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The 5 Best Run Large City School Districts In America

Running a large school system is one of the most complex and daunting challenges an organizational leader can undertake, but […]

Running a large school system is one of the most complex and daunting challenges an organizational leader can undertake, but many US city school systems are proving they are up to the challenge. The following school districts are recognized among the best-run large city school districts in America for their ability to raise student achievement, for winning large awards and grants, and for per dollar performance in difficult economic times.

1) Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Miami, Florida
M-DCPS is the nation’s fourth largest public school system and the 2012 winner of the coveted Broad Prize for Urban Education. Alberto Carvalho has been the superintendent since 2008. Through a data driven approach to instructional reform, the district reduced its number of “F” state-graded schools from 13 to zero. He secured $700 million in Race to the Top funding and was able to get voter approval for a $1.2 billion dollar general obligation bond. Graduation rates are at an all-time high of 76%.

2) Charlotte-Mecklenberg Schools, Charlotte, North Carolina
Under the three year leadership of Dr. Heath E. Morrison, CMS has seen a 14 point increase in high school graduation rates, to a total of 70%, with rates increasing across all schools and student groups. The achievement gap is closing and enrollment in Advanced Placement scores is seeing significant increase. CMS won the Broad Prize for Urban Education in 2011 and Heath Morrison recently won the AASA National Superintendent of the Year.

3) Houston Independent School District, Houston, Texas
On the watch of Superintendent Terry B. Grier, HISD has seen its graduation rates increase to an all-time high of 78.5% and the amount of scholarships procured by high school seniors triple in amount to a total of $180 million dollars. The district’s Apollo 20 program aimed at turning around failing schools has received national recognition and the district was a 2012 Broad Prize finalist. Dr. Grier is a recipient of the American Association of School Administrators’ prestigious Effie H. Jones Humanitarian Award for his support of women and minorities in education.

4) Denver Public Schools, Denver, CO
Although not yet a winner of the coveted Broad Prize, Denver Public Schools is catching the eye of education reformers and earning respect for its achievement gains and ability to bring together all stakeholders. Superintendent Tom Boasberg has posted record enrollment increases and cut the number of its lowest performing state rated schools by two-thirds during his three years running the schools. Denver’s performance-pay system (ProComp) is a national role model in reform circles. All eyes are also on DPS’s new LEAP system of teacher evaluation, funded by a $10 million dollar Gates grant and being held up as a model of teacher union-district administration collaboration in tough teacher evaluation reforms. The system requires teachers to be held accountable for student performance and to meet tough standards of frequent classroom observations.

5) Marin County Public Schools, California
Finally, Marin County earns a spot on the list for its fiscal conservancy. Though this district outside San Francisco is not quite as large as the others, it is ranked first in Forbes magazine’s “Best School Districts for the Buck” and that is something that can’t be ignored in a time of economic challenge. With per pupil spending of just over $6,000, the district manages to graduate 96% of its students and earn some of the highest college entrance exam scores in the country. Something can be learned from Marin County in terms of how to get the most student achievement bang for your buck.

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Hilde Brandt is a school district administrator and guest author at Best Education Degrees, where she contributed to the guide to the Top Online Masters in Education Programs.

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