News in Brief: A National Roundup

September 03, 2003 6 min read
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S.F. Board Revokes Charter Of Alternative High School

The San Francisco school board voted 4-3 last week to revoke the charter of a school involved in the deaths of two students last spring.

The 120-student Urban Pioneer Experiential Academy, an alternative high school that emphasized outdoor activities, was nearly closed earlier this year after the students fell down a ravine and died during a school-sponsored camping trip. (“Deaths Stir Doubts About Outdoor Academy,” March 19, 2003.)

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said in an interview that the school’s troubled financial picture, along with safety concerns that were apparent before the deaths, prompted her to request the revocation.

An independent audit of the school’s finances, conducted at the superintendent’s request, found that teachers at the school were given a 35 percent pay cut, some teachers were not being paid at all, and no budget was allocated for custodial services or curriculum materials, according to a district spokeswoman.

Officials from Urban Pioneer could not be reached for comment.

—Michelle Galley

Middle School in Africa Closed; Students to Return to Baltimore

A middle school in Kenya financed by a nonprofit organization and the Baltimore public schools has been closed by the school’s board because of security concerns in the East African country.

The Baraka School, which opened in 1996 on a 150-acre farm in rural Kenya, educated Baltimore boys, most of whom came from crime-plagued neighborhoods.

At Baraka, where the nearest town is 40 miles away on a dirt road, educators provided students with a structured environment. Among other courses, the boys took science, Swahili, and American and African history. They visited other Kenyan schools for sports and cultural exchanges.

The Abell Foundation, which supports improvements in Baltimore schools, and the 93,000-student Baltimore public school system financed the 7-year-old school. But it was closed because of recent terrorist attacks and warnings from the U.S. Department of State about growing danger in the area, according to Chris J. Doherty, a member of the school’s board and Baraka’s first head director.

—John Gehring

Calif. District Is Ordered to Pay $6.8 Million in Molestation Case

The 10,000-student Ocean View school district in Orange County, Calif., has agreed to pay $6.8 million to settle a lawsuit brought by six boys who say they were sexually molested by their former 4th grade teacher.

Four of the plaintiffs attended school in another Orange County district where the teacher began working after leaving Ocean View in 1999, with what the lawsuit contends was a positive job recommendation.

Details of the settlement were protected by a confidentiality agreement, but Gary Gibeaut, a lawyer representing the Ocean View district, said that the deal contains “a specific nonadmission of wrongdoing that covers all the parties.”

The teacher, Jason A.H. Abhyankar, who is now 29, was sentenced in September of last year to 24 years in prison after being convicted of repeatedly sexually abusing three boys, all of whom were plaintiffs in the civil case, from 1998 to 2000.

Mr. Abhyankar taught in the K-8 Ocean View district from 1997 to 1999 before moving to another 4th grade teaching job in the Saddleback Valley district, said Mr. Gibeaut. The lawyer confirmed that the boys will receive amounts ranging from about $500,000 to $3.8 million from the two districts, all but $50,000 of it from Ocean View.

—Caroline Hendrie

N.J. District, Valedictorian Settle Lawsuit Over Ranking

The Moorestown, N.J., schools will pay $60,000 to settle out of court with Blair L. Hornstine, a June graduate of the district’s high school who filed a $2.7 million suit to be named sole valedictorian of her class.

All but $15,000 of the money will go to pay Ms. Hornstine’s lawyers.

Under the agreement settling the federal civil rights lawsuit, reached late last month, the district will not appeal the May ruling that kept the 18-year-old from having to share her honor.

School officials had sought to name more than one valedictorian after some complained that Ms. Hornstine’s unique schedule gave her an unfair advantage in accumulating a high grade point average. It was arranged to accommodate the symptoms of an immune disorder similar to chronic- fatigue syndrome.

Meanwhile, Harvard University in July withdrew its offer of admission to Ms. Hornstine after a local newspaper found that she had written columns with numerous unattributed quotations.

—Bess Keller

Portland, Ore., Schools Chief Announces Plans to Retire

James Scherzinger, the superintendent of the Portland, Ore., public schools, has announced that he will retire at the end of this school year.

Mr. Scherzinger, a former chief financial officer of the system, has served as its top administrator since 2001, when the last superintendent resigned amid strained relations with the school board. The board had planned to hire a replacement last year, but scrapped the search process after all four finalists for the position withdrew. (“Top Contenders Withdraw From Portland Search,” May 1, 2002.)

The board’s co-chairmen have pledged a “streamlined” process for finding a successor to Mr. Scherzinger, who will leave his post next June.

—Jeff Archer

Teacher Allowed Some Leeway Over Lessons, Okla. Judge Rules

A veteran elementary school teacher was reinstated in her position at Sangre Elementary School in Stillwater, Okla., after a local judge ruled the school district could not prove its claims that she had neglected her duties.

The Stillwater school board voted to fire Linda K. Greenshields last June, after the teacher repeatedly refused to teach the science lessons, or “modules,” adopted by the district.

Ms. Greenshields, a 31-year veteran, said that the required training for the commercial science program took too much time away from her class, and that the lessons were ineffective.

Judge Larry R. Brooks of Payne County District Court ruled that the school district contract allows teachers some discretion over teaching methods, and that Ms. Greenshields was following the required state academic standards.

District officials said last week that they had not yet decided whether to appeal the decision.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Death: Joseph Vigil

The Albuquerque, N.M., school district plans a memorial service next week for Superintendent Joseph Vigil, who was killed in a car accident this summer. He was 49.

In his 26 years with the district, Mr. Vigil served as an elementary school teacher, a principal, and an instructional coordinator, among other positions. He earned the moniker “dropout czar” by organizing efforts credited with re- enrolling many students who had earlier left school. He also retooled teacher training in the 85,000-student district to better align it with the curriculum, a district spokesman said.

A year ago, the school board named Mr. Vigil as one of four administrators to share the title of superintendent, each overseeing different functions. Days before his death, the board gave him additional authority that would have elevated him above the other three top administrators.

Despite initial reports to the contrary, investigators say Mr. Vigil was not driving when his car rolled over on July 27, killing him and injuring another passenger, who died later. A third occupant of the car was driving, and is being held pending further investigation, according to the Torrance County sheriff’s department. Deputies say the three had been drinking.

The city’s school board has appointed Elizabeth Everitt, who had held the title of superintendent of education, as the district’s new chief. It announced plans to phase out the four-person leadership model.

—Jeff Archer

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