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Big-City Schools Open with an Emphasis on Safety and Security

  • Urban school districts across the nation kicked off the 2019-2020 school year focusing on implementing new safety and security measures, creating healthy and nutritious meals for students, providing alternative transportation options and offering dual enrollment programs with local colleges. Here’s a roundup of what some big-city school districts are doing:


    Texas’ Arlington Independent School District opened the Arlington College and Career High School, a partnership between the school district and Tarrant County College. The school provides students with the opportunity to earn a high school diploma and an associate degree, as well as the opportunity to earn workforce certificates and participate in internships and mentoring.


    Atlanta Public Schools is launching Let’s Talk!, a new online communication and customer service tool designed to  make it easy for parents and community members to ask questions, share feedback, complaints and complements, and submit ideas.  It can be accessed by computer, tablet, smartphone or through the district’s website.  


    Colorado’s Aurora Public Schools is opening its fifth College & Career Center to help students plan for a successful transition after high school.  According to district officials, with the opening of the new center, 96 percent of all high school students now have access to a College and Career Center in their neighborhood school.


    Texas’ Austin Independent School District is expanding the Early College High School program to Akins High School, allowing students to earn a high school diploma and associate degree at the same time. The district is also implementing a revised student dress code that is inclusive, does not reinforce stereotypes and is gender-neutral.


    Boston Public Schools is expanding the My Way Café school meals program, which provides students with fresh, nutritious, meals cooked every day, to 30 schools. Also, students in grades 7-12 will receive free passes to ride the city’s subways and buses and the district is expanding Boston Saves, the city of Boston's children's savings account program, to all kindergartners. The program will provide each student with an account automatically seeded with $50 that can be used to support their future college or career training. The program also provides opportunities for families to earn more money for their child.

    Broward County

    Florida’s Broward County Public Schools, which includes Fort Lauderdale, is expanding the number of elementary and middle schools with dual language programs to 49 schools this year, from 42 last year. Also, all 234 schools in the district will participate in an educational program called “No Place for Hate” from the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that fights intolerance. Each school will form a “No Place For Hate” club, participate in training and hold school-wide discussions on diversity, bias and inclusion.


    In an effort to train, support and retain diverse teachers, New York’s Buffalo Public Schools is partnering with the University at Buffalo to launch the University at Buffalo Teacher Residency (UBTR) initiative.  Following a week-long summer institute, thirteen teaching candidates will be assigned a co-teacher/mentor and placed in five schools for a year. In addition to co-teaching as they complete coursework to earn a master’s degree, UBTR graduates will be required to teach for at least three years in the district’s schools.


    As a result of a sales tax referendum voters approved in 2014, South Carolina’s Charleston County School District is opening two new schools. The district also is implementing a random search program in high schools to deter individuals from bringing weapons and contraband to school. 


    In an effort to improve school safety, North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is installing a crisis-alert system and safety screenings at all high schools, with expansion into middle and K-8 schools; and providing active survival training for all employees. The district is also rolling out a new fleet of 28 propane-powered buses designed to improve air quality.


    Chicago Public Schools is unveiling a series of initiatives to facilitate stronger monthly Board meetings, including live streaming all meetings, translating meetings for Spanish language speakers and holding meetings in the community in the late afternoon and evening. The nation’s third largest school system is also adding 10 new Opportunity Schools, which provide principals with intensive recruitment, retention and professional development, and is expanding the Safe Passage Program to 162 schools to ensure students can walk safely to and from school.


    Cincinnati Public Schools is embarking on a three-year strategic plan, A Roadmap to Destination Cincinnati Public Schools. As part of the plan the district aims to address the health and safety of students by increasing the number of school social workers from 26 to 35.

    Clark CountyClark County Schools Superintendent Jesus Jara on the first day of school performs the Haka with Liberty High School.

    Nevada’s Clark County School District in Las Vegas is implementing a new program designed to help former students earn their high school diploma and develop the skills needed for high-demand jobs. Operated by Acceleration Academies, the program will work in collaboration with the district through a public-private partnership. Students under the age of 21, who have left the district for at least one academic semester, will be able to come back to earn a diploma and instruction will be offered online and from in-person teachers. 


