Urban Schools Launch New Initiatives In Kicking Off School Year

  • Efforts to improve the safety of students, strengthen literacy, combat absenteeism, and provide students with social and emotional supports in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic are just some of the initiatives urban school districts are implementing for the 2023-24 school year. Here’s a city-by-city roundup of what’s new in urban school districts:

    New Mexico’s Albuquerque Public Schools recently unveiled its five-year “Emerging Stronger” strategic plan, which lays out four strategic priorities that will serve as a roadmap toward achieving the literacy, math, college and career readiness, and life-skills goals the school board approved earlier this year after gathering community input. The goals center on improving outcomes for all students; and the board and administration have been setting up a system to track and regularly report on the progress the district is making on the goals.

    In an effort to improve safety on the roads and around schools, Atlanta Public Schools is partnering with the City of Atlanta to implement a school-zone-speed safety camera program. The safety cameras are designed to deter excessive and unlawful speeding in school zones and will launch at 10 school sites. The district also began the school year with fewer than 10 full-time teacher vacancies, as a result of focusing on retention, early hiring, strategic hiring incentives, and professional growth opportunities.

    Baltimore City Public Schools is launching an athletics program for all middle-school students, who will have 20 different sports to choose from. District officials believe the new $2-million competitive-sports program will create a pipeline from middle school to high school athletics, while providing students with the opportunity to discover a passion for sports, stay connected to school, and develop essential life skills.

    Boston Public Schools is offering Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies at 10 high schools in the 2023-24 school year. The 12 educators teaching the course attended the AP African American Studies Pilot Summer Institute hosted at different locations nationwide, including Summer Institutes led by the College Board. The 10 participating schools have worked with the district’s central office to identify anchor textbooks and companion readings and fill out classroom libraries to support student-led inquiry and the district hopes to expand the course in future years.

    North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is partnering with the Aviation Institute of Maintenance to offer four dual-enrollment classes designed to give students a direct career path in the aviation industry. Juniors and seniors will be allowed to complete up to four courses at no cost – an $11,000 savings – while earning credit toward a high school diploma and accelerating their Federal Aviation Administration certification training time by five months. Students may opt for daytime or evening courses, and employment opportunities will be available upon successful completion of the program.

    Chicago Public Schools is investing an additional $2 million to expand access to Advanced Placement ­­­(AP) courses across all schools, specifically increase access for students and schools where AP enrollment has lagged, and also­ focus on the expansion and implementation of AP Capstone programs. For the 2023-24 school year, the district hired nearly 500 more teachers and more than 700 additional education-support employees – among them, teachers’ assistants, special education classroom assistants, counselors, and nurses.

    Cincinnati Public Schools is implementing its first-ever district-wide Montessori curriculum.   According to district officials, the school system was the first in the nation to offer public Montessori education, and with the implementation of the Montessori curriculum -- approved by the school board last spring – it is now able to better serve its Montessori students while aligning with the State of Ohio's educational standards.

    Clark County
    Nevada’s Clark County School District in Las Vegas is opening the Northeast Career and Technical Academy, which offers students 10 programs focused on computer science, architecture, automotive technology, construction technology, cybersecurity, and energy technologies. The district also launched the Every Day Matters campaign to encourage daily attendance and reduce chronic absenteeism and created the Book Bus, a converted bus with seating and shelving to house books in English and Spanish. The bus will travel to schools and community events throughout the school year and aims to distribute 50,000 new books.

    With $7 million of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds,   Cleveland Metropolitan School District has purchased a fleet of 80 larger buses and is now transporting seventh- and eighth-graders to and from school. According to district officials, it has been close to a decade since all students in pre-K to 8th grades were offered the opportunity to use district transportation. The new buses have the capacity to hold 60 passengers.

    Dallas Independent School District is expanding its Reading Interventionist Program, an initiative to provide equity in literacy and close learning gaps for students.   Funded by ESSER, the program began in 2021 in six elementary and four middle schools and proved so successful that the district is adding an additional 139 reading interventionist positions to serve third-grade students at almost every elementary school.

