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'With Privilege Comes Responsibility,' N.A.I.S. Conferees Told

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Boston

A champion of AIDS awareness addressed independent school educators here recently, not so much to talk about the deadly disease, but to share her perspective as a parent who has tested positive for the virus that causes it.

Mary Fisher, the founder of the Family aids Network, was a keynote speaker at the National Association of Independent Schools' meeting here earlier this month. About 4,000 people attended the annual conference.

Mindful that her sons lost their father to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and well aware of her own mortality, Ms. Fisher told the educators she is dependent on them to guide her children into the future.

"As a parent-partner, I ask that you join me in recognizing that we are privileged," she said, adding that "with privilege comes responsibility."

Touching on the theme of the conference, "Changing Patterns: Schools and the Social Fabric," Ms. Fisher urged conferees to bring compassion, justice, equity, and reconciliation to their communities. Independent schools should not be hiding places for the elite or "academic country clubs," she said.

She also asked the educators to help teach her children to contend with failure. "Look at your own life; look at mine," said Ms. Fisher, who attended independent schools. "We make critical decisions, and we are wrong....Now that we have failed, what do we do? Hide from it? Run from it? Blame others for it?"

"Or take it on, with the same dignity and the same courage and the same eagerness that we reserve for moments of crowning success?"

In the opening session of the March 1-4 conference, the author and actor Gregory Alan-Williams rendered a speech that carried a bit more weight than the syndicated television show he appears in--"Baywatch."

Mr. Alan-Williams, who is African-American, called on the educators here to celebrate the contributions of all cultures to America's social fabric.

"If I am included, I can also accept that I am as much a part of the nation's failure as in its success," said Mr. Alan-Williams, who wrote the book A Gathering of Heroes: Reflections on Rage and Responsibility.

He pressed the educators to help students look for similarities in one another and to help stop the cycle of violence by having the courage to accept responsibility, especially in the classroom.

In opening the conference, the Boston-area 180-member Milton Academy Glee Club joined Mr. Alan-Williams in performing "Precious Lord," a gospel hymn, and "Akanamandia," a song of freedom from South Africa.

In another session, Michelle Doyle, the director of the U.S. Education Department's office of nonpublic education, told participants that the nation's school-reform efforts "will start affecting you one way or another," and urged them to "step right in."

Ms. Doyle briefed the audience on federal funds that are available to independent schools with few strings attached, under programs such as Title VI (previously called Chapter 2), Title II, and Title IV of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

She also reminded them that, by law, professional-development opportunities and information related to goals, standards, materials, and assessments supported by funds from the Goals 2000: Educate America Act must be made available to private schools.

--Laura Miller

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