For nearly 30 years, the Magna Awards have recognized innovative school district programs. Our winning programs—the Grand Prize winners and the Silver Award winners—represent the enormous efforts of school leaders and district staff to reinvent and rethink education for their students, staff, and communities.

We present these winning programs with the hope that you will discover information that you can use in your districts. Our profiles give you an overview of the programs, including evidence of success. We include district contact information so you can find out more from the school leaders and staff who manage these initiatives.

In addition to the following stories, we created an opportunity for you to learn from the three Grand Prize-winning districts representing three enrollment categories. They will be presenting on their programs at NSBA’s Annual Conference, April 6 to 8, in New Orleans.

We invite you to connect with your peers to gain insights and practical ideas to create more equitable schools for your students. Consider entering your district program in the 2025 Magna Awards. More information is available at the Magna Awards webpage:


Under 5,000 enrollment


Two women enrolled in a jail education culinary program show the dessert that they made.



Corrections Literacy and Job Skills: A Second Chance

Orleans/Niagara Board of Education Map

A decade ago, the Orleans/Niagara BOCES Adult Literacy Program was asked to take over the GED program at the Niagara County Jail from the local school district. The recidivism rate at the jail was over 80%. The Bureau of Justice reported that 69% of jailed inmates lack a high school diploma. The education level of the inmates is much lower than the population of Niagara County as a whole, which indicated the need for increased education to provide employment and further academic opportunities. The initial challenge was to provide basic skills and GED preparation for students age 16 and older that would lead to a New York State High School Equivalency Diploma. BOCES staff realized early on that, upon release, the student would need more than a high school diploma to be successful in the real world. In addition to inmates who lacked a high school diploma, others who already had a diploma had no other education programs available to them.

An introductory job readiness training class provided computer literacy, resume preparation, online applications, interviewing techniques, and soft skills which prepared the student for employment. The first training program was landscaping. The students practiced what they learned in class to improve the grounds surrounding the jail. As the recidivism rate started to decline, staff added a summer program for small engine repair. Construction trades was added for the last three summers.

Chef Bobby Anderson started a program called F-Bites to give back to the underprivileged and underserved population in Niagara and Erie Counties. He started out as a dishwasher and ended up as a chef working for Chef Gordon Ramsey in London. Anderson found himself in trouble as a youth and understood the reality of jail. He believed that cooking offered the opportunity to teach important skills. These classes are run in the evenings in the jail kitchen. During the six-week program, students learn teamwork, appreciation of nutrition, respect, and meal preparation. The students prepare a meal each night and then sit down to eat and enjoy. Each student receives a certificate at the end of the program, as well as an invitation to connect with Anderson upon release about a job waiting for them.

Transition specialists work with the students throughout their jail term to provide an education and employment plan that will be the basis for short- and long-term goals. After their release, they transition to the Literacy Zone Welcome Centers, and staff continue the process that began in jail. BOCES has also partnered with the local community college to offer credit bearing classes that can be the start of obtaining an associate degree after release.

In the 10 years of providing programs at the jail, the recidivism rate has dropped to under 15%. The focus on education, training, and positive goal planning has provided a pathway to a new lease on life for the inmates at the Niagara County Jail.

By providing these opportunities at the jail, BOCES has successfully transitioned students who entered jail with low literacy and skills deficiency to successful employees when they return to their community. With the help of the transition specialists and case managers who follow the individuals throughout the process, there are employment opportunities waiting for them after release.

Lack of transportation, generational welfare, illiteracy, and reliance on public assistance have left many youth and adults without resources or the will to overcome these barriers to break the cycle of poverty. Orleans/Niagara BOCES’ goal is to provide additional programming for the participants while incarcerated to change the mindset that there is no hope for the future. Everyone deserves a second chance.



Superintendent Clark Godshall


5,000-20,000 enrollment


A high school student enrolled in a manufacturing class works at a computer numerical control mill.



Life Ready Center

Lawton Public Schools Map

The Life Ready Center (LRC) is a collaborative center that serves as an extension for Lawton Public Schools’ (LPS) three high schools and alternative programs for students in grades nine to 12. When Superintendent Kevin Hime arrived in 2019, he noticed that the high schools did not offer enough courses and there were inadequacies in the programs offered. The district was struggling to find qualified teachers to support courses such as Family and Consumer Science or Advance Placement Psychology. While one high school could provide the course, the other two high schools could not. This shortage of highly qualified teachers meant that many students were left unable to take the courses they wanted or needed.

Hime saw an opportunity to turn this negative situation into a positive one. He quickly got to work by organizing meetings, gathering feedback, and identifying the right person to lead the transformation to a center of STEM innovation and student collaborations. Thanks to these efforts, the district now boasts a thriving hub of creativity, learning, and pride for the community.

In its third year, the LRC provides accessible, high-quality, and collaborative education for LPS students. Lawton’s three high schools and nontraditional programs can directly access a variety of classes, including Advanced Placement, Future Farmers of America, and Agriculture, as well as an ever-expanding selection of introductory and advanced electives. All LPS high school students have access to these activities, enabling them to explore several career paths in one location.

