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Parents of Head Start students in Chicago are trying to persuade the board of education to reconsider its plan to drop the program from the schools.

Faced with mounting deficits and unable to garner more aid from the federal government, the school system and the city department of human services plan to phase out the Head Start program operated by the schools--which serves 5,160 children--by June 1993. The program ran a $1.6-million deficit last year.

Officials hope to transfer those children to local nonprofit agencies, 34 of which already offer Head Start programs.

Some 75 parents protested the move at a school-board meeting last month, saying it would separate preschoolers from siblings and disrupt the continuity of instruction.

"Children will suffer in the process," said Janice Roberts, who attended the meeting.

Parents also fear local agencies will not absorb the children fast enough or offer programs comparable to schools with such resources as speech therapists, social workers, and nurses. In addition, public-school Head Start teachers must have state certification and earn regular teachers' salaries.

"I can always be transferred to another classroom, but children get the bad end of the deal," said Tracy Brill, a Head Start teacher.

Velma Thomas, the district's early-childhood program director, agreed that basing Head Start in schools has clear advantages, but said the move was "strictly a matter of finances." She said the district would seek other sources of funds to run similar programs, including a state-preschool program.

Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez has ordered principals in New York City to refrain from the "mechanical, ritualized collection of lesson plans."

Issued last month, the directive suggests, however, that teachers continue to draft plans for the benefit of their students as well as for their own professional development.

The policy enhances a clause in the district's most recent labor contract with the United Federation of Teachers giving teachers more latitude in preparing their plans.

The directive "frees our teachers from rote adherence to outdated and unsuitable strictures that serve more as supervisory devices than tools for teaching," a u.f.t. spokesman said. "Now our teachers can focus on developing truly creative and innovative formats for educating their students."

The Council of Supervisors and Administrators, which is deciding whether to mount a legal challenge, has narrowly interpreted the directive as a ban against routinely collecting, holding, and returning lessons.

Donald Singer, the council's president, recommends that members continue reviewing plans "to meet curriculum and instructional objectives in an individualized, purposeful, and professional manner with sufficient frequency to insure that plans comply with individualized educational objectives."

An organization of New York City school-bus companies that transport disabled children has signed a new one-year contract with the city schools, ending a one-day suspension of service to some young students.

The suspension, which affected approximately 7,500 children between the ages of 3 and 5, ensued after an existing contract expired on New Year's Eve. The contractors continued to transport younger children because they are under court order to do so.

The Pre-School Transportation Alliance, a group of 24 private bus contractors, broke off talks with the school system following a dispute over the length of a new contract and its demand for increases to cover spiralfuel and insurance costs.

Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez announced Jan. 2 that the school system had worked out an agreement with the contractors with the understanding that discussions would continue on fuel and insurance costs.

The Cincinnati school district, confronted with the usual hard choices in cutting a $32-million budget deficit, is faced with one rather unusual one: whether to sell its prized art collection.

The collection, consisting of about 70 oil paintings by such regional artists as Frank Cuveneck and Elizabeth Nourse, is housed in a privately funded gallery in the district headquarters. The canvases have been donated piecemeal to city schools since 1900, said Virginia K. Griffin, a school-board member and the collection's volunteer curator.

Occasionally the focus of student field trips, the collection was most recently appraised two years ago at about $1 million, but Ms. Griffin said the current soft art market has probably decreased its value.

This week, the district's superintendent, Lee Etta Powell, will present to the school board a list of options for closing the budget gap, among them the sale of the collection.

"I would hate to see a disposal of the collection," Ms. Powell said. "But I have to put that in the context of being fiscally responsible."

Ms. Griffin said she doubts the collection will be sold, as just one board member has suggested to date.

Among the district's belt-tightening alternatives are salary reductions, layoffs, program cuts, and the sale of the district's administration building, officials said.

A Dade County magnet school last month received the first grant ever given by the French government to an American public school to help it expand an unusual four-year-old language program.

The $250,000 grant will enable the Sunset Elementary School in Miami to build more space for its K-2 students. The magnet school's curriculum includes the study of the languages, histories, and cultures of France, Germany, and Spain for both English-speaking and non-English-speaking students.

The French language program, created jointly by the French consulate in Miami and the Dade County schools, currently enrolls more than 200 children in grades 3 through 9. Representatives from the French embassy's education office in Washington follow the curricular materials closely, and regularly send an inspector to evaluate the school program.

A local middle school also participates in the international-studies program; the French program will be phased in at the high-school level by the 1993-94 school year, officials said.

A sniper firing on a passing school bus near Bourne, Mass., shot two students, killing a 14-year-old high-school basketball star.

Robyn Dabrowski, the leading scorer on the freshman girls' team at New Bedford High School, was hit on her right side as she rode to a game in Falmouth Jan. 5, said Joseph Gaughan, first assistant district attorney for Plymouth County. Her mother, Jo-Ann, was among the chaperones on the bus, according to Constantine T. Nanopoulos, the New Bedford school superintendent.

Robyn died later at a local hospital. The other girl, 14-year-old Susan Arruda, was grazed by the same bullet that killed Robyn, but was not seriously hurt.

Police have no suspects and no motive, but believe the shooting was deliberate. The only clues are the two .30-caliber bullets, Mr. Gaughan said. Minutes later, a white Mercedes automobile traveling on the same road was struck by gunfire, he added, but no one in the car was hurt.

Immediately after the incident, the school organized counseling sessions for the basket6ball team and Robyn's teachers. Counselors were also posted throughout the 3,100-student school last week, Mr. Nanopoulos said.

Chicago's 1988 school-reform law, which gave parent-dominated local councils control of the city's schools, is "the most important civil-rights legislation of the past decade," according to a group that helped craft the law.

According to a new study by Designs for Change, a local advocacy group, local school councils have given blacks and Hispanics unprecedented access to political authority.

In Chicago, 56 percent of the parents serving on the local school councils are black, as are 59 percent of the students in the district. Nationally, only 4.6 percent of school-board members are black, although black students make up 16.1 percent of the nation's public-school enrollment, the study says.

Similarly, Hispanics hold 1.4 percent of school-board seats nationally, but represent 9.9 percent of public-school students. In Chicago, 23 percent of the council members, and 26 percent of the students, are Hispanic.

The study is being used to defend the reform against attempts to dismantle it, said Abha Pandya, a policy associate of Designs for Change. Last November, the Illinois Supreme Court declared the reforms unconstitutional because they violate the principle of "one person, one vote" by giving parents of schoolchildren more political weight than other citizens.

Vol. 10, Issue 17

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