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Published in Print: September 9, 1998, as Seattle Rallies Behind Stanford as He Battles Illness

Seattle Rallies Behind Stanford as He Battles Illness

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The outpouring of support for ailing Seattle Superintendent John Stanford drew national attention this summer, and in recent weeks even Hollywood has come knocking.

John Stanford

The district has received several calls from agents representing filmmakers interested in the story of the retired U.S. Army major general who is one of the first noneducators to head a big-city school district. In April, Mr. Stanford was diagnosed with leukemia, and he has been undergoing treatment since then.

During his illness, the Seattle community has rallied behind the popular superintendent, and contributions to a foundation he established to buy books for schools have poured in.

The interest from Hollywood followed stories last month in USA Today and on network news programs. "[The agents] see his story as being a 'Lean on Me' and 'Stand and Deliver'-type film but with a bigger scale and almost with more drama," said district spokesman Trevor Neilson. Both movies center on real-life stories of tough-minded educators.

Flood of Concern

Since he took a pay cut from his job as the manager of the Fulton County, Ga., government to go to Seattle, the 59-year-old Mr. Stanford has been hailed as an inspiring leader who has buoyed both hopes and test scores in his three years on the job. ("Stanford's Illness Dampens Spirits in Seattle," April 15, 1998.)

Mr. Neilson said the 47,000-student district has been deluged with get-well wishes. Mr. Stanford has requested that, instead of flowers, people send money for the book fund he has set up, and about 2,000 individuals have responded. The initial goal of $500,000 was met in August.

A heavily attended back-to-school rally last week sent a similar message of concern and thanks.

In a surprise move, Mr. Stanford left the hospital to address the crowd in person. "This rally is about a world-class, student-focused system," he told the crowd, according to local press reports.

Last month, Mr. Stanford underwent a stem-cell transplant after two rounds of chemotherapy failed to arrest his leukemia. Early signs from the transplant have been encouraging, Mr. Neilson said. However, doctors have given the superintendent about a one-in-five chance of surviving the strenuous treatment and living five years or more without detectable cancer.

Vol. 18, Issue 1, Page 3

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