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Wake County families lobby for changes in student assignment plan
-- T. Keung Hui, Newsobserver

North Carolina: September 14, 2014 -- The student reassignment wars have returned to Wake County, with parents fighting the school system – and sometimes other parents – about where their children are assigned to go to school. Wake’s annual struggle over determining where students go to school took a one-year hiatus when the school board decided not to move any children for the school year in progress. But with a new student assignment proposal on the table for 2015-16, parents are mobilizing again to try to block potential changes in where their children go to school. “Keeping schools the same provides strong stability for our children,” Melissa Gilmore, a Wake Forest parent, said at a school board meeting earlier this month. “Children have far too many changing variables in their lives, and school changes do not need to be one of them. Taking children out of their current school isn’t good for their social, emotional or academic development.” The lobbying will likely ramp up over the next few months as Wake comes closer to completing a new plan. As a fast-growing district of 155,000 students, Wake County historically has reassigned thousands of students each year. In the mid- to late-2000s, high rates of growth led to mass reassignments and mandatory year-round schools, with unprecedented levels of opposition from the burgeoning suburbs that resulted in a 2009 change in board leadership. The board decided not to make any changes for the 2014-15 school year in anticipation of this new plan. Last month, school assignment staff unveiled the first draft of the plan that they say focuses primarily on filling new schools, reducing crowding at existing schools and reducing the number of families with children on different calendars. The plan mostly affects Apex, North Raleigh and Wake Forest. Administrators have encouraged public comments, saying they would be used in a second draft released in October. Comments will continue to be factored in when an official plan is presented to the school board in November, with a vote expected in December.

Chicago schools filthy with rodents, roaches, garbage — principals say
-- Valerie Strauss, Washington Post

Illinois: September 14, 2014 -- School reformers today, operating under the illusion that the private sector can do just about everything better and cheaper than government institutions, have been working to privatize public education by contracting out to private entities key operations of schools — and often entire schools. Such a move with the custodial force in Chicago Public Schools has, principals say, led to a mess. Nearly half of the principals in the district responded to a survey by the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association and said that ever since the school district awarded $340 million in two custodial management contracts in February to private concerns, their schools have been filthy, according to Catalyst Chicago. Principals reported serious problems with rodents, roaches and other bugs, filthy floors, overflowing garbage bins, filthy toilets, missing supplies such as toilet paper and soap, and broken furniture — issues they said they didn’t have before. Now, many said, they spend a lot of time trying to clean their buildings. The three-year contracts were awarded to Aramark ($260 million) and Sodexmagic ($80 million) to clean Chicago’s schools. At the time, school district spokesman Joel Hood issued a statement saying that the contracts would give “measurable benefits” that will make the schools “significantly cleaner while also saving the district tens of millions of dollars.” The district said a survey had showed that most schools were not clean enough before the contracts were awarded. There’s more: Now about 475 custodians who work under the management of Aramark — out of the district’s force of 2,500 — are going to be laid off, district officials said, a move that angered Troy LaRaviere, principal of Blaine Elementary School and chairman of the activist arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association that sent out the survey. He sent an e-mail to principals that said in part: “They don’t have enough custodians as it is and now this private company wants to lay off nearly 500 more in order to decrease their payroll and increase their profit margins at the expense of our schools and our students.”

State rethinking model school designs
-- Johanna Seltz, The Boston Globe

Massachusetts: September 14, 2014 -- After aggressively promoting model schools as a cost-saving approach to building new facilities, the state agency overseeing the construction process is reevaluating that approach — and has not approved a new model school project since 2012. The Massachusetts School Building Authority had approved 18 school projects in the three previous years using the model school approach, in which districts chose from a list of designs of previously constructed schools. The approved projects included the Duxbury Middle/High School, East Bridgewater High School, Franklin High School, Hingham Middle School, Marshfield High School, Natick High School, Newburyport’s Bresnahan Elementary School, Norwood High School, Plymouth North High School, Quincy Central Middle School, and Tewksbury Memorial High School. Communities participating in the program received extra “points” and, therefore, a larger reimbursement from the state of the final construction cost. The idea was that districts would save time and money by shortening the design process. But in practice, the approach had some flaws, according to Jack McCarthy, who took over as head of the school building authority in January 2012.

