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Buffalo, San Antonio and Pinellas County Named ‘Districts of Distinction’

  • Three big-city school districts are among 34 school districts from 19 states dubbed this year’s “Districts of Distinction” by District Administration magazine for initiatives and ideas in those districts that solve challenges, have quantifiable results and can be replicated.

    In the nominating process, districts are asked to identify the particular challenge they faced, describe the initiative, describe the impact and offer advice to anyone seeking to replicate the program.

    Strong Community Schools

    New York’s Buffalo Public Schools launched the Strong Community Schools initiative to bolster schools in the city’s poorest areas and to help neighborhoods with deep poverty, high transiency and scarce economic activity, according to the application.

    The district set up four community zones and relaunched 21 of 56 schools as community schools. The schools received bolstered academics and technology, after-school and Saturday programs, parent centers and adult education. Community partners – 68 by recent count – joined the effort with $18 million in sustainable funding supporting the initiative.

    The impact is reflected in schools improving by state standards, with 12 of the community schools now ranked as being in good standing while none was at the outset.

    Rolling Reader Bus Program

    Texas’ San Antonio Independent School District’s Rolling Reading Bus Program won recognition for reducing student incident referrals and increasing ridership. The district has outfitted all 200 school buses with Wi-Fi so students can listen to audiobooks on their way to and from school, and more than 60 percent do so, according to district officials.

    School librarians select monthly themes and choose appropriate audiobooks for the initiative. Bus drivers are called “reading captains” who are encouraged to actively promote the program and to decorate their buses to match the theme of the month. For astronomy, riders listened to stories about space exploration while buses had space-related décor.

    The program’s goal is to help close the digital divide, since 92 percent of its students are from economically disadvantaged families and many students lack internet access at home.

    Personalized Learning Pathway

    Responding to parents’ concerns, Florida’s Pinellas County Schools, which includes St. Petersburgh, won distinction for creating software with video and text-based supports to assist students in building academic skills in out-of-school settings.

    According to its application, the district developed the Personalized Learning Pathway program in response to parents’ queries about ways to support their children’s academic needs.

    Students can use the Pathway program to access lessons at home, at the library or anywhere with Wi-fi. Playlists feature interactive digital lessons. The platform also provides access to college and career-readiness information such as credit status, GPA, SAT and/or ACT scores, and more.  

    The district says the platform encourages buy-in and ownership on the part of the student, and students who use the program become more focused on post-graduation plans. The rollout of the program benefited because students were consulted during the software development process and their feedback was incorporated into the design of the final version.

    The 2019 “Districts of Distinction” honorees were selected by District Administration magazine editors. “These districts have developed innovative programs to support students in their education and well beyond the classroom,” said JD Solomon, editorial director of the magazine. “We hope our readers are inspired by the efforts of these honorees to create successful initiatives in their own districts.”

    To apply for the 2020 round of the program, click here