suspect.

Nearly 5,000 preschoolers were suspended in the 2011-12 school year, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

Those suspensions fell disproportionately on black students. Although they comprise only 18 percent of students enrolled in public preschools, black children account for almost half of all students disciplined repeatedly.

“Most people would be shocked that those numbers would be true in preschool, because we think of 4- and 5-years-olds as being innocent,” Judith Browne Dianis of the Advancement Project told The Associated Press.

“But we do know that schools are using zero-tolerance policies for our youngest also. While we think our children need a head start, schools are kicking them out instead.”

Your National Connection

Using your National Connection benefits: What your colleagues say

Your board colleagues are using the benefits of the National Connection program to help them do their jobs better. To find out about your National Connection benefits or how to enroll in National Connection, go to www.nsba.org/services/national-connection.

Donald Hubler
Secretary of the L’Anse Creuse School Board in Michigan’s Clinton Township

Hubler has served on his board for eight years, and he’s also a member of his county school board. Clinton Township is part of the greater Detroit metropolitan area.

The Federal Insider, a National Connection benefit, gives a perspective on what happens with federal legislation, says Hubler. With the Federal Insider in hand, he says, his meetings with his congressional representatives during the Advocacy Institute in February made more sense and gave him a better idea of what to discuss with them. “The Federal Insider explains what’s happening in the Department of Education. Now we can talk about something that can make a difference.”

Hubler also finds the Public Engagement Toolkit to be a valuable resource. “It’s an important time to communicate a national consensus on education,” he says. The toolkit, he says, “is an outline for a good campaign.”

The redesigned American School Board Journal, Hubler says, is greatly improved. “It’s laid out in a more readable way. The topics are good -- they are things I can read and take information away.”

Melissa Lee
School board member of Minnesota’s Columbia Heights Independent School District 13

Lee has served on her board for 12 years. Her 3,000-student district is in a diverse inner-ring suburb of Minneapolis. It has a 73 percent free and reduced-price lunch rate.

Lee recently sat down with her superintendent to discuss how to use the seven National Connection services for board professional development. The federal information offered in the services is a valuable resource, she says. Lee’s go-to National Connection benefit is American School Board Journal, NSBA’s flagship magazine.

“All the board members get the journal and make references to the publication,” she says. “We know about the Magna awards and we submit every year because we have such good programs." The articles, she says, “bring you the best of what people are doing. I like reading them. This is my tool. This is where I learn.”

Lisa Wagner
Chair of Minnesota’s Minnetonka School Board

Wagner was elected to the board in 2007. During her first term, she was elected to the positions of clerk and vice chair. “NSBA has had a long history of providing leading-edge advice and insights into educational trends for school board members,” says Wagner. “We have especially appreciated articles and sessions addressing governance, leadership, and technology. We look forward to continued excellence with the National Connection program.”

Wagner also puts great value on NSBA's Technology Site Visits, which, she says, “provide an excellent opportunity for networking with leading- edge professionals and school board members from districts around the country.”


Reader Panel

Severe weather effects

This issue we asked readers to tell us how they coped with the snowy and cold winter of 2013-14.

"Our high schools are on the semester schedule. That means each snow day meant we'd miss the equivalent of two normal school days." Jeff Phillips, school board member, North Carolina

"Trying to forget this winter -- 14 snow days." Donna Myers, school board member, Ohio

 "As a result of overtime, higher heating costs, and excessive salt use, our overall operation budget will be in deficit this year. We are moving forward with plans to retrofit our buildings, removing our rooftop HVAC units that are exposed to the elements, and installing boiler/chiller systems." Michael Connolly, superintendent, Illinois

For more weather-related comments, go to www.asbj.com/readerpanel.