News in Brief: A National Roundup

October 02, 2002 7 min read
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Number of Charter Schools Up 14 Percent, Report Says

The total number of charter schools open for business across the nation climbed this fall to 2,700, an increase of 14 percent from last year, preliminary figures show.

View a state-by-state breakdown of the preliminary figures, from the Center for Education Reform.

Overall, 393 new charter schools started up this fall, according to the Center for Education Reform, a nonprofit organization in Washington that supports charter schools.

Among states with the largest number of new charter schools opening this school year, California topped the list with 89, bringing the Golden State’s total to 452.

Arizona, the state with the most charter schools, added 49 more of the independently run public schools this fall, pushing its total to 468, the center reported last month. Florida, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin also ranked high on the center’s list for the number of new schools opening this fall.

Center officials cautioned that the numbers could change slightly in the coming months.

—Caroline Hendrie

N.J. Asks Court to Back Changes to Camden District

New Jersey has asked an appeals court to reverse an order invalidating a portion of a new state law that would give Gov. James E. McGreevey control of the Camden school board.

The Sept. 23 filing in the superior court’s appellate division in Trenton signals the continuation of an effort by the Democratic governor to gain enough power over the state’s poorest district to restore it to academic and fiscal health.

A superior court judge on Aug. 5 struck down the portion of the law that gives the governor more control over the school board, saying it violates a state constitutional ban on “special legislation” targeting a specific school or district.

The rest of the law, a $175 million revitalization package for Camden passed by the state legislature in June, is unaffected by the ruling.

By filing an appeal, Gov. McGreevey hopes to preserve the portion of the law that would gradually replace the nine-member elected school board in Camden with three elected members, three chosen by the mayor, and three chosen by the governor. It also would give the governor veto power over board decisions.

—Catherine Gewertz

Chicago Principal Charged With False Report of Gun

The principal of a Chicago school was arrested last week and charged with a misdemeanor for allegedly lying to police about a gun on campus to get them to respond more quickly to a fight.

Cheryl Marshall-Washington, 58, the principal of Dyett Academic Center, which serves students in grades 6 to 8, was charged with disorderly conduct. Chicago police say she had a teacher’s aide at the school phone in a false report of a gun at the school so that officers would arrive quickly to break up the 8 a.m. fight on Sept. 23.

Four police cars responded to the call, said Sgt. Robert Cargie, a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department. The fight involved about six girls, none of whom had a gun, police said.

The Chicago school district is conducting an investigation of the matter. Ms. Marshall-Washington, who faces a Nov. 12 hearing date, did not return a call for comment.

—Ann Bradley

N.Y.C. Superintendents Eligible for Performance Pay

New York City school superintendents who meet goals for boosting students’ performance will receive bonuses of up to $40,000, officials announced last week.

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, joined by officials from the New York City Partnership, a business group, said performance-based pay “works in the private sector, and should work as well in the public sector.”

The partnership, which paid for a previous demonstration program to give bonuses to principals and teachers in two Brooklyn districts, chipped in $600,000 for the one-year pilot program for superintendents.

To be eligible, superintendents of the city’s 32 community districts must improve students’ test scores this year by 20 percent over past performance, defined as the average of scores over the past three years.

Superintendents of the city’s high school districts must reach targets for improving students’ scores on state regents’ exams and for reducing annual dropout rates.

The city’s principals already receive performance-based bonuses under a provision in their contract.

—Ann Bradley

Colo. District Approves Yoga Despite Religious Objections

A Colorado school district has approved a weekly yoga program for elementary school pupils, but only after weighing objections from community members who argued that the breathing and stretching exercises unconstitutionally advance religion because of their association with Hinduism.

The 1,450-student Aspen district had planned to start the yoga education program at the beginning of the school year as part of a children’s health initiative sponsored by the Aspen Center for New Medicine. Developers contended that there were no religious elements in the yoga program planned for 1st through 4th grade students at the district’s lone elementary school.

But some Christian residents of the ski-resort community objected that yoga could not be completely cleansed of its spiritual foundation, and that the district program would be an unconstitutional establishment of religion by the district. The Aspen school board voted 3-1 on Sept. 9 in favor of the yoga program, pending approval of the district’s lawyer.

District officials sent a letter to parents advising that they could exempt their children from the 25-minute-per- week yoga program.

—Mark Walsh

Report of Tiger Attack Prompts Investigation

California Department of Fish and Game officials are investigating an incident at a private school in which a 150-pound Bengal tiger cub allegedly attacked a 6- year-old boy.

Conflicting accounts have been offered of the Sept. 20 incident, which left the student with two deep gashes on his head, at the 425- student Baymonte Christian School in Scotts Valley. About 150 students were gathered in the school chapel to see Sima, a 11/2-year-old tiger led on a leash by a trainer from Zoo to You, a nonprofit wildlife education organization in California.

As the trainer led the tiger past the students, Principal Steve Patterson said, the animal jumped on a pew, lunged at the boy, and bit the child.

The boy was airlifted to a local hospital, where he received 55 staples to close the crisscrossing lacerations near his hairline. He won’t return to school permanently for several weeks.

Anita Jackson, the co-founder of Zoo to You, vehemently disagrees with the principal’s account. She says that she jumped between the children and the tiger, and her silver belt buckle may have cut the boy’s head.

The Santa Cruz district attorney will decide, based on the department’s report, whether to file misdemeanor charges against the group.

—Rhea R. Borja

Cobb County, Ga., Board OKs Alternatives to Evolution

The Cobb County, Ga., school board voted unanimously last week to allow teachers to include “disputed views” on evolutionary theory in their science lessons.

The Sept. 26 decision by the 98,000-student suburban Atlanta district advises teachers to use “objectivity and good judgment” in teaching about evolution and alternative views on the origin of life.

The board said the policy does not restrict the teaching of evolution or require the teaching of creationism.

Some science textbooks used in the district contain an advisory stating that evolution is a theory, not fact.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Washington State Strike Settled

Students in two districts in Washington state finally started the school year last week, after teachers in the communities called off their strikes. (“Strikes Hit Two Washington State Districts,” Sept. 18, 2002.) Classes began Sept. 25 in Snohomish and Issaquah, where teachers had been on strike since Sept. 4, which had been scheduled as the first day of school.

A King County Superior Court judge ruled on Sept. 23 that the Issaquah strike was illegal and that teachers must return to work in the 14,000-student district. The district’s 850 teachers later overwhelmingly ratified an agreement that includes a 3.8 percent pay raise over two years.

Snohomish teachers agreed to a two-year contract that will pay them raises of 2.08 percent in the first year and 1.75 percent in the second year above the state-financed cost-of-living adjustment. The district enrolls about 8,200 students.

Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association, said the issues in both communities turned on making teachers’ pay competitive with what other districts and states pay.

In both districts, the school year will be extended to make up the lost instructional time.

—Ann Bradley


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