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2 Former NASDC Projects Scale Back Models To Stay Alive

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Several months after the New American Schools Development Corporation announced it would continue bankrolling only nine of its 11 design teams, the two unfunded projects are striving to remain alive by scaling back their prototypes for "break the mold'' schools.

In Gaston County, N.C., leaders of the "Odyssey Project'' have abandoned plans to convert three schools into year-round, high-tech institutions, but are moving ahead with training district teachers in new instructional strategies.

Meanwhile, Bensenville (Ill.) Community Design will not be able to open a planned "lifelong-learning center,'' a new school that would have been linked with area social services and other community resources. The project held professional-development sessions over the summer, however, and hopes to carry out aspects of its design over a longer period.

A private, nonprofit corporation, NASDC was launched by business leaders in 1991 at the request of President Bush, who asked that they raise $200 million to create innovative schools.

To date, the organization has raised $55 million toward its target, which was recently lowered to $100 million.

Last fall, NASDC awarded one-year planning grants ranging from $992,775 to $2.72 million to 11 design teams. But earlier this year, the Arlington, Va.-based corporation advised the teams that it might not be able to provide all of them with funding for the 1993-95 testing and implementation phase.

To qualify for additional funding, teams had to demonstrate that they could replicate their design, were adhering to their contract, and were meeting deadlines, said Paige Cassidy, a spokeswoman for NASDC.

Ms. Cassidy called both the Gaston County and Bensenville designs "solid,'' but said they might require "a longer period of time for community readiness.''

Questions Raised

For the Odyssey Project, the news that the grant had not been extended arrived after a tumultuous school year in which its design-team leader died in a freak accident and local Christian activists launched a formal campaign to terminate the project. (See Education Week, March 10, 1993.)

Bensenville, a K-8 school district, suffered its own setback when its partner high school district dropped out of the project as a result of tensions over the role of other K-8 districts that fed into the high school but were not involved in the project.

Representatives of both programs said they remain committed to advancing their NASDC blueprints.

"I think the teachers in the schools certainly have a strong foundation with which to carry forth the basic tenets of the Odyssey Project,'' said Edwin L. West, Gaston County's superintendent. "I think it has brought the school family closer together, and at the same time I think everyone recognizes that there are those critics who are still there and remain there.''

Leaders of Concerned Citizens for Public Education, a group formed to fight the Odyssey Project, are continuing their efforts to halt the initiative.

The Gaston section of the Charlotte Observer also published an article last month critical of how the NASDC design team spent its phase one grant, in particular raising questions about high travel expenses.

School officials said the expenditures were similar to those of a typical business operation, but that some community members may have been unaccustomed to the idea of public schools sending educators to a conference or flying in a consultant.

"The funds were spent exactly as they were contracted to be spent,'' said Sandra G. Frye, Mr. West's executive assistant.

In Bensenville, community leaders founded the Bensenville 2000 Education Coalition to rally support for the project almost immediately after learning they would not receive further funding from NASDC. (See Education Week, June 9, 1993.)

The organization does not expect to launch formal fund-raising efforts until this fall, according to Len Sirotzki, the director of the project.

In another development, NASDC has announced the appointment of Michael R. Sandler to oversee the fund-raising arm of the corporation.

'Visionary' Named

Mr. Sandler was a founder and chairman of the Boston-based A Different September Foundation, which supports the Chelsea, Mass., schools under the district's management arrangement with Boston University.

In a written statement, David T. Kearns, the chairman and president of NASDC, described Mr. Sandler as a "visionary'' who "shows a heartfelt commitment to supporting, promoting, and improving education for all children.''

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