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RJR Nabisco, NASDC Projects Share Ideology, Money, Leaders

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RJR Nabisco Inc.'s "Next Century Schools'' initiative is widely seen as a prototype for one of the most closely watched new undertakings in American education: the New American Schools Development Corporation.

The private, nonprofit new-schools corporation, like RJR Nabisco, plans to use private funds to underwrite "break the mold'' schools that will serve as models for fundamental reform in American education. NASDC was set up with corporate financing last year as a complement to President Bush's America 2000 school-reform strategy.

The RJR Nabisco and NASDC projects do not only share a common philosophy, however. RJR has contributed $1.1 million to the new-schools corporation's fund-raising efforts, and there is an extensive overlap in the leadership of the two initiatives.

Louis V. Gerstner Jr., the chairman and chief executive of RJR Nabisco, is the vice chairman of NASDC's board of directors. Roger Semerad, the president of the RJR Nabisco Foundation, which funds the Next Century Schools project, serves as NASDC's treasurer.

Likewise, the chairman of NASDC's board of directors, Thomas H. Kean, the president of Drew University and a former Governor of New Jersey, and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Ann D. McLaughlin, NASDC's recently appointed president and chief executive officer, are members of the Next Century Schools advisory board.

And both U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander and Deputy Secretary David T. Kearns served on the Next Century Schools advisory board before they joined the Bush Administration.

The RJR Nabisco project is "one of at least nine sources of inspiration'' the Secretary has cited for the new-schools concept, according to Etta Fielek, Mr. Alexander's spokesman.

She said Mr. Alexander also credits, among others, the Coalition of Essential Schools, begun by the Brown University education professor Theodore R. Sizer, and the "accelerated schools'' project conceived by Henry M. Levin, a professor of education at Stanford University.

'A Sounding Board'

RJR Nabisco served as a valuable source of advice while the new-schools corporation was setting up operations, a NASDC representative said.

"We talked to lots of the folks at RJR Nabisco in the very beginning of this corporation,'' said Paige Cassidy, the director of media and public relations for NASDC, "asked them what hurdles they ran into, and got their advice on ways to distribute our requests for proposals and all those kinds of things.''

"We used them along with lots of other people as sounding boards,'' she said.

Mr. Gerstner and the other NASDC board members involved in the Next Century Schools project have brought to the new-schools corporation "an extensive, three-year-old understanding of the process by which they go through and choose schools to honor,'' Ms. Cassidy said.

"It's nice to see people who are out there working in the vineyard getting some positive results,'' she added.

"A couple'' of the Next Century schools were among the 700 groups that applied for NASDC grants, according to Mr. Semerad.

The new-schools corporation plans next month to select up to 30 winners in the first phase of its grant competition. (See Education Week, June 3, 1992.)

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