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In a scene reminiscent of the film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,'' a group of school principals traveled to the nation's capital to tell federal officials how their reforms play out beyond the Beltway.

"The message we gave them, plain and simple, was: Don't expect us to reach Goals 2000 if we don't get some more support," Richard M. Sykes, the principal of Lewiston (Me.) High School, said last week.

Mr. Sykes and the 50 other school leaders who took part in the event were voted "principals of the year" from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The competition was sponsored by the National Association of Secondary School Princials and Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.

They came not only to air their complaints--and offer some support--but also to be recognized by the sponsors.

The principals divided into groups to discuss such topics as school violence and the use of technology with Thomas L. Payzant, the U.S. Education Department's assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, and other department officials.

In the session on technology, at least, the consensus was clear: Schools need more cash.

"We don't have the money for things like" computers or telephones in the classroom, Mr. Sykes said. He also noted that, if his district is to inch into the information age, teachers will need a lot of training. And he is not sure the schools can foot the bill.

"I was pleased that the department would listen to some practitioners offering suggestions," Mr. Sykes added. "I just hope it goes beyond the listening stage."

Out to prove that accountability is more than a buzz word in school management, one organization is rewarding superintendents who aim to make a difference in student achievement.

The "Leadership for Learning" awards, sponsored by the American Association of School Administrators, recognize schools chiefs who adopt programs to improve teaching and learning in their districts.

A $4,000 cash prize is awarded to three superintendents: one each from an urban, rural, and suburban school system.

The program is co-sponsored by the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association.

Applications, due this month, are available from Darlene Pierce, A.A.S.A., 1801 North Moore St., Arlington, Va. 22209-9988; (703) 876-0736.

--Joanna Richardson

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