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LFA’s member organizations and partners have many examples of schools that have adopted innovative practices or have taken risks that have paid off in their students’ academic achievement. As we head back to school, here are five of our favorite success stories from 2016 that we hope will give inspiration and ideas for your work.

District officials in the Tacoma, Wash. district have designed a system of supports to help students transition from prekindergarten through high school, and they work with local universities to ensure their curriculum is aligned and students have access to financial aid. High school graduation rates have dramatically increased under the strategic plan, two Tacoma administrators write in this article for School Administrator magazine. ...

The Learning First Alliance today released, “Working Together for Student Success: A Back-to-School Communications Toolkit,” a resource to help educators communicate with their parents and communities. 

The toolkit contains advice for helping local school leaders and other educators publicize and explain their successes in implementing college- and career-ready standards. The document is designed to help shore up support for public education across the country by showcasing innovative and effective programs in schools as well as the myriad of school staff members who help students on their paths to graduation.

“We are proud to offer a toolkit that will help school leaders and other educators strategize back-to-school communications,” said Richard M. Long, executive director of the Learning First Alliance. “We know that there are many good programs and examples of schools preparing students for post-graduation success, and we hope this guide gives superintendents, principals, PTA leaders and other educators ideas and inspiration to show the good work that is happening in their schools.” ...

Summer vacation is eagerly anticipated by students and teachers – eight weeks of out-of-school time in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). But it harbors a built-in risk that we call the Summer Slide: Academic ground gained during the school year can be lost without targeted summer learning. ...

Communication is complex, and tricky these days. And as important to our lives as the air we breathe. Let's look at air for a moment --it is all around us, 24/7, no matter where we are or what we are doing. It is essential for our survival and for our success. In addition air must be of the highest quality - have the right combination of oxygen and hydrogen and little or no pollutants - in order to be most beneficial to us. Polluted air renders us unable to function properly. ...

Could education stakeholders in your state create a unified vision on how to educate every child to fulfill his or her potential? And could that help school leaders lead the conversation on improving public education?

At a session at the National School Boards Association's Annual Conference in Boston this month, panelists discussed those questions. For the past four years, school boards and superintendents in Oklahoma have spearheaded an effort to identify what kind of changes are needed in public education and build consensus on what actions and resources are required to fulfill that vision. They were inspired by similar efforts in Georgia, Missouri, and Texas. ...

What if I do more than share grades with parents?

I recently met with two parents and their son. It was a conference to discuss how he was doing in class and what they could do at home to help. If that kind of interpersonal communication is the "Gold Standard" of analog communications, we have to concede it's not the only way we can communicate with families, nor is it the most sustainable. But let's start with the conference and the tools for opening communication. Then on to other options.

Unlike years past, my year-round calendar does not allocate minimum days for conferencing anymore. My single conferences lasted one hour and fifteen minutes after school. To replicate this for my class of 28 students would require 35 hours. Quality communication? Yes. Replicable on a frequent basis? No.

While the recent conference was enlightening for the parents, student, and myself, I came away with two big wonderings: ...

Van Henri White has seen the impact of poverty and violence in his native Rochester, N.Y. After graduation from Georgetown University Law School, he served as an assistant district attorney and the city’s “Crime Czar.”  He later opened a private practice specializing in school safety issues, and in his most famous case, he represented the mother of a 13-year-old student who was stabbed to death by a classmate in a lawsuit against the Rochester City School District.

But a few years after that case, Mr. White decided to try to instill change within the high-poverty, predominantly minority, and low-performing school district by running for a seat on the school board. Since being elected, he has initiated efforts to boost the graduation rate and reduce truancy, improve school safety, address lead poisoning and examine school discipline policies. For the past two years he also has served as the chair of the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) ...

At every school and in every community there are children who feel like they have no friends and quietly suffer through each day – especially at lunchtime, recess and other moments where friends gather together.

Start With Hello, one of the many prevention programs started by the Sandy Hook Promise, helps students develop the social-emotional skills they need to reach out to and include those who may be dealing with chronic social isolation, and work to create a culture of inclusion and connectedness within their school or youth organization.

Social isolation is the overwhelming feeling of being left out, lonely, or treated like you are invisible. It is a growing epidemic in the United States and within our schools. Excessive feelings of isolation can be associated with violent and suicidal behavior. In fact, one study reports that chronic loneliness increases our risk of an early death by 14 percent. Furthermore, young people who are isolated can become victims of bullying, violence and/or depression. As a result, many further pull away from society, struggle with learning and social development and/or choose to hurt themselves or others. ...

My timing has never been the best; I first heard of teachers maintaining a “180 Blog” after I left the classroom to begin my administrative journey. But the allure of a blog where you upload one picture a day from your classroom was too strong, and thus my Admin180 blog was born in the summer of 2013. I was so excited “to be a “blogger” that I actually started posting more than two weeks before the school year started, using negative numbers to describe the days leading up to Day 1. ...

The National Education Association (NEA) is guided by the mantra “A Great Public School for Every Student,” while NEA Healthy Futures is committed to “Improving Schools, Improving Lives.” Each motto offers the vision of a society where all students have equal access and opportunity to lead successful lives. Unfortunately, the fact remains; the journey to achieving this success is mired by pitfalls and potholes that have permeated this society for far too long.

As a result, access and opportunity for all remains a mirage of hopes and dreams for many students; especially, for students of color. Why is this? Why in the 21st century are we still having the same conversations we have had in 18th, 19th, and 20th century? What is the stumbling block denying the “American Dream” for so many students? Two words—Institutional Racism. ...

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