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To the Editor

The article in your March 20, 1991, issue headed "'Baby Boomlet' Brings Boom in School Construction Projects" is right on target. But there is one element that should be added. That element is--the need to understand how to contract for an architect.

Before a school district even considers hiring an architect, it should develop a process that has three distinct components. The first is how to select an architect. The second concerns understanding the relationship between the architect and the school district, and the third is negotiating an architect agreement.

All too often, a superintendent of schools will attend a convention of some professional group and, after reviewing an architectural exhibit, decide that he or she likes the work of a particular architect and sign a letter of intent. Any legal protection that a school district might have had could be lost by that simple act. Calling in an attorney for help at that time would be akin to the old expression of "closing the barn door after the horse has escaped."

In selecting an architect, a school board should look at the capability of the person or firm in terms of competency and fiscal viability, as well as time and willingness to undertake the project. The district should know the names of the principals, qualifications for the specific project, owners of similar projects, lists of projects currently under contract, pending litigation or regulatory complaints, insurance policies applicable to the project, and much more.

Most laymen believe that an architect is a person employed by the owner to carry out the wishes of the owner. However, the standard American Institute of Architects contract allocates responsibilities to the owner and contractor and places the architect almost in a position of independent observer, or, even worse, as an arbitrator between the school district and the general contractor.

The advice of the National School Boards Association is: Don't sign the standard aia contract--modify it based on the advice of your attorney. An even better procedure is to prepare your own contract in advance and invite prospective architects to bid on your specifications.

In the current economy, where the construction industry is highly competitive, school districts have found out that through hard negotiations, valuable education funds can be saved and, equally important, that if something does go wrong with the project, the responsibility lies with the architect and/or contractor, not with the school district.

August W. Steinhilber
General Counsel
National School Boards Association
Alexandria, Va.

To the Editor:

David G. Meyers ("Don't All Children Have Gifts?" Commentary, Jan. 16, 1991) writes that "95 percent of children are ungifted"--with implications that they are labeled losers. Horsefeathers! Being "gifted" is not an honor. It is a given, like curly hair or short toes or freckles.

Consider that many "gifted" children are rewarded by: social isolation and scorn for having intense feelings and unusual views; resentment for the ability to quickly master information, thereby foiling the traditional lesson plans of teachers; or irritation for asking questions requiring time and reflection to explain about inconsistencies that occur all around them.

Often these children hide their uniqueness so they won't be singled out. They pay a price by denying their very nature. Sometimes they rebel, sometimes they learn to fit in and feed egos around them, and frequently they drop out.

Mr. Meyers implies that "tracking" is gifted education. Again,4horsefeathers! He states, "No wonder the communal societies of Japan and China have no tracking in their schools." It is our understanding that the students in China conform to rigid school expectations (one track) or are dropped from the school rolls. This tracking ignores the needs of students at the extreme ends of the bell curves.

The students at the extremes need a differentiated curriculum to realize their potential. No program worth its salt is simplistic enough to use a single indicator to determine which children need such a curriculum (which, by the way is not repackaged content.) Unusual scores often signal there is something worth looking at more closely.

Mr. Meyers quoted John Gardner's question, "How can we provide opportunities and rewards for individuals of every degree of ability so that individuals at every level will realize their full potentialities, perform at their best, and harbor no resentment toward any other level?" Let's get together as our children's professional support system to recognize, accept, and celebrate each student's need to do this in order to provide equality of opportunity for all students.

Katie Geotzmann
Sharon Stanton
Betty Schaeffer
Teachers
Wayne Central School District
Ontario Center, N.Y.

To the Editor:

As a detector of phonies and phony-isms, with the courage to expose them in print, Susan Ohanian is virtually without a peer ("Against 'Collaboration': Reading and Writing Are Not Social Acts," Commentary, Feb. 13, 1991).

She is also a superlative writer. And whatever research may tell us about the benefits of collaboration, I have never read any that denied the value of innate talent or of individual dedication to the work of prose construction.

Because of her dedication, her gifts, and her guts, Susan Ohanian's articles will continue to be published in the best periodicals in the field of education.

Edgar H. Schuster
Language Arts Supervisor
Neshaminy School District
Langhorne, Pa.

To the Editor:

Thomas A. Shannon skirts the main issue in denouncing Chester E. Finn Jr.'s observations about the coming educational reform ("Local Control and 'Organizacrats,"' Commentary, Feb. 13, 1991; "Reinventing Local Control," Commentary Jan. 23, 1991). The main issue is not that esoteric or intellectual after all. It concerns the control of money. The issue is who shall control the $230 billion or so that goes into the state educational apparatus.

Mr. Shannon would have us believe that it is the public that controls the money through democratically elected school boards and legislatures.

It is sad to see a myth murdered by a gang of facts. The steady decline of performance in the huge state-run school systems, the growing approval of the public in poll after poll on "choice," and the continuing success of the nongovernment school sector all are trying to point to what must be.

All around the globe, folks are telling their governments that they want to run their own lives. The people are saying that they can do a better job, for themselves and their country, if allowed to succeed or fail on their own efforts. State-run enterprises are fouling up the works!

This is not an anarchical statement. There are only a few fringe libertarians who want to do away with all government services. Most folks want the government to do what it can do best, but to leave to citizens what they can do for themselves. They don't need a Big Nanny in Washington or any state capital to tell them how to run their lives.

This concept is catching on in schooling. In a way, the public schools are a victim of their success. When Horace Mann started the state-school concept in the 1840's, the schooling level of the population was just over the 3rd grade. Now it is over the 12th grade. It took about 120 years to reach that point, but now the American public, and American parents in particular, are saying they can figure out for themselves what is a good or bad school--what philosophy and methodology they want for their children. We don't need to spend 50 percent of the educational tax dollars on a self-anointed bureaucracy.

The battle, then, is over who shall control the $230 billion. Naturally, the National School Boards Association and the teachers' unions, and all the other members of the Establishment want to retain control.

It has been fun, fellows, but the party is about to end. The future is freedom of initiative for teachers and freedom of choice for parents.

Putting control of the money into the hands of the teachers and parents, with government's role confined to health and safety standards, solves the equalization issue, the religious issue, the accountability issue, and a host of other seemingly impossible problems, many caused by the inflexibility of state rules trying to make the schools be all things to all people.

Robert S. Marlowe
Executive Director
Citizens for Educational Freedom
Upper Marlboro, Md.

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