District News Roundup

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Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon of Washington has announced a comprehensive plan to reform the District of Columbia's juvenile- justice system and to begin new efforts to aid children and at-risk youths.

"[W]e must get out of our armchairs, take back our streets, and make a stand for our children," Ms. Dixon said in a televised address late last month. The Mayor sought to galvanize public support for her efforts to address a sharp upswing in violent crime by young people in the city.

Ms. Dixon's proposals for juvenile-justice reform include:

  • Instituting indeterminate sentences for violent juvenile offenders instead of returning them to the community after two years.
  • Beginning, in some cases, the transfer of the most serious juvenile offenders, as young as age 14, to the adult criminal system.
  • Creating a separate, secure juvenile facility for the most dangerous violent offenders.

Ms. Dixon also called for strengthening the current alternative-sentencing program as well as a greater effort to design alternative rehabilitation programs for nonviolent offenders.

With support from Superintendent of Schools Franklin L. Smith, Ms. Dixon also proposed an alternative, residential school for disruptive children.

In the same address, Mayor Dixon announced a "Children First" initiative that includes, among other proposals, the establishment of four pilot "turning point" centers in junior high schools to supply supplemental classes and activities before and after school as a way to prevent juvenile delinquency.

The Detroit public schools were forced to close on Dec. 2 after the building engineers who maintain the heating systems in the city's high schools staged a "sick out" to protest contract negotiations.

Because hot meals for the district's elementary and junior high schools are prepared in the high schools, the job action forced the district to close all schools, said Joseph Blanding, a school-board member.

On Dec. 4, engineers worked in the high schools so students could take examinations, but elementary and junior high schools again were closed.

Later that day, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 547 and the board reached an agreement giving engineers a 5-percent raise this year and 3-percent raises in the next two years.

The board had sought to give engineers a 3-percent raise this year and to change health benefits--moves the union opposed.

Black and Hispanic boys in Philadelphia have made dramatic strides in grade-promotion rates under the district's six-year-old promotion-improvement policy, according to a study presented to the city's board of education.

While students of all races and both boys and girls showed increased promotion rates between June 1988 and June 1991, Hispanic and African-American boys made the greatest gains in that period, showing more than a 20 percent increase, the study said. White and Asian students, and girls of all races, had the highest promotion levels throughout the period.

Spencer H. Davis, the district's assessment director, cited implementation of an intensive remedial summer-school program, expanded transitional classes, and a restructuring of the district's Chapter 1 program as factors in the improved rates. He noted that further changes, such as ungraded clusters for at-risk students, are being considered by the superintendent for inclusion in the pro- motion policy.

Elementary-school students in Orange County, Fla., will begin attending classes on a year-round calendar by 1995, after the county school board voted late last month to implement its experimental schedule districtwide.

Board members made the switch after hearing little opposition from