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Robin Zorn is the American School Counselor Association's 2014 School Counselor of the Year. Ms. Zorn works at Mason Elementary School in Gwinnett County. She's tireless in her efforts to help some of our youngest students gain a strong foundation to build on for the rest of their academic career. By emphasizing both social-emotional well-being and college-and-career readiness, Ms.Zorn and her team at Mason Elementary empower children to dream and plan for their future while providing them the necessary supports to succeed. We're thrilled to highlight Ms.Zorn on our site as a representative for the great work being done by school counselors across the country.

Question: How long have you been a school counselor?

I started in 1994, so this is my 20th year.

Question: At what levels have you worked (elementary school, middle school, high school)?

I did my internship in the middle school, but I have been in elementary the entire 20 years.

Question: What led you to become a school counselor? ...

By Joshua McIntosh, for the National PTA

In a recent address to parent leaders, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called on parents to take education more seriously and be active in partnering with schools as we seek to raise expectations for students. The week prior, the Department of Education released new guidelines around improving climate and discipline policies in schools showing how suspensions, arrests, and expulsions can lead to negative outcomes for students and contribute to the phenomenon known as the school- to–prison pipeline. Given this, the high prevalence of out-of-school suspensions in our schools -- even for non-violent behaviors – is a serious concern.

As a teacher leader in New York City, I believe school discipline policy is the perfect example of an issue that allows parents and teachers to work together and prompt systemic change that can improve our schools.

The federal guidance package presents a solid argument for a long-known fact in educational communities around the country: school discipline policies and practices are in drastic need of reform – particularly in the way we work with minority students and students who receive special education services, like the students at my school. The task of improving school discipline policies and ...

By Jack Dale, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

Since the year 2000, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has made the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) available to countries around the world. In 2012, 65 countries participated in the once every three year cycle of PISA.  Each three year cycle emphasizes one of three content areas – Math, Science and Reading. In 2012 the emphasis was on Math. In 2015 the emphasis will be on Science.

Beginning this school year, individual schools across America are able to participate in the school-based version called OECD Test for Schools. Participating schools will have a random sample of 15-year olds selected to take part in a matrix sampling of test prompts covering all three content areas.

Questions now before schools and districts are: What kind of results would we get? What are implications for school/district policies and practices? Can this assessment better help us prepare students for needed 21st Century ...

School discipline policies often promote a zero tolerance approach that disproportionately, and negatively, affects minority children. Pushing students out of the building for behavioral infractions is not the answer; instead, policies should prioritize programs and actions that create safe environments for students to learn and thrive. Zero tolerance is easy, but it is not a real solution because it actually funnels many students towards the cracks, letting them fall through with little ability to pull them back. Yet many schools lack comprehensive alternative courses of action. Schools and states need to revise their approach to school discipline if they truly wish to leave no child behind. ...

National PTA's Every Child in Focus is a campaign to strengthen family engagement in schools by celebrating the achievements and reporting the disparities within diverse populations, and sharing resources and advocacy tools to help understand the needs of every child. January is the Month of the Suburban Child. Guest blogging for National PTA is Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings. Her work primarily focuses on urban and suburban poverty, metropolitan demographics, and tax policies that support low-income workers and communities. To learn more, visit PTA.org/EveryChild

Mapleton Public Schools—a suburban district just north of Denver, Colorado—serves more than 7,600 students from Pre-K through grade 12 in its 15 schools. Though its enrollment numbers have remained steady in recent years, this district has been grappling with significant changes. In the span of a decade, the number of Mapleton students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch doubled. By the 2010-11 school year, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of the student body was eligible for subsidized meals. As the number of low-income students has climbed, so too has the need for extra assistance that will help kids be ready to learn—from clothing and food to additional academic support.

Mapleton Public Schools isn’t alone. Suburban districts across the nation’s 100 largest metro areas have become home to growing low-income populations in recent years. In the last half of the 2000s, the number of suburban students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches grew by 22 percent, compared to an increase of just 8 percent in city districts during that time. At the same time, many school districts are also seeing more students experiencing homelessness.

These trends reflect larger shifts in the geography of poverty within the nation’s largest metro areas. Between 2000 and 2012, the population living below the federal poverty line in the suburbs (roughly $23,500 for a family of four in 2012) grew by 65 percent—more than twice the pace of growth in large cities and faster than the increases registered in smaller metro areas and ...

By Margaret Glick, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

We are teaching kids to live on a planet we’ve never seen.”  - Mary Catherine Bateson

This quote is as true now as it has ever been, but how are we to do this?  By developing students’ abilities to think critically, creatively and empathically.  How do we manage that?  By embedding three qualities—connection, purpose, and mastery into our classrooms. 

