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Hot Topic for Administrators: Discipline, Discipline, Discipline

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San Antonio

Ask school administrators what's on their minds, and they will more than likely talk about what seems to be a thriving breed: disruptive students.

Last week's annual meeting of the National Association of Secondary School Principals teemed with discussions on student discipline and school safety--themes that carried over from last year's conference.

That's not to say that many of the 6,000 administrators here were not discussing instruction, standards, and scheduling. They were, but in fewer numbers and a little more quietly.

At one session on urban schools, principals split into groups to talk about bilingual education, health clinics, and school-to-work programs, among other issues.

While three or four principals wandered to most of the groups, about a dozen gathered in a circle for a lively discussion entitled "From Disruption to Instruction." Some participants related their successes with unorthodox approaches to handling disruptive students.

One administrator, for example, had persuaded teachers to volunteer time on Saturdays to give troubled students some extra help. Another had separated the boys and girls in his school--a strategy that eliminated the "he said, she said" fights that created classroom chaos.

Later, another group of administrators made it clear that such problems are not confined to big-city schools. Whether they work in rural Indiana or downtown Los Angeles, most said they spend too much time playing hall monitor.

An assistant principal at a Wisconsin junior high said he breaks up dozens of fights a week. The day before the meeting, he said, he had to hold down an unruly student until reinforcements arrived.

Though relieved to have a couple days off, he said he planned to cut the last day of the meeting to return to work.

Job demands may be piling up for administrators, but their pay is not keeping pace with the workload in some schools, N.A.S.S.P. officials said last week.

The association released its national survey on pay during the meeting. It found that high school principals' salaries increased by about 2.5 percent between 1993-94 and the current school year.

The average salary was about $66,000, the survey said. The top breadwinner earned more than $107,000 a year, while the lowest-paid principal received $26,000.

"Frankly, the highest-paid principals are doing well," Paul Hersey, the association's director of professional assistance, said. "But salaries at the other end of the range are a national disgrace."

Administrators in elementary, junior high, and middle schools made slightly more substantial gains during the past year, according to the study, based on data collected by the Education Research Service.Elementary school principals, for example, earned about 3 percent more this year.

The N.A.S.S.P. and the Community of Caring announced that they will team up to help schools and families coping with teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, alcoholism, and dropouts.

The Community of Caring, created by the Washington-based Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, promotes teaching basic values to students. Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the president of the program, said the project also aims to increase community and family involvement in schools.

The approach is already used in about 150 schools. Now, the principals' association will distribute the group's materials to its members and let schools know about training programs for teachers and others.

"Working together, all members of the school community...discover that fundamental values are part of everything they do," added Ms. Shriver, who also endorses community-service requirements for students.

Character education and service learning were popular topics throughout the meeting here. A number of sessions focused on using service projects or other lessons to teach about values. Attempts to do so have been controversial in some schools, but many principals said they believed it was necessary.

A debate here on school privatization was surprisingly polite, given the high-pitched arguments being made by educators and policymakers on both sides of the issue.

On the "pro" side was David Bennett, the president of Education Alternatives Inc., a Minneapolis-based company that recently won a contract to run the Hartford public schools. Daniel Tanner, an education professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, made the case for keeping private concerns out of public education.

Mr. Bennett said his company, which also runs several schools in Baltimore, invests large sums of its own money in the schools it manages, providing computers and other materials that districts are hard-pressed to buy for themselves.

But Mr. Tanner claimed that E.A.I. and its competitors encourage "teaching to the test," since companies often cite gains in standardized-test scores as proof of their success.

--Joanna Richardson

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