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15 Schools Get Nabisco Grants For 'Bold Ideas'

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Washington--Rjr Nabisco Inc. last week awarded $8.5 million to 15 schools that are pursuing "radical changes" in learning environments.

The grants are the first in a projected $30-million program, known as "Next Century Schools," aimed at encouraging schools to take risks to improve student performance.

Louis V. Gerstner Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of rjr Nabisco, said at a press conference here that the grants represent "venture capital to enable those entrepreneurs and risk-takers in education to break up the institutional gridlock that has stifled innovation and creativity."

"The guiding principle of Next Century Schools," he said, "is 'No more commissions. No more reports. Let's find bold ideas and see if they work."'

The three-year grants of from $100,000 to $250,000 per year support a range of projects, including extending the school year, instituting a year-round calendar, launching parental-education programs, reforming curricula, boosting counseling services, and training teachers.

The recipients--selected from among nearly 1,000 applications--include elementary, middle, and high schools in inner cities, rural areas, and wealthy suburbs. One recipient, the Magnet School of Math, Science, and Technology in Washington, is a new school scheduled to open in September.

Nine of the 15 schools are located in the District of Columbia, New Jersey, and North Carolina, the home bases of the rjr Nabisco Foundation and the firm's major divisions. At those sites, Mr. Gerstner said, company officials have secured the cooperation of the state's political and education leaders to cut through any bureaucratic obstacles that might impede innovation.

Acknowledging that many of the projects may fail, Mr. Gerstner said the foundation has created a panel, chaired by former Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, to devise a system for measuring whether participating schools are meeting their goals.

Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, praised the program for encouraging fundamental reforms, and for focusing on improvements at the school-building level.

"Of all the places one might want to intervene to change schools, the school is the place it's going to happen or not happen," he said.

At the same time, Mr. Shanker noted, the program will bring substantial resources to bear to enable schools to remake their operations.

"When companies restructure, they close or build a new plant," he said. "Schools are asked to fly the airplane and redesign it at the same time."

Despite the recent debate by the District of Columbia Board of Education over the propriety of accepting funds from a cigarette manufacturer, the Philip Morris Company, Mr. Gerstner said the issue of rjr Nabisco's sponsorship is unlikely to come up at any participating site. (See Education Week, March 31, 1990.)

"All the applications were voluntary," he said, adding that the company "does not seek, nor would it accept," endorsement of its commercial products.

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