    Cleveland Metropolitan School District is undergoing the first full school year as a chapter of the Say Yes to Education communitywide initiative and will provide support services such as mental health counseling, legal assistance and after-school programming at 16 schools coordinated by a family support specialist. The district is also partnering with Case Western Reserve University to expand lead screening for children ages 3 to 6 and high schools will introduce revamped cafeteria menus featuring dishes similar to those served by food trucks.

    Columbus     Columbus Schools Superintendent Talisa Dixon, second from left, welcomes students back to school

    Ohio’s Columbus City Schools is equipping all buses with the Smart Drive Navigation System, which provides audible and visual turn by turn directions for the more than 700 routes drivers navigate each day. The district is also adding 31 new Safety and Security Specialists. 


    Dallas Independent School District is offering two-way dual-language programs at an additional seven schools and launching a pre-K scholarship program to increase the number of students in pre-K. District officials estimate at least 200 students will benefit from the program.


    Ohio’s Dayton Public Schools is launching an attendance campaign for the 2019-2020 school year called “Be Present for a Better Future,” in which students and teachers will be incentivized to improve their attendance and students will be urged to “Strive for Less than 5” absences. 

    DetroitDayton Public Schools launches "Be Present for a Better Future" attendance campaign

    Detroit Public Schools Community District is opening five new schools, including the School at Marygrove, a partnership with the school district, the University of Michigan School of Education and the Kresge Foundation. Located on a college campus, the school’s curriculum will focus on engineering, design and social justice and will serve approximately 120 students in 9th grade, eventually becoming a K-12 school. 

    District of Columbia

    The District of Columbia Public Schools is opening Bard High School Early College DC in conjunction with Bard College of New York. Students will be able to earn both a diploma and an associate degree. The district is also launching 10 Connected Schools to serve as resource hubs in their community providing students and family with wraparound services such as housing, childcare and financial assistance referrals.

    Fort Worth

    Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, Texas’ Fort Worth Independent School District is providing all student report cards online. The six-week online report cards will be available through the district’s Parent Portal and will replace the previously mailed report cards.


    To help keep students healthy and improve attendance and academic achievement, California’s Fresno Unified School District is unveiling a new mobile health unit that will visit high schools and offer services such as physicals, sports exams, immunizations and vision and hearing screenings.


    North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools in Greensboro is opening five new Signature Career Academies, including an Academy of Biomedical & Specialized Health Sciences, to educate and train students for highly-skilled and high wage jobs. The school system worked with the local business community to identify emerging labor markets and career academies were developed from the results. The academies will launch with 9th grade and eventually expand to additional grades.

    Hillsborough County

    Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, Fla., is adopting a mental health plan, installing a cutting-edge security system and adding new secure entryways at several high schools.


    Houston Independent School District is launching a student mentorship program for 900 females at 30 schools called Resilient Outstanding Sisters Exemplifying Success (ROSES). The program is designed to provide positive role models and advocates to underserved females and students will participate in a curriculum featuring workshops led by professional women from various industries, entrepreneurship tours and college visits. The school system is also expanding its mental health and social emotional supports by providing students at 15 schools with direct access to school administrators trained in trauma, crisis, abuse and suicide prevention. 


    Indianapolis Public Schools is launching a new pilot project allowing high school students to ride city buses for free seven days a week. Each student’s high school-issued ID card will be embedded with a free electronic bus pass good for a year that they can use to commute to and from school or extracurricular activities. District officials will use the program to explore ways to reduce its transportation budget and increase resources to the classroom. 


    Mississippi’s Jackson Public Schools unveiled its five-year strategic plan for the 2019-2020 school year, focusing on increasing access to early The new logo for Jackson Public Schools.   childhood education, improving parent engagement and creating a teaching and learning professional development academy. In conjunction with the release of the five-year strategic plan, the district also unveiled a new logo as part of an overall rebranding process. The plan can be accessed on the district’s website at: www.jackson.k12.ms.us/StrategicPlan

    Jefferson County

    Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Ky., is rolling out new digital Teacher Backpacks featuring grade and content-specific resources available through Google Suite.  Teachers will be able to select the grade level and content area they teach and be connected to instructional and curriculum frameworks, as well as ideas on how to help their students build their digital backpacks. The district is also creating Backpacks for early childhood teachers and exceptional childhood education teachers.

