News in Brief: A National Roundup

April 14, 2004 6 min read
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Head of Leaders Council Given New Work Terms

Amid questions about her employment terms as the top executive of the Education Leaders Council, Lisa Graham Keegan has given up her status as an independent contractor with the group and become an employee.

Officials of the U.S. Department of Education had pointed out the potential for conflicts of interest, given that Ms. Keegan worked as the chief executive officer of the Washington-based organization as a hired contractor, while at the same time sitting on the council’s board of directors. The department monitors the ELC’s federally funded projects.

“She just thought it was the best way to clarify this once and for all by becoming a regular ELC employee,” Brian Jones, the council’s chief operational officer, said last week. Ms. Keegan, a former Arizona state schools chief, continues to serve both as the CEO and as a board member, he added.

The issue was one of a host of concerns about management that have prompted several members of the council’s board of directors to resign since last fall. (“Members Quit Board of Troubled Council,” April 7, 2004.)

—Jeff Archer

Spec. Ed. Lawyer Apologizes For Performing Satirical Skit

A special education lawyer for an affluent suburban Washington school district has issued a letter of apology after offending parents who learned that he had performed a satirical “newscast” last year at a national conference on special education law.

The skit by Zvi Greismann, a senior attorney for special education for the 140,000-student Montgomery County, Md., public schools, was so popular that he was asked to do another at the National Institute on Legal Issues of Educating Children with Disabilities conference next month.

Mr. Greismann’s skit at the 2003 conference, attended by special education lawyers for school districts, included jokes about the special education process.

But a group of Montgomery County parents who saw a videotape of the performance complained to the district and wrote letters of protest to the school board, saying the jokes came at the expense of their emotional struggles, district officials said.

Mr. Greismann, himself a parent of a special-needs student, canceled his scheduled performance next month and posted a letter of apology on March 31 on the district’s Web site.

“My remarks 10 months ago at the ... national conference on special education law created the unintended consequence of appearing to be disrespectful and disparaging of students with disabilities and their families,” Mr. Greismann wrote. “This was certainly never my intent. As the father of a profoundly disabled child, I know all too well the challenges faced by parents with special children.”

—Lisa Goldstein

Portland, Ore., Board Picks Pa. State Chief to Run Schools

The Portland, Ore., school board unanimously approved the selection of Pennsylvania state schools chief Vicki L. Phillips last week as the superintendent of the 49,000-student district.

Before becoming the state secretary of education in 2003, Ms. Phillips, 46, was the superintendent of the 11,500-student Lancaster, Pa., schools for five years. In Portland, she will replace John Scherzinger, 55, who will retire at the end of this school year.

The Portland school board’s decision capped a six-month national recruitment effort. Other finalists included Thomas B. Lockamy, the deputy superintendent of the 37,000-student Norfolk, Va., school district. Ms. Phillips will earn a $203,000 annual salary under a three-year contract.

—Rhea R. Borja

Chicago Charter Principal Held on Child-Porn Charges

The principal of a Chicago charter school has been placed on home detention after being charged with possession of child pornography.

Joseph T. Nurek, 54, the principal of the West Belden campus of the Chicago International Charter School, was arrested late last month. Federal prosecutors said investigators found a massive collection of child pornography at his home and on his computer.

Mr. Nurek has been suspended from his job at the 450-student charter school, one of four managed by American Quality Schools, a private Chicago company.

Leo J. Athas, a lawyer who represents the school, said Mr. Nurek’s background had been screened by the Chicago public school system and found to be clean. There was no indication that any of the images or materials found at Mr. Nurek’s home involved students from the school, he added. The school enrolls 459 students in grades K-7.

Mr. Nurek’s lawyer, Michael D. Robbins, said last week that the principal would plead not guilty.

—Ann Bradley

Broad Foundation Announces Finalists for 2004 Urban Prize

Five finalists are contending for this year’s Broad prize for urban education, the Broad Foundation announced last week.

They are: the Aldine Independent School District in Houston; the Boston Public Schools; the Charlotte- Mecklenburg (N.C.) Schools; the Garden Grove (Calif.) Unified School District; and the Norfolk (Va.) Public Schools.

The winner of the Broad prize, which is scheduled to be announced in the fall, will receive $500,000 for college scholarships. Each of the other four finalists will receive $125,000 for the same purpose.

Judges for the prize, now in its third year, look for urban districts that are making the greatest overall improvement in student achievement, while also reducing achievement gaps across ethnic and income groups.

In addition to the cash award, the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation seeks to showcase the districts’ instructional and management practices as models for other districts.

—Ann Bradley

Illinois District Cancels Lacrosse After Paddling of New Players

A suburban Chicago school district that faced intense national media attention last year after high school girls hazed fellow students is dealing with a new incident of hazing.

The 2,000-student Glenbrook High School District 225 has canceled the boys’ varsity lacrosse season and suspended 24 students at Glenbrook South High School after new team members were paddled on March 12.

The incident took place at a player’s house. No parents were home at the time, a school district investigation found. The district also reported that underage drinking had taken place

Thirteen new team members were paddled by 11 veteran players, according to the district, and all were suspended. No one was seriously injured. The 13 students who were paddled have been given the opportunity to sign an agreement that reduces their suspensions if they agree to take part in counseling.

Last spring, more than 50 female students at Glenbrook North High School were disciplined after juniors were punched, kicked, and pelted with excrement by senior girls. After that incident, which was videotaped, the district formed a 31-member community task force on hazing and clarified rules about hazing in the student code of conduct.

—John Gehring


Thomas K. Glennan Jr., a prominent researcher with the RAND Corp., died on April 2. He was 69 and had metastatic melanoma.

Mr. Glennan was an architect of RAND’s first education work in the 1960s. Most recently, he was a senior adviser for education policy in the Washington office of the Santa Monica, Calif.-based research organization.

In the late 1990s, he led RAND’s analytic work in support of the New American Schools Development Corp., which was formed in 1991 by business leaders to help underwrite the design and development of “break the mold” schools. He also studied national policies in support of technology in K-12 schooling, mathematics instruction, policy on research and development, and performance contracting.

Mr. Glennan joined RAND in 1957 as a summer intern, became an employee in 1961, and spent his career there except for a seven-year period when he held various government positions. He earned a reputation as a mentor and role model for numerous researchers.

—Ann Bradley


The school board of the Westminster, Calif., elementary district voted again on April 1 not to change its policy to comply with the state’s anti-discrimination law protecting transgender students. (“Calif. Board Splits Over Gender Identification,” March 24, 2004.) The 3-2 vote could put at risk state funding, warned Jack O’Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction.

In a letter to the board president, Mr. O’Connell called the board’s refusal to comply “immoral and unconscionable.”


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