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In the past 10 years I have written two books and co-written a third about the role schools have in helping kids achieve academic success; I am convinced that schools are where the main action is. But schools don’t exist in isolation — they are part of school districts, which play an enormous role in setting the conditions under which schools operate and in selecting and supporting school leaders. (To see an interesting report along these lines, check out Districts Matter.) Lately my colleagues and I have been searching for districts that have something important to share with the field — those that don’t just have one or two successful schools but that have moved forward as a whole.

We decided to start small, in order to gain an understanding of all the levers available to a district. As we continue, we’ll look for larger districts to learn from. But so far our search has led us to Pass Christian School District in Mississippi. (I write about my most recent visit there in the Huffington Post.) Pass Christian was almost completely flattened by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but the district set up trailers in empty land next to the only school not destroyed (DeLisle Elementary) and kept moving. About two-thirds of its 2,200 students receive free and reduced-price meals, and one-third of its students are African American; at one point not terribly long ago, it had a significant gap in who graduated from its high school. Last year 85 percent of its white, black, low-income, and non-low-income students graduated — significantly higher rates than the rest of the state.

Pass Christian isn’t a perfect district — the folks there will be the first to say that. But they have put in place a vision and have worked hard to build coherent systems, policies, and procedures to support that vision. We think others might be interested in hearing from them. We will host a webinar, “Hard-Won Lessons From Improving School Districts,” with the superintendent and school leaders of Pass Christian School District at 4 p.m. (EST) April 9. To register, please visit this link. (Thanks to support from The Wallace Foundation, registration is free.) Have questions now? Tweet them beforehand using #districtsmatter.

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