News in Briefs: A National Roundup

February 26, 2003 7 min read
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Chicago Schools to Boost Math, Science Instruction

The Chicago public schools have launched a $24.5 million project to improve and expand the amount of mathematics and science taught in the district.

Elementary school students will study mathematics for an hour a day, or an additional 20 minutes of instruction, and will learn science for 150 minutes per week, an increase of 30 minutes.

At the high school level, the 437,000-student district will offer extra time for students struggling with math and will create accelerated programs for others.

The district also will invest $10 million in the next year to renovate aging science labs. It will be the first step in a $120 million project to improve 400 labs in the city.

The math and science effort follows an 18-month-old effort to raise the quality of reading instruction in the school system, Barbara Eason-Watkins, the district’s chief education officer, said in announcing the new project last week."If you can’t read, you can’t learn,” Ms. Eason-Watkins said in a statement. “It’s time to build on that foundation, because if you don’t know math and science, you can’t get a job.”

The district also will subsidize the tuition of current middle school teachers seeking to become accredited to teach math and science.

—David J. Hoff

Principal, Teachers Suspended In Probe of Discipline Approach

A Kansas City, Mo., principal and two teachers have been suspended with pay as school district and state officials investigate allegations that students were bound to their chairs with tape.

After receiving a call to its child-abuse hotline early this month, the Missouri Division of Family Services began investigating the alleged incident at Pitcher Elementary School. District officials also are conducting their own investigation.

A spokesman for the 30,000-student district said the school employees would not return to work until the investigations were resolved.

“The district is still investigating the incident,” Edwin Birch said. “The employees are accused of inappropriate discipline of students.”

—Lisa Fine Goldstein

Lead Worry Prompts Shutoff Of School Drinking Fountains

All of the water fountains in the 95,000-student Baltimore school district have been turned off after the school board received a report showing that many were tainted with lead.

The father of a Baltimore student who suffered from lead-based poisoning in the 1990s visited about a dozen schools that were identified as having drinking fountains contaminated with lead a decade ago and found many were still operating.

In response, district officials ordered that all fountains be shut off. Water coolers are to be placed in all schools by the end of this month, officials said.

—John Gehring

Ethics Panel Drops Case Against Georgia Teacher

The Georgia Professional Standards Commission has dropped its case against a Gwinnett County elementary school teacher who posted questions from the district’s controversial Gateway test on the Internet.

The commission was seeking to have James Hope’s teaching license suspended, arguing that he violated the state’s code of ethics for teachers because he posted the questions in 2000 after signing an agreement not to disclose any part of the test.

A critic of the Gateway exam, Mr. Hope argued that the test was poorly written.

The commission had asked the state’s court of appeals to hear the case, but the court declined earlier this month. The commission decided against asking the state supreme court to take up the case, because it was likely that it would refuse.

Mr. Hope’s lawyer had argued that the test was a public record, therefore making the confidentiality agreement illegal.

—Linda Jacobson

Colo. District Gets Loans To Sort Out Budget Mess

Colorado’s state treasurer has approved the last of a series of state loans that will let the St. Vrain Valley schools begin to recover from dire financial straits allegedly caused by serious fiscal mismanagement.

A $1 million, interest-free loan approved this month brings the total amount of state advances to the district this fiscal year to $27 million.

The sprawling district, which serves 22,000 students in 13 communities, has been reeling since last November, when officials discovered a nearly $14 million hole in the system’s $122 million budget.

The revelation has prompted the resignation of district administrators, calls for state intervention in the system’s governance, and an investigation by the Boulder County district attorney. (“Budget Errors Leave Schools Feeling Pinch,” Jan. 8, 2003.)

To get the state loans, district leaders had to present a comprehensive strategy for putting the system back on a more solid financial footing. The district’s recovery plan has resulted in cuts to programs and salaries.

—Jeff Archer

Mo. Firm Calls Halt to Rewards For Student Attendance

An international marketing firm has announced plans to end its long-running program to encourage good attendance in the St. Louis public schools.

Maritz Inc., based in Fenton, Mo., had operated the program in the 43,500-student district since 1989, awarding such prizes as baseball tickets, T-shirts, and a big-screen television set for good attendance.

Representatives from Maritz could not be reached for comment.

But Rebecca Rodgers, a spokeswoman for the district, said Thomas N. Tener, Maritz’s vice president of community affairs and organizational development, had cited turnover in the district’s leadership as its reason for ending the program in a letter to Superintendent Cleveland Hammonds Jr.

Voters in St. Louis will elect four of seven school board members in April, and Mr. Hammonds has announced plans to retire on June 30.

The letter also mentioned that the company looked forward to working with the new board members and superintendent in the future, Ms. Rodgers said.

—Michelle Galley

Detroit Mayor Replaces Four School Board Members

Roughly a year after becoming the mayor of Detroit, Kwame M. Kilpatrick is shuffling the membership of the city’s school board, which could lead to a more active appointed board.

The Michigan legislature handed control of the 168,000-student district to then-Mayor Dennis W. Archer in 1999. Six members of the seven-member school board are appointed by the mayor, with the state superintendent or his designee serving as the other member.

The board’s main task is the appointment of the district’s chief executive officer, who is responsible for day-to-day decisions.

But in his State of the City Address on Feb. 12, Mayor Kilpatrick, a Democrat, said he wanted the new board members to become advocates for improved parental involvement, to approve any contract of $250,000 or more, to seek new community-based partnerships, and to lobby for better in-service training for teachers.

Mr. Kilpatrick also said all new board members must be residents of Detroit; some former board members lived outside the city. Only one member appointed by Mayor Archer will return: Gerald Smith, the president of the Detroit Youth Foundation.

The new members include a former mayoral candidate, a former state representative, and the founder of a nonprofit program for youths. One seat remains vacant.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Would-Be Candidates Barred From St. Louis Board Election

Candidates for the St. Louis school board cannot have relatives on the school system’s payroll, a judge has ruled.

Cole County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Brown on Feb. 13 shot down a challenge by a group of residents who argued that their applications to be candidates in the April 8 school board election had been unfairly denied.

The decision upholds an anti-nepotism law, in effect since 1998, that is part of legislation settling St. Louis’ school desegregation case.

The three residents had contended the law was unfair because it did not work both ways: Relatives of school board members were not prohibited from getting jobs with the 43,500-student school system.

—Lisa Fine Goldstein

Texas High School Cancels Visit From Sharpton After Threats

A high school in Corpus Christi, Texas, decided to cancel a planned appearance by the Rev. Al Sharpton for Black History Month after receiving threats.

The visit to Miller High School, scheduled for Feb. 14, was scrapped for safety reasons. But Mr. Sharpton, a civil rights activist who is eyeing a run for president, spoke instead at a nearby church the following day, according to information on the Web site of the National Action Network. Mr. Sharpton founded the New York City-based civil rights organization.

The Web site said that Jesus H. Chavez, the superintendent of the 38,700-student Corpus Christi district, canceled Mr. Sharpton’s visit, citing complaints and threats from the local Ku Klux Klan.

District officials did not return calls for comment.

A school district spokesman told the Associated Press, however, that the district’s central office had received bomb threats and threats of shootings and harm to students and staff members at the school.

The high school was evacuated twice on Feb. 13 after receiving bomb threats.

Mr. Sharpton recently announced that he was exploring a run for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.

—Michelle R. Davis


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