    Denver Public Schools is launching a multi-year attendance campaign to decrease absenteeism and has partnered with Care Solace and Hazel Health to provide students with mental health services and substance-use treatment. Also, students 19 and under now can ride the bus and train free as part of a new Zero Fare for Youth pilot program.

    Des Moines
    Iowa’s Des Moines Public Schools begins the 2023-24 school year with a new superintendent, Ian Roberts, who was selected following an extensive nationwide search. Roberts served three years as superintendent of Millcreek Township School District in Pennsylvania. The district also launched a monthly podcast called “The Become Here Project.”

    Detroit Public Schools Community District is using a $4.5 million investment from local organizations to launch five Health Hubs at high schools, which will address the behavioral, mental, and physical needs of students and their families. The hubs will be in schools that have existing school-based health centers or clinics and will provide dental services, and vision and hearing screenings. Over the next three to four years district officials plan to launch 12 Health Hubs.

    Duval County
    Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Fla., is expanding the UFLI Foundations  reading curriculum to all K-2 students this fall, after successfully piloting the program in 60 elementary schools last year.

    El Paso
    Texas’ El Paso Independent School District is welcoming four highly qualified teachers from Spain as part of the Visiting Teachers from Spain Program, an international cooperation initiative led jointly by the education authorities of Spain and the United States. The district’s goals are to bolster its bilingual education program and promote equity and cultural connectivity. The district is also launching its first-ever Montessori program and unveiling a new student-centered curriculum designed to build students' content knowledge and academic language.

    California’s Fresno Independent School District is focusing on improving literacy by launching the Every Child a Reader campaign, which will ensure children are reading by the end of first grade. The district is hiring 15 additional literacy coaches and adding more high school teachers to support smaller class sizes in literacy. And district officials are investing $7.2 million into school safety by hiring campus safety assistants for every elementary school, adding additional cameras, and hiring a new Executive Director of Safety with more than 30 years of experience in safety and security.

    Guilford County
    Guilford County Public Schools in Greensboro, N.C., is opening the Sylvia Mendez Newcomers School for students new to the United States. This is the first school in North Carolina named after someone with Hispanic heritage. The district is expanding its telehealth program to serve students at all 51 Title 1 elementary schools, and it is piloting a mental health program designed to remove stigmas around mental health in several high schools. Administrators believe the program will help the district better identify mental health needs and the best resources for students.

    Houston Independent School District is beginning the 2023-24 school year with 28 New Education System (NES) schools and 57 schools that chose to be NES-aligned, as part of a program created by new superintendent Mike Miles to improve achievement at low-performing schools. The schools will have new math and science curricula, and teachers will get standardized lesson plans, receive support from aides and learning coaches, and receive an additional stipend. The district also opened its first of six Sunrise Centers designed to help support students outside the classroom and to connect families with local services.

    Indianapolis Public Schools is implementing a new phonics curriculum to better support educators in implementing the science of reading in their classrooms and to ensure that all students establish a strong reading foundation in the primary grades. For the past two years, the district has trained educators in the science of reading and the use of high-quality instructional materials, and it will expand the training this school year.

    In an effort to address the need for math teachers, Mississippi’s Jackson Public Schools is collaborating with Jackson State University (JSU) to launch the Jackson Middle College program, a dual-enrollment program for high school students who want to become mathematics-education majors. Students attended a two-week summer camp at JSU to ensure college readiness. In the fall they will take courses at JSU and return to their home schools in the afternoon for any additional high school coursework.

    Jefferson County
    Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Ky., is adopting new reading and math curricula in grades K-8. This is the first year the school district will have the same reading and math curricula in every school, allowing students who change schools to keep learning the same way and using the same material. And for the first time since 1975 all families have the option of having their children attend a school close to their home.

    Little Rock
    ArkansasLittle Rock School District will continue to offer students throughout the district the opportunity to take Central High School’s pilot AP African-American studies course, which will be weighted the same as all other AP courses. Students will not have to pay to take the exam. The district will continue to work closely with the College Board regarding content and curriculum.   

    Los Angeles
    Los Angeles Unified School District is launching the Individual Acceleration Plan, an all-in-one platform that leverages the power of technology combined with comprehensive data to develop personalized action plans for every student and family. The district is  implementing new STEAM labs, starting a farm-to-school nutrition program, deploying food trucks, and developing additional green spaces and sustainability initiatives, such as electrifying the district’s entire bus fleet to reduce carbon emissions.

