For years, school districts followed the tradition of starting school after Labor Day. The practice of starting classes in September may have roots in the need for children in rural communities to help in the harvest in the last days of August. Other reasons include lack of air conditioning, state mandates, and, of course, testing requirements.

However, the September date didn’t work for everyone. A number of school boards, their superintendent, administrators, and teachers decided that starting school before Labor Day worked better for their students and their community. Going against tradition is hard. As school board members, we know that changing school schedules will impact students, staff, and families. But districts made the adjustment believing it was best for their students.

This decision to break from the status quo and find new and better ways to serve our students is happening in public schools all over the country. Consider these examples among the winners of the 2023 Magna Awards:

Nebraska’s Grand Fork Public Schools established the Mentor Center to help ease the mental health challenges and learning loss caused by the pandemic. The drop-in center is open to all middle and high school students in the afternoons and evenings and provides free transportation, free food on-site, and take-home food. The teachers, tutors, and mental health/social-emotional learning specialists serve as case managers monitoring grades, conducting check-ins, acting as liaisons and advocates with school and home, and becoming cheerleaders and trusted adults to students.

New York’s Baldwin Union Free School District started the Education Academy to encourage students to consider education careers. High school students take credit-bearing courses toward a teaching degree and gain hands-on K-12 teaching experience within Baldwin schools. The Education Academy maps a direct path for students to successfully transition from high school into a local college as sophomores and back to Baldwin to complete their student teaching requirements in their senior year of college.

Oregon’s Portland Public Schools responded to the climate crisis with the Climate Crisis Response Policy, passed by the school board in March 2022. The district will construct and renovate schools to be energy-efficient, resilient, and adaptable. All new buildings will be built without fossil fuel infrastructure, and fossil fuels will be phased out from existing buildings by 2050. The district will maximize carbon sequestration and other environmental benefits of school grounds and minimize greenhouse gas emissions from student and staff transportation. These and other changes are ways to accomplish a 50% emissions reduction by the district in the next eight years, and net zero emissions by 2040.

It's so important that we tell the stories of our district innovations and the work our teachers and administrators do every day to make sure our students learn and thrive. If we don’t tell our stories, others who do not know what happens in our classrooms will take up the narrative. We can’t let that happen.

As you can see from these examples, NSBA’s Magna Awards program is one way to tell your stories. For more than 25 years, the Magna Awards have been shining a light on innovative solutions to district challenges. Tell us your story by applying for the 2024 Magna Awards at The deadline is Oct. 31. Winners will be featured in the April 2024 issue of ASBJ and honored at NSBA’s annual conference in New Orleans.

We are waiting to hear from you.

Kristi Swett is NSBA’s 2023-24 president and a member of Utah’s Salt Lake City School Board.


Around NSBA

A group of high school students paint on canvases during an art class.

2023 Magna Awards Grand Prize Winners

School districts rethink and reinvent education for their students, staff, and communities.