Adele Jones, the Delaware algebra teacher who was fired in 1993 for giving too many students poor grades, is back in the classroom.
The Indian River, Del., school board fired Jones because she gave about half of the students in her Algebra II class D's and F's. The board said she was incompetent and insubordinate. Jones said those students weren't working hard enough.
Jones's firing brought her instant celebrity, as newspapers and television and radio stations across the country picked up the story. Paramount Pictures pondered a movie deal. Letters poured in from teachers throughout the nation. Jones appealed the firing in court.
Last January, a Delaware Superior Court judge ordered the school board to vote again on Jones's dismissal, stating that the board had not reviewed the case fully. In March, the board voted to reinstate her. Three new members who had joined the board voted in favor of the reinstatement. The judge ordered one board member, whose children had been in Jones's class, to abstain from the vote.
In April, Jones was back at Sussex Central High. This fall, she was given three Algebra II classes and three Algebra I classes.
Naturally, her students are curious about what happened. One even interrupted her during class to ask about her appearance on the "Donahue" show. She tried hard to get the class to concentrate on algebra, but they persisted. Finally, she says, she gave her students a "three-minute synopsis" of her experience before steering them back to work. That seemed to satisfy them.
"Unless I deal with it," the 34-year-old teacher says, "the students are not going to be thinking about what I'm teaching."
The months she spent preparing her appeal were emotionally difficult, she says. One morning right before the 1993-94 school year started, she had an appointment with her lawyer, whose office was about a block from the high school.
"I drove by and the tears just started rolling down my face," she recalls. "I missed [teaching] so much."
"It's good to be back," she says. "Some days I realize I guess I enjoy teaching now more than I did before."
Things have changed at Sussex Central High this year. For one thing, she says, the new principal and assistant principal support her teaching methods.
She says she intends to answer every one of the 7,500 letters she received, most of which supported her and her philosophy. Some people even sent her money, which she says helped pay her mortgage when she was working part time before her appeal.
Dustin Sutton, the Texas teenager whose high school graduation was in jeopardy because of his troubles passing the state's exit exam, has turned the tables in the real world. Last week, he was scheduled to graduate near the top of his class from infantry school at Camp Pendleton in California.
He left home in Mesquite, Tex., three days after his graduation in May for boot camp and is scheduled to ship out of San Diego early next year when the Marine Corps deploys his company.
Yet, as he prepares to leave, folks back on the home front in Mesquite say that all is not well: At West Mesquite High School, about 60 of the 215 seniors still have not passed a portion of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, putting their graduations in peril. And Don Sutton, Dustin's father, says his son's story fell short of a truly happy ending.
Dustin did not pass the taas math exam on his last try. But, days before the end of the school year, school counselors tested him and diagnosed a learning disability, which exempted him from passing the exam.
Sutton maintains that Dustin is not learning disabled. "I had a problem with it--he is not that type of student--but he wanted to get in the Marines, and this was the quickest way," says Sutton, a technical writer. "I just worry that this hinders him in getting into college or getting a job because his transcript will show that he was exempt and didn't pass the test."
Sutton would like to see Texas officials revisit the way schools use the high-stakes test, a sentiment shared by many educators across the state. Nineteen other states have exams that students must pass to graduate.
Counselors at West Mesquite High say they have already encountered crying students worried about their chances of graduating next spring. The fall battery of tests was administered in late October. Final chances for the Class of '95 will be given in the spring.
Pfc. Dustin Sutton knows their struggle all too well and has not given up on education--he has set up a military college fund and intends to continue his schooling some day. His twin sister Jennifer, who also had trouble with the test, is likewise faring well. She is working at a local day-care center while attending junior college in Mesquite. She plans to become a paralegal.
Educators are clamoring to visit and learn more about a New York City school that offers children and their parents "one-stop shopping" for a wide range of medical and social services.
To respond, a new technical-assistance center funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York is now up and running at Intermediate School 218 in Washington Heights. The middle school was launched three years ago under a partnership between the Children's Aid Society, the board of education, and Community School District 6. Public School 5, an elementary school, runs a similar program.
Children's Aid, one of the nation's largest social-welfare agencies, helps operate the school and provide the expertise and personnel to offer a full menu of on-site medical, dental, and mental-health services as well as adult education, parenting, recreational, and youth programs. School doors are open 14 hours a day, six days a week, year round.
The new center's director, Rosa Agosto, says schools and community groups in more than half the states have sought help thus far.
"Our purpose is to help others understand better what we do so they can adapt it to their own circumstances," says Peter Moses, the associate executive director of Children's Aid.
For more information, call (212) 569-2880 or (212) 567-5787.
--Deborah L. Cohen