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Principal Reaches for the Stars ... and Misses

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Two strikes and a Cincinnati high-school principal says he is out--out of the business of soliciting celebrity support for education.

In a year in which education reform has been at the top of the national agenda, Roger Effron, principal of Aiken High School, thought he could motivate students by collecting pro-education messages from nationally known personalities.

Last year, he sent letters to 48 "celebrities," asking that they record a brief message to Aiken students on the importance of education. Five-minute tapes were donated to the school by a local firm that participates in a school-business partnership. Mr. Effron says he planned to play the tapes once a week over the public-address system to accompany morning announcements.

But Representative Louis Stokes, Ohio's first black Congressman, was the only person who responded.

Comedian Joan Rivers sent her message in a letter. The Chrysler Corporation's president, Lee Iacocca, took the time to write, only to say he didn't have the time to record. And Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said he was speaking only to legal groups these days.

Undaunted, Mr. Effron decided this year to solicit taped messages from 40 locally known personalities, thinking he might get better response if he stuck closer to home.

He did. He got three responses. City Manager Sylvester Murray returned the recorded tape immediately, "so he gets an A-plus," Mr. Effron says. A municipal court judge and a former city lawyer also responded with taped messages.

On the basis of those results, Mr. Effron has decided to give up on the project. And while he isn't exactly flunking those who failed to respond to his request, he says he is disappointed in them. "With all the national reports that have come out critical of education," he says, "I think it's really everybody's responsibility to help when they can."

Mr. Effron gives himself "an A on the idea and an F on the results.''

But he isn't without his dreams. "Just imagine if it had worked," he says. "Imagine kids going home and saying, 'Mom, guess who spoke in school today? Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall."'

"That's about all we can do," Mr. Effron says, surveying the results. "Imagine it."

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