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State Journal: Tragic coincidence; Neutral turf; Speaking up

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Officials in the North Carolina Governor's office were shocked earlier this month when their plans to kick off a statewide anti-violence program at a school in Greensboro coincided with a shooting at the school.

Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. made his planned stop at Grimsley High School just two days after Nicholas Atkinson, a sophomore who had been suspended for smoking, shot and wounded an assistant principal and then killed himself.

School officials asked the Governor to choose another site, but stunned students praised him for showing up as planned.

"I don't have any answers for you all," Mr. Hunt said. "I don't know any better than you why these things happen."

He didn't talk much about the violence program. "Instead of that, I want to listen to you," he told the children.

State school board members from Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota gathered last week on an island in the Mississippi River, holding a summit on neutral ground in an attempt to find common ground on reform.

The sessions at the Rock Island Arsenal--technically part of Illinois--also included officials from the state education agency in Wisconsin, which does not have a state board. At their first-ever gathering, the officials discussed charter schools, new types of school management, technology, choice, violence, and school-to-work issues.

The event was launched by Al Ramirez, a long-time administrator in the Illinois education department, who began discussing the concept with Illinois officials when he became the head of Iowa's education agency. Of 35 board members who serve in the three states, 30 planned to attend.

"This is probably the start of something very good," said the Illinois board's spokesman.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett and Jack Kemp, a former member of Congress and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, last week blasted the California ballot initiative that would deny education and other services to illegal aliens. (See related story.)

In a statement, they slammed fellow Republicans for seeking short-term political gain with anti-immigrant rhetoric, calling the measure a "fundamentally flawed, constitutionally questionable 'solution.'" P

--Lonnie Harp & Julie A. Miller

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