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D.C. Opens Afro-Centric School, But Flap Over Content Continues

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District of Columbia school officials opened the city's first African-centered school last week amid controversy over the content of the new program and the qualifications of its developer.

The project at Webb Elementary School was created by Abena Walker, a former teacher in the city's schools. She has been preparing teachers and parents for the past three years to introduce African concepts into the classroom, said Karen Hinton, a spokeswoman for Superintendent Franklin L. Smith.

Ms. Walker was paid $84,000 for her work over the last three years, and is receiving $50,000 this year, according to Ms. Hinton.

School district officials have come under fire in recent weeks for their ignorance of program details on the eve of its debut.

And Ms. Walker's credentials--which were obtained through the Pan-African University, an unaccredited institution she founded--have been questioned by the local media, a school board member, African-studies scholars, and the D.C. Education Licensure Committee, which is investigating the university.

Ms. Walker could not be reached for comment last week.

In the wake of criticism in the press, Ms. Walker last month furnished the district with a five-page overview of her work.

The superintendent subsequently asked her to provide him with details on what would be taught in the classroom, said Ms. Hinton.

Ms. Walker submitted the document less than a week before the start of classes. She told the district she did not respond to the request earlier because she feared her ideas would be copied by other curriculum experts, according to press reports.

Despite the delay, the district moved forward with the program last week, using the regular curriculum supplemented with the materials on African history and culture.

Credentials Questioned

Russell L. Adams, the chairman of Howard University's Afro-American studies department, said the decision to proceed with the program "as if there's no problem'' left him "mystified.''

Mr. Adams, who was a member of a panel of African-studies scholars assembled by former Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins to brainstorm programs for the district, added that it was preposterous for the district to be forced "to chase down'' a paid consultant to obtain information.

Valencia Mohammed, a school board member who has been active on a separate committee set up by the superintendent to create Afro-centric projects for at least three other schools, said people familiar with the project "were led to believe'' that Ms. Walker "had credentials.'' Ms. Walker's husband, a former Howard University professor, submitted the original proposal several years ago, Ms. Mohammed said.

District officials have defended their decision to hire Ms. Walker, pointing out that the school system does not require consultants to have a master's degree from an accredited university.

"You just have to show competency,'' said Ms. Hinton.

Ms. Mohammed said many parents are angry at the district for spending thousands of dollars on a program "that should not be lauded as an Afro-centric curriculum.''

"If we're going to do this, I want it done right,'' she said.

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