Brain research has given us a few solid principles in the past decade.  One is the concept of plasticity.  Plasticity is the ability the brain has to change with experiences.  Basically, our brain becomes what it does.  This is great news (or bad news, depending on what our brains are doing).  This means teachers can promote patterns of thinking that benefit students, and these patterns can become neural networks that assist whatever kind of thinking you’re after.  Another brain research principle is that emotions impact learning.  When we feel connected and safe in a classroom, a staffroom, or a boardroom, we are able to think in productive ways that might elude us otherwise.  Lastly, we know that when work is viewed as purposeful and relevant, the tracks of learning, inquiry, and motivation are greased. 

So how do we get there in classrooms?  How do we take some of the principles that have surfaced in brain research and apply ...

Tarsi Dunlop's picture

Top Success Stories of 2013

Looking back on 2013, the Learning First Alliance is pleased to bring you the five most viewed success stories* from the more than 170 stories housed on our site. Criteria for inclusion on the site is relatively straightforward – the story must show that a school, district or state identified a challenge, addressed it and produced positive results through their efforts. These results are measured in a variety of ways, from increased graduation rates or decreased dropout rates, to improved standardized test scores or positive outcomes in student health and behavior. Other indicators may highlight parent engagement, improved classroom performance, or new innovative practices that foster student engagement. Many stories also highlight the collaboration among education leaders. We would like to extend our thanks to all the organizations that allowed us to cross-post their features in this past year.

We wish you happy reading and a Happy New Year!

5. Using Electives to Get Struggling Students More Math

A Michigan district identified struggling students and then offered a math elective to help them reach their fullest potential. By holding them to high standards and ...

By Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director, National School Boards Association (NSBA)

One year later, the nation continues to memorialize the 26 adults and children who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, support their survivors, grieve, and move forward. For school board members, the urgency of making schools around the country safer and more responsive to future threats is an ongoing imperative and legacy of the Newtown shootings.

As part of their duties, school boards must ensure that school buildings keep children and school personnel safe without becoming fortresses. In cases of natural disasters and man-made situations, school buildings – equipped with high-occupancy gymnasiums and cafeterias – are often the first shelter, serving as community safe havens and command posts. School boards recognize that even the best emergency preparedness policy is perishable, and they are monitoring and improving their districts’ policies on a routine basis.

School districts can ensure that parents and the community have a clear and actionable understanding of emergency response plans. One example is ...

By Joan Richardson, Editor-in-Chief, Kappan magazine (PDK International)

I remember it like it was yesterday. Three girls driving home from a night of studying at the library. A shortcut down a hill behind the hospital. Probably laughing, definitely driving too fast. A train stalled at the crossing at the foot of the hill. And a crash.

Before I got to school the next morning, I already knew what had happened. We didn’t need social media; we had telephones and friends, and the news spread quickly.

Quiet filled the school hallways that day. The boys who had been dating those three girls and other boys who knew them well wore dark sunglasses all day; the girls just cried openly and often. Everybody seemed nicer that day. Some teachers still tried to teach, but most of the teachers and coaches let us interrupt their plans for the day so we could talk about our shock, our grief, our fear. They consoled us, and they let us see their own feelings of loss. Mostly from that day, I remember feeling how much those teachers loved each of us.

The high school closed on the day of the funerals. The churches and the families cooperated so all three funerals occurred on the same day, one right after the other, and we trudged from church to church to church, a long parade of grief. Exhausting but cathartic.

I’ve come to believe that there’s no such thing as an innocent bystander when it comes to tragedy in a school community or the grief that follows, whether it is the massive horrifying murders in places like Newtown or the much more common losses that schools experience almost every year. Everyone gets swept up in it because ...

After spending a day at Brattleboro Area Middle School (BAMS) in Vermont, I’m considering how my career path could overlap with living in this district. It isn’t likely, but my point is that I want my future hypothetical children to go to exactly this kind of school – and as a resident, I would want my local tax dollars to support this type of institution and all the amazing professionals that educate and care for the students in it.

BAMS is a public school serving 276 7th and 8th grade students, 46% on free and reduced lunch.  A long-time family friend is a science teacher at BAMS, and we’ve had some great conversations about education during my time working with the Learning First Alliance (LFA).  I was eager to visit his school, so he helped me connect with Principal Ingrid Christo. Upon my arrival, I was welcomed into the school and encouraged to sit in on meetings and classes and talk to people.  The entire day – full from start to finish – exemplified the best qualities that we should all look for in our neighborhood school.

What is it about BAMS that makes it feel so special? It starts with an overarching philosophy which results in a combination of exemplar outcomes: there is a building-wide commitment to ...

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