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NASA, Other Agencies Help Consortia Get Off the Ground

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Representatives from a dozen school districts, a regional service agency, and a community college in upstate New York will gather this week in a gymnasium to see how they can enhance educational opportunities for their students.

Individually, the districts in the economically depressed region are too obscure and small--with enrollments from 120 to 2,300 students--to attract many foundation grants or large corporate partners, said Joel Pollack, the superintendent of the Greater Johnstown schools. By forming a consortium that serves more than 20,000 students, they're more likely to be noticed, he said.

The guest list for their meeting on the Fulton Montgomery Community College campus, in Johnstown, may make that a certainty. Officials from the White House, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will attend, the latest sign of a low-key effort by several federal agencies over the past two years to aid budding educational partnerships at the local level.

David L. Powe, the manager of education programs at the space agency's John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Miss., has led this quiet campaign as something of a personal crusade. Since 1994, he has traveled across the nation to lend ideas and federal prestige to communities forming reform partnerships.

Combined Forces

Mr. Powe said he tries to pass on to schools lessons of organizational efficiency and management that NASA learned during several painful rounds of restructuring. By combining forces, planning strategically, and recruiting local and national partners, school districts can attract grants and gain political clout, he said.

He always highlights the success of the Tri-State Education Initiative Consortium in Iuka, Miss., which he has assisted since it began 1991. This week's launch of a partnership involving New York's Fulton, Montgomery, and Hamilton counties uses the Tri-State program as a model.

Every consortium is different, Mr. Powe said, and springs from its members' own motivations and needs. So far, he has helped at least four get off the ground.

These partnerships have all tapped NASA's highly regarded educational programming: scientific data, space images, group projects, teaching materials, and a healthy shot of space boosterism.

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