Published Online: September 24, 1997



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With about 60 employees, Voyager Expanded Learning isn't a big company, but its payroll boasts a hefty share of former schools chiefs. At last count, the Dallas-based education business had on board at least nine men and women who, until recently, headed school districts.

Most were hired this summer as regional presidents, part of a national expansion for the 3-year-old company, which contracts with districts to provide after-school, in-school, and summer programs at the elementary level. The executives, working from home offices, will represent Voyager in nine regions across the country.

"We wanted people recognized as educational leaders," said Vernon Johnson, Voyager's chief executive officer and himself a former superintendent of the Richardson, Tex., public schools.

The regional presidents and their former school districts include Brian Benzel of Edmonds, Wash.; Daniel Domenech of the West Suffolk, N.Y., regional education service agency; Charles E. McCully of Fresno, Calif.; James R. Rickabaugh of Burnsville, Minn.; James L. Schott of Orange County, Fla.; Donald R. Thompson of Montgomery County, Ohio; and Carolyn Getridge of Oakland, Calif.

Voyager served 23,000 children in 17 states this summer with hands-on learning programs.

Most school crises are caused by administrators and could be resolved before they explode, says an expert on managing emergency situations.

Robert B. Irvine, the president of the Institute for Crisis Management, a for-profit company based in Louisville, Ky., says most crises that make it to the public eye can't be laid at the doorstep of students, teachers, or parents.

Mr. Irvine based his conclusions on an analysis of more than 50,000 news stories on school-related crises--an accusation of sexual harassment by an employee, a teacher stabbed by a student, the collapse of a school building--kept by the institute.

He said in a recent interview that management decisions lay behind more than half of such crises, though the initial concern may have been a personnel matter (25 percent), an act of violence (16 percent), an accident (15 percent), or something else.

Too often, Mr. Irvine says, potential problems grow into crises because of inaction by administrators. "They are aware of them," he said, "but for one reason or another they don't take care of them until they erupt.''


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