The district partners with local educational organizations, including Cameron University and the Great Plains Technology Center. Through these partnerships, the LRC delivers numerous on-site programs, dual-enrollment courses, and valuable resources to students. Students are able to take advantage of dual enrollment virtually through one of the state-approved campuses to include Oklahoma State University, the University of Oklahoma, Western Oklahoma State College, and Langston University.

Students have taken advantage of the business partnerships and collaborations provided by the LRC. For example, students who have taken the floral design class are now employed at local flower shops. Business management students are running the balloon store that supports district events and community requests. Many advanced photography students are getting published in the district magazine and local newspaper.

The district also ensures that students at traditional sites face no commuting hurdles. Regular shuttle services operate every hour of the school day, transporting students to and from the LRC and their home schools seamlessly to allow for these collaborative opportunities.

Since opening the doors in August 2021, the LRC has attracted new students to the district and the site itself has seen an increase in student enrollment each year.

In 2021, 415 students enrolled with 26 course offerings. In 2022, enrollment doubled with 935 students and 52 course offerings. In 2023, enrollment has again increased with nearly 1,550 students coming and going throughout the school day and 56 course offerings.

Not only has the LRC seen new courses added, but many are at the request of students. These programs include Comanche Language I and II, Meteorology, Floral Design, Renewable Energy, Ag Mechanics, and Advanced Culinary Skills. The success of the LRC is evident in the growing population of the student enrollment and course offerings. Next year will be even bigger as community partnerships grow.

Due to its popularity within the Lawton Fort Sill community, many organizations have sponsored or donated funds to grow the capabilities of the LRC. The McMahon Foundation funded the new Ag Mechanic facility. The Lawton Public School Foundation funded the floral cooler for the Floral Design class. The Greater Lawton Rotary Club donated funds to purchase brand new tools and equipment for the Ag Mechanics students.



Kevin Hime, superintendent


Over 20,000 enrollment


A high school student sits at a desk working on drone.



Aerospace Engineering and Aviation Technology

Prince George's County Public Schools Map

Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) embarked on a journey to elevate opportunities for students by introducing the Aerospace Engineering & Aviation Technology (AEAT) Program. This initiative emerged as a response to the changing landscape of the career market and the evolving needs of students in the 21st century. PGCPS recognized the importance of providing students with a specialized program in these fields that would not only empower them with the skills necessary for success but also position them as leaders in a rapidly changing world. Launched in the fall of 2014, the program is a rigorous four-year high school course of study that provides college-level academic experiences with content and application focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) through the lens of aerospace engineering and aviation.

This signature program is offered at DuVal High School and serves all district high school students. AEAT provides students a small learning community with a safe, collegiate atmosphere and high expectations with a support system. The program aims to address disparities in educational opportunities, so there is no application requirement. All district eighth-grade students are considered for the program, thereby ensuring that all students, regardless of their background, have an opportunity to excel in STEM fields. Transportation to the program also is provided.

Students select a major (aerospace engineering or aviation technology), and their STEM coursework is concentrated in their selected major with specific STEM courses required for each major. As upperclassmen, students can participate in internships, dual enrollment classes, and a signature research practicum that result in a STEM-focused project. Students showcase their research and findings at an annual senior research symposium.

In the research practicum course, students conduct research that is applicable to current challenges within the field of aviation and aeronautics engineering. Past research practicum projects include the following: new designs for flight simulators, wind tunnel analytics, drone technology, inventing future aircraft, and construction of carbon nanotubes.

The AEAT internship allows students to gain real-world experience by working alongside current industry professionals at leading governmental agencies and private companies in the aeronautics and aviation industries. Students work to solve problems at companies such as NASA Goddard, Aerospace Corporation, Torch Technologies, DCS Corporation, AlarisPro, and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

AEAT graduated its first class in May 2018. In May 2023, it celebrated its sixth graduating class and
will celebrate its 10-year anniversary in the fall of 2024. Its achievement milestones include a 100% graduation rate and an average grade point average above 3.3. Over 75% of students earn scholarships for postsecondary education, with the class of 2023 earning over $13.8 million in total scholarships. Over 90% of graduates are admitted to colleges/universities, enter the military, or enter the world of work. They are accepted and attend college at major Division I research universities such as the University of Maryland at College Park, Emory Riddle University, Johns Hopkins, Georgia Tech, and the United States Naval Academy. They major in aeronautics, engineering, aviation, pre-medicine, and other fields such as psychology. Graduates of the program consistently find themselves well-prepared for higher education and careers.


Desann Manzano-Lee, coordinating supervisor of specialty programs

Around NSBA

Six students conduct a science experiment with potatoes and electrodes.

2024 Magna Awards: Silver Award Winners

The 2024 Magna Awards program recognizes 15 exemplary district programs in three enrollment categories as Silver Award winners.