    Kansas City

    Missouri’s Kansas City Public Schools is making several improvements to its transportation system, including adding 150 fuel-efficient propane school buses and a new mobile app to track the location of busses. The school system is also partnering with local organizations to create Justice in the Schools, an initiative to provide district families with access to free, school-based legal clinics staffed by Legal Aid and volunteer attorneys.

    Los Angeles

    The nation’s second-largest school district is creating 20-25 “communities of schools” with a leader and team to help students transition between grade levels and schools; expand parent participation; and increase opportunities for community partnerships. The school system is also implementing financial literacy training at 75 high schools, opening 11 new or renovated school-based wellness centers and partnering with the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles to provide housing vouchers for 50 families in an underserved region of the district. Los Angeles Schools superintendent Austin Beutner congratulates a student on his math work on the first day of school


    Miami-Dade County Public Schools is launching an awareness campaign to promote mental health understanding for students and parents as well as implementing the Mindful Peer Exchange program, which pairs students in a mental health-related field at Florida International University with high school students to cover lessons about mental health. The nation’s fourth-largest school system is also investing $24 million in new classroom technology, teacher computers, mobile devices and interactive panels as part of its Digital Convergence 4.0 initiative and piloting the Girl to Girl Mentoring Program to provide women mentors to female students.


    Minneapolis Public Schools has hired a Director of the Office of the Ombudsperson who families can call with any questions or concerns they have about their child’s school or staff. The district is also investing in customer service and cultural humility training to create more welcoming and culturally affirming school environments.


    Metro Nashville Public Schools is partnering with Tennessee State University to pilot the HBCU C2 (Code and Create) program, focused on bringing coding skills to students in underserved communities. Students will learn how to write code and design apps, with an opportunity to have their apps available to consumers through the Apple Store. Apple developed the curriculum and will provide all devices for student-use and offer students an opportunity to earn credits toward a college degree and to sit for an industry certification exam. The initiative will pilot in one of the district’s priority high schools, eventually expanding to six schools.


    New Jersey’s Newark Public Schools is kicking off the 2019-2020 school year with a large increase in visual and performing arts teaching staff, adding more than 25 new teaching positions in drama, music, theater, and visual arts. The district is also partnering with the Newark Public Library to give every student and teacher in the district a library card.

    New Orleans

    In an effort to improve student attendance and reduce barriers to healthcare, NOLA Public Schools is partnering with a local children’s hospital to launch a school-based telehealth program at more than a dozen schools. School nurses in the district will receive training and digital exam equipment that will connect them with local pediatricians and enable them to assist students immediately with minor health conditions.

    New York City

    The nation’s largest school system is expanding its 3-K for All program to provide early childhood education to three-year-olds and district officials expect 20,000 children will attend 3-K this year, four times last year’s enrollment. The district is also implementing The Bronx Plan, which will give staff at 60 historically underserved schools bonuses to improve teacher retention and recruitment and is expanding its AP for All initiative to 279 high schools this year, including 99 that offered no Advanced Placement courses before the initiative.

    Oklahoma City The new logo for Oklahoma City Public Schools.

    Oklahoma City Public Schools is implementing its Pathway to Greatness (P2G) initiative to align the district’s resources to provide equitable learning opportunities for all students. The school system is also partnering with local organizations to launch a mental health initiative called EmbraceOKC and has created a new brand and logo as part of the district’s strategy to increase employee and student engagement and encourage community pride. The brand was developed with input from focus groups with staff, students and the board. 

    Orange County

    Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, Fla., is partnering with Universal Orlando and Valencia College to implement the Art of Tomorrow Scholars program to keep successful students engaged through their high school years and ensure they earn their diplomas and develop a post high school career plan. The program provides students the opportunity to meet professionals in different areas of visual and performing arts careers through workshops, tours, projects, and panel discussions. Students will also participate in an on-line college course. Upon completion of the program, students can earn college credit and are eligible to apply for scholarship award opportunities at Valencia College. Orange County Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins visits students on the first day of school.


    The School District of Philadelphia is partnering with industry experts on a multi-year initiative called the Comprehensive School Planning Review that will analyze changing communities and solicit input about how to serve shifting school populations. The goals of the CSR include optimizing the use of school buildings; investing limited capital dollars where they are needed most; and better supporting academic programs that prepare students for college and career success.