    Miami-Dade County Public Schools is launching three new magnet programs for the 2023-24 school year. STArts2 engages K-5 students in Science, Technology, and the Arts, focusing on Digital Music Production, The Apple™ Coding program will use the Develop in Swift curriculum with students in grades 6-8 in three middle schools. In addition, a new Data Science program will equip high school students with a solid foundation in statistical analysis, machine learning, and data visualization, preparing them for careers in data science. Students will earn an industry certification upon program completion. 

    Milwaukee Public Schools begins the school year with three new International Baccalaureate elementary schools. The schools were authorized to offer the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme after a rigorous, multiyear application process. The program encourages critical thinking and helps prepare students for postsecondary life in a global society.

    New York City
    The nation’s largest school system is opening the South Bronx Literacy Academy to serve students with dyslexia and other reading issues. The school is a partnership between New York City Public Schools and the Literacy Academy Collective, a non-profit organization founded by the parents of students with dyslexia. The district also is launching “New York City Reads,” an initiative to bring science-of-reading and phonics-based learning methods to all students over the course of the next two years.

    New Jersey’s Newark Public Schools gained full approval from the Nelson Mandela Foundation to open the Nelson Mandela Elementary School, for children in pre-K through second grade. The school is designed to instill leadership qualities in young minds and foster compassion through a multicultural and inclusive education, while paying homage to the legacy of Nelson Mandela.

    New Orleans
    NOLA Public Schools is launching Attend Today, Achieve Tomorrow! – a community-wide back-to-school campaign to encourage students and families to aim for no more than five absences throughout the school year. The campaign aims to engage students, their families, and the public via creative messaging, social media (#striveforlessorfive), and community engagement, which will include school-related events to help ensure students are in school on time every day.

    Orange County
    Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, Fla., is focusing on developing a common and deep understanding of effective early literacy instruction. These efforts will include convening schools and district leaders to develop a Portrait of an Early Reader; providing professional learning for instructional and administrative staff to support their understanding of the Science of Reading; and expanding training for school teams to cultivate positive relationships between school, home, and community to instill a joy for reading.

    School District of Palm Beach County
    Florida’s School District of Palm Beach County is opening the Dr. Joaquín García High School, the district’s first new high school in nearly 20 years. The school features Advanced Placement, Advanced International Certificate of Education, and dual enrollment programs, as well as a medical sciences program, and business and IT academies.

    Oregon’s Portland Public Schools begins its second school year operating with its Climate Crisis Response policy. The policy, co-created with the community, centers student wellness, empowerment, equity, and resilience at the core of climate action. This policy sets clear requirements, delineates significant work across the school system, and outlines support systems. Last year, this work garnered the district a Silver Magna Award from the National School Board Association. It also is featured as an NAAEE Climate Education Policy Case Study

    Beginning this fall, Rhode Island’s Providence Public School District is extending students’ learning time and expanding professional development time for educators to bolster academic recovery in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result of a one-year contract agreement reached with the Providence Teachers Union, students will receive an additional 30 minutes of instruction each day and teachers will receive 90 minutes of professional development every other week after the school day.

    Virginia’s Richmond Public Schools is implementing its pilot RPS200 program, which will add 20 extra days to the school year at two elementary schools. The program was created to help students catch up academically after the Covid-19 pandemic. If the pilot leads to gains in academic achievement, the district will expand the program to other schools next year.

    St. Paul
    Minnesota’s St. Paul Public Schools is adding safety measures to school operations by providing secondary schools with digital hall passes so staff can better monitor who is allowed to be in the hallways, providing school support liaisons who will build relationships with students, and offering calming spaces at 30 schools. The district also opened the new East African Elementary Magnet School, a PreK-5 school designed in collaboration with members of the East African community and focusing on the cultures of East Africa, as well as the languages of Somali, Amharic, Oromo, Tigrinya, Arabic, and Swahili.

    Ohio’s Toledo Public Schools Board of Education has approved a new strategic plan for the district, which includes this motto: “Purpose driven and future focused.” The strategic plan also includes new mission and vision statements.