School gardens teach real life skills
-- Angela Breza-Pierce, Tallahassee Democrat

Tennessee: September 12, 2014 -- It is 2 p.m. on a hot and humid Wednesday afternoon. Students drop their backpacks outside the picket fence and gather trowels, rakes and baskets from the storage area. It’s “Weeding Wednesday” at Chiles High School’s garden. The students are excited and inquisitive: “Potatoes in the ground?” “I smell something wonderful!” “Look at all the bees!” And my favorite, “Can we pick it now and eat it?” There is a growing divide between today’s youth and the ecology that surrounds them. Many young people stay inside in front of computers or playing video games, exploring virtual reality instead of the natural world. Traditional classrooms are too often tightly structured and stifle a student’s creative exploration. School gardens are outdoor classrooms where learning happens through trial and error and hands-on experiences. Their benefits are numerous, substantiated by an abundance of research and anecdotal evidence. They are a means of improving academic success, promoting good health, demonstrating stewardship, fostering community and instilling a sense of place. School gardens have been shown to improve math, science, writing, social studies and attitudes toward learning. Teachers view school gardens as living laboratories, a botany lesson on a plate, math for determining the growth rate of plants, and the muse for writing a poem. Gardens represent a pure and direct experimental, inquiry-based approach to learning. Students benefit enormously from school gardens by gaining knowledge of good nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices. Besides exposing students to fresh veggies, school gardening also requires physical work. Students burn energy pulling weeds, shoveling compost or mulching the beds with pine straw. Working in the garden is very different from the traditional classroom where students sit in a desk for most of the day. Every school resides within a watershed and ecosystem. These systems have water, waste and energy flowing into and out of them and this can be clearly demonstrated in a school garden. School gardens reduce the school’s ecological impact through composting food scraps, mulching beds with pine straw and harvesting rainwater with rain barrels. Understanding the ecosystem in which the school is located fosters a strong environmental stewardship ethic. School gardens also encourage community and social development. Life skills such as teamwork, volunteerism and communication are products of working in the garden. These skills are important to the development of youth and a strong community. Being involved in the school garden gives students an understanding of the area and a sense of place — what the natural world looks, feels and smells like. Recognizing this helps them distinguish how they are the same and how they are different from the rest of the world.

Country’s First “Net-Zero” Energy School Opens In Coppell
-- Staff Writer, CBS DFW

Texas: September 12, 2014 -- It may look like any normal school building, but it is anything but. Coppell ISD opened the doors to Lee Elementary this year, as the country’s first “net-zero” energy school. “Net-zero” means the school will produce as much energy as it uses, so its net energy consumption equals zero! While kids are busy making the grades, the building itself is making just about everything else . It harvests daylight so students can see, recaptures water on rainy days to irrigate the soil and flush the toilets, collects electricity through wind turbines. “I’ve never seen a school like this that’s so fancy. It’s very, very beautiful,” says fifth grader, Sanskar Singh. First year principal Chantel Kastrounis takes CBS 11 on a tour of the school, showing off everything but the classrooms. She says traditional classrooms don’t exist here. “We call them spaces, and so our designers utilize the spaces based on the needs. So it could be how they arrange the furniture to how they use the materials or how they even use the walls,” she explained. Thanks to special paint, learning happens on walls, windows, and all over the place. The furniture is made to move around and it does. The configurations change as often as the lessons in a school built to create more energy than it uses. “Everything from the carpet, to the paint, to the materials in the walls, all contribute to the sustainability and the green component of this building,” said Coppell ISD Assistant Superintendent Sid Grant.

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