    Pinellas County

    Florida’s Pinellas County Schools, which includes St. Petersburg, is implementing a web-based transportation notification system at all elementary schools. The district is also adding College & Career Planning Centers at all high schools, implementing an emergency lockdown system in schools and making changes in the areas of food and nutrition, including phasing out Styrofoam, piloting a compost program at two elementary schools and introducing a vegan menu.


    To combat a nationwide shortage of bus drivers, Pittsburgh Public Schools is reducing the total number of bus routes and moving the start times of six schools to support the new routes. Also, students who graduate from a teaching magnet program at Brashear High School this year will be the first eligible cohort to come back to the district to teach in 2023-24 school year after they complete a college-level state-approved teacher preparation program and receive their teaching certifications.


    New York’s Rochester City School District is partnering with the 1 Million Project Foundation to provide students in grades 9-12 with a Chromebook with free internet access. According to district officials, approximately 40 percent of the district’s students do not have internet access at home.


    Sacramento City Unified School District is launching a new Online Parent Portal to make it easier for parents to access student grades, attendance, classroom assignments and communicate directly with teachers. 

    Saint Paul

    Saint Paul Public Schools is partnering with a local organization, AchieveMpls, to launch Career and College Centers in four high schools. The centers will help students chart their career course and make a plan for success after graduation. The centers are modeled on those in Minneapolis public high schools, which have been operating since 2005 and serve more than 9,000 students each year.

    San Antonio

    San Antonio Independent School District is opening the CAST Med High School, giving students the opportunity to graduate with a high school diploma, a minimum of 30 hours of college coursework, and real-world experience gained through job shadowing, mentorships, internships, summer enrichment programs and clinical and research opportunities.

    San Diego

    San Diego Unified School District is offering several plant-based meals in school cafeterias, expanding on the district’s already-successful Meatless Mondays option.

    San Francisco

    San Francisco Unified School District is engaged in a multi-year process to reimagine how the middle grades, 6-8, are taught. Roosevelt Middle School is one of two schools to begin rolling out the middle grades redesign, which includes expanded access to electives such as robotics and drama and additional professional collaboration time for teachers.


    Seattle Public Schools held the district’s first Ethnic Studies Summer Institute this summer, focused on helping educators understand the method and practice of teaching behind ethnic studies. The district is also adopting an inclusive districtwide student dress policy that emphasizes students’ rights to be treated equitably and without fear of unnecessary discipline or body shaming.

    Shelby County Schools

    Shelby County Schools in Memphis is partnering with the Memphis Area Transit Authority to provide free bus passes to high school students, as well as their parents, during the 2019-20 school year. The district is also opening its first trauma-informed center, called the P.O.W.E.R. (Persevering Obstacles with Experiences and Resolutions) Zone at a K-8 school.

    St. Louis

    Saint Louis Public Schools is launching a Consortium Partnership Network at two elementary schools designed to empower educators at those schools with autonomy to design new strategies and allocate resources to improve academic achievement. Under the new governance model, principal and teacher leadership teams will create customized school plans and determine school-level priorities and how their school budget is allocated.


    California's Stockton Unified School District is partnering with the San Joaquin Regional Transit District to launch a two-year pilot program to offer complimentary bus service to students in grades 7-12. The program will allow students to ride buses year-round free of charge. 


    Tulsa Public Schools is launching a new meals program that will provide nutritious food options based on feedback and insights from students. Using technology, students will be able to give feedback on their meals and the district will use those student preferences to customize menu offerings and to make changes and improvements. The district is also launching mobile meal carts, vending stations and a meal app.


    Nevada's Washoe County School District in Reno is opening three new schools with funds from ballot measure WC-1 voters approved in 2016. The one elementary and two middle schools will provide state-of-the-art technology and instruction and alleviate overcrowding in the district. 


    Wichita Public Schools is implementing Standards-Referenced Grading at elementary schools, which will provide consistent grading practices across the district based on achievement of what students should know and are able to do at each grade level. Elementary teachers will use 0-4 point proficiency scales to measure progress toward learning targets in all content areas, allowing them to better track a student's progress. Social skills, turning in and completing assignments, as well as demonstration of effort and behavior are reported separately on the elementary progress report.