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News in Brief: A National Roundup

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N.Y.C. Schools Join, Leave the State's 'Watch List'

Twenty New York City schools joined the state's roster of low-performing schools last week, but the new additions were nearly offset by schools coming off the watch list.

Out of 101 schools statewide on the list of "schools under registration review," or SURR, all but seven are in New York City. All have three years to improve their test scores or face closure.

State officials announced last week that they were removing a record 18 schools from the list, 15 because they had met performance targets set by the state and three because they had closed.

State and city school officials used the occasion to highlight progress in the SURR schools, which saw greater gains on state tests last year than city schools as a whole. In part because of those gains, state officials required schools to score higher this year to stay off the 8-year-old list.

Diocesan Chief Resigns

The schools superintendent of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dallas formally gave his resignation Nov. 6 after rumors surfaced that he was leaving and that he wanted to keep it a secret.

The Rev. Leonard Callahan will be returning to his home diocese of Covington, Ky., to assume a position as a pastor.

Rev. Leonard Callahan

Father Callahan's resignation, which takes effect Jan. 1, comes after four controversial years as the superintendent of the almost 14,000-student diocesan system.

During that time, he has been challenged on numerous staff changes and the dismantling of elected boards that governed individual schools.

In a 1996 Dallas Morning News interview, he had defended the changes as part of a centralization plan aimed at serving all Catholic children, not just those who attended diocesan schools.

"I believe that I have accomplished all the original goals that were set forth for me," Father Callahan said this month in a written statement confirming his departure. "The diocesan school system is much stronger than it was when I began over four years ago."

He also said that he would assist the diocesan board of education in the search for his replacement.

Diocesan spokesman Bronson Harvard would not comment on Father Callahan's statement.

Washington Out; Drew In

An elementary school in New Orleans will no longer bear the name of the first president of the United States.

The Orleans Parish school board voted unanimously late last month to change the name of George Washington Elementary School to Dr. Charles Richard Drew Elementary School, honoring the black surgeon known for developing methods to preserve blood plasma.

The change is in keeping with a policy the school board adopted in 1992 that restricts schools from being named for former slave owners or others who are deemed not to have respected equal opportunity.

In the past five years, there have been 22 name changes to New Orleans' public schools, whose enrollment is 92 percent African-American. Although the decision to change a school's name rests with the individual school, the school board makes the final choice once the members have three to five alternative names.

Departure Date Debated

The question is not if Indianapolis schools chief Esperanza Zendejas will depart, but when.

The superintendent said last month that she wanted to leave the 43,000-student district a year earlier than specified in her contract, citing lukewarm support from the school board for her reform efforts. ("Indianapolis Ponders the Post-Zendejas Era," Oct. 22, 1997.)

Esperanza Zendejas

This month, the board asked her to hasten her departure by another six months--to the beginning of 1998. Ms. Zendejas quickly countered that she will complete her contract, which runs until 1999, unless she and the board can reach a compromise.

Some parents have been pressuring the board to get Ms. Zendejas to leave sooner rather than later, saying the system needs stability she cannot provide. They have criticized Ms. Zendejas for unwise decisions made too hastily.

If she is ordered to resign in January, the board could owe her about $250,000. If she goes when she originally wanted, she might have to pay the board a penalty.

Saudi To Shift School Site

Blocked for several years from building a private academy in a small Maryland town, the Saudi Arabian government applied this month to construct a new school in a suburban Virginia community instead.

Residents of Poolesville, Md., had voted against a proposal in February that would have allowed the Islamic Saudi Academy to build a 1 million-square-foot complex to house 3,500 students. The new school would accommodate the 1,300 students currently at the overcowded Alexandria, Va., academy, 1,000 additional students on a waiting list, and any future increases in enrollment.

Many Poolesville residents were concerned that the school would increase traffic and noise in the quiet community. ("Small Town Wary of Islamic School's Big Plans," Nov. 30, 1994.)

Officials of the academy, which is financed by the Saudi government, say they are hopeful that their new effort to build in Loudoun County, Va., will be successful.

If approved by the county's board of supervisors, the school would be the largest private Islamic institution in the nation.

Ex-Teacher Wins Lawsuit

A former teacher in the Volusia County, Fla., district has been awarded $372,000 by a federal court jury in a lawsuit that claimed sexual harassment by her principal and a retaliatory dismissal for complaining.

Jeanne Golden, a former language arts teacher at DeLand Middle School, alleged that from 1990 to 1992, her principal, Joe Reed, embraced her or tried to kiss her on eight separate occasions. The teacher's suit said Mr. Reed retaliated by dismissing her three weeks after she filed a sexual-harassment complaint with the school board in May 1992.

After a three-day trial, the jury in U.S. District Court in Orlando found on Nov. 6 that Ms. Golden was harassed and retaliated against in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits all forms of employment discrimination.

The jury awarded her nearly $19,000 in back pay and $353,000 in compensatory damages.

Ms. Golden did not seek reinstatement in her job.

The 58,000-student Volusia County district was the lone defendant in the lawsuit. J. Lester Kaney, a lawyer for the district, said last week he was awaiting the trial judge's ruling on the district's motion to set aside the jury's verdict.

Mr. Kaney said Mr. Reed, who is now the principal of another school in the district, only hugged Ms. Golden to console her in "eight isolated incidents over two years."

Boys Sentenced for Abuse

Two boys in Syracuse, N.Y., who admitted to sexually abusing a 9-year-old girl in the city's Delaware Elementary School were sentenced this month to 18 months of probation.

The 8- and 10-year-old boys, who pleaded guilty in August, will spend that time in a home-based treatment program called Probation, Rehabilitation, Intensive Services Management, or PRISM.

They will each be monitored daily and be required to work with a team of three people.

The boys have also been ordered to stay away from the victim, and they are expected to do well in school and follow a daily curfew.

Both of the boys have been schooled at home under a form of house arrest since the incident. They will be allowed to return to class, but not at their former school.

According to The Associated Press, defense lawyer Laura Cardona said at the sentencing that she blamed school officials for the incident and that nothing would have happened if her client, the older boy, "had gotten special help and been put in special programs."

Vital Teacher Traits

Public Agenda recently surveyed 900 education professors about their expectations for K-12 teachers. The following are the percentages who say these qualities are "absolutely essential" to impart to students in teacher education programs:

Teachers who are themselves lifelong learners and constantly updating their skills. 84%
Teachers committed to teaching kids to be active learners who know how to learn. 82%
Teachers who will have high expectations of all their students. 72%
Teachers who are deeply knowledgeable about the content of the specific subjects they will be teaching. 57%
Teachers who are well-versed in theories of child development and learning. 46%
Teachers prepared to teach in schools with limited resources and where many kids come to class not ready to learn. 45%
Teachers trained in pragmatic issues of running a classroom such as managing time and preparing lesson plans. 41%
Teachers who maintain discipline and order in the classroom. 37%
Teachers who stress correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. 19%
Teachers who expect students to be neat, on time, and polite. 12%

SOURCE: "Different Drummers: How Teachers of Teachers View Public Education," Public Agenda.

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