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District Administration names Newton-Conover Schools One of 24 National ‘Districts of Distinction’

Innovative districts nationwide honored in DA’s biannual award program

Newton, NC[August 1, 2016] — In its July edition, District Administration magazine has honored 24 more school districts as Districts of Distinction. This is the sixth round of honorees in this national recognition program, which began in November 2014.

Districts of Distinction was created by District Administration magazine to honor school districts that are leading the way with new ideas that work. Honorees were selected based on the quantifiable results and replicability of their initiatives. The July 2016 Districts of Distinction honorees were selected by the magazine’s editors from numerous nominations.

The 24 school systems honored in this round of Districts of Distinction, from 16 states, have launched programs that range from partnering with outside organizations for career training to providing healthy breakfasts in classrooms to facilitate learning.

Newton-Conover City Schools was selected to be a District of Distinction for its “Innovative Grants: Transforming Rent into Innovation in NC Schools” program.  Dr. David Stegall, Superintendent, built this initiative to both solve a pre-existing facilities issue, and increase teacher leadership and student autonomy.

“Educators by nature are innovative and creative. A lot of innovation happens from risking and failing however,” says Stegall. “Too often in education we play it safe for fear of failing and due to pressures of high stakes testing. We’ve asked our teachers to take risks and to ask the ‘what ifs’. We would rather lead instead of letting others take the risk and maybe two or three years down the line get on board.”

This project, which began in 2014, has fostered innovation in our schools and communities for the two cycles since its beginning.  In a time of extensive state-level trickle-down budget cuts, many leaders are throwing their hands up and cutting programs.  

“This is especially relevant and timely now for Local Educational Agencies nationwide, as the billions of dollars of Race to the Top funding that was formerly used to provide innovative programs has concluded. By generating revenue through the rental of our facilities to external parties, we have made a continual funding source for this program where there was not one, to the naked eye,” says Jamie Frye, Public Information Officer for Newton-Conover City Schools.

Another point to be made is that the impact of this program is driven with teachers and students steering at the helm.

“Through the Innovative Grant program, funds for passion projects on the parts of students and teachers alike become available to spark continual growth and cutting-edge practices.  These teachers and students also create video documentaries of their projects that are shared district-wide, where the project winners are chosen by the teachers and announced at an awards ceremony.  Now, the breadth of grants is vast, from up-scaling a media center, to water-cleansing bioswale, to a Creativity Room with vast technology.  By putting these projects into the hands of the people who impact our students most on a daily basis, our culture has been transformed into one of self-motivated thinkers, iterative designers who are not afraid to try new things, fail forward, and try again.  Through this, our schools are growing by leaps and bounds,” Frye said.

Some of the other projects recognized with this honor include one carried forth by high school juniors and seniors in Lee’s Summit R-7 School District in Missouri, participating in the Missouri Innovation Campus, which offers practical instruction in technology-related fields followed by internships with local businesses. Compton Unified School District in California partners with nearby California State University, Dominguez Hills for Project Reach in which college students serve as reading tutors for socioeconomically disadvantaged children. And in New Jersey, students with special needs at Henry Hudson Regional School find comfort, support and, ultimately, success, thanks to Hudson, a certified service dog.

“What distinguishes these districts is developing exemplary ways to support students in the educational process beyond traditional classroom lessons,” says JD Solomon, editorial director at District Administration magazine. “We hope our readers are inspired by the innovation of these honorees to create successful initiatives in their own districts.”

To view a full list of honorees, visit

About District Administration

District Administration provides K12 leaders with critical news and information for school district management, through its monthly magazine, website, e-newsletters and the District Administration Leadership Institute Superintendent Summits. For more information, visit


About James Frye

James Frye (@mrjamesfrye) serves as Instructional Technology Facilitator and Public Information Officer for Newton-Conover City Schools. Formerly, he was an English and Journalism Teacher at Newton-Conover High School and a Blended/Virtual English Teacher. He is a NC Teaching Fellow and studied education abroad at the Hochschule Magdeburg-Stendal in Germany. James holds a Post-Masters Certificate in Educational Leadership & Cultural Foundations from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a M.A. in Curriculum & Instruction with a Graduate Certificate in Educational Technology from Michigan State University, and a B.A. in English/Education from Lenoir-Rhyne University, where he serves as an Adjunct Professor. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Law with The University of Kentucky. In addition to modeling technological and leadership innovation and leading various professional learning, Jamie also serves statewide on the NC Digital Learning Initiative Advisory Board/Home Base Design Team, the NC Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development’s Board of Directors, the #NCed Leadership Team, and is co-founder of Edcamp WNC. He is a member of the NC Digital Leadership Coaches’ Network, and was named an international Emerging Leader by ASCD in 2015. He resides in Hickory with his wife and their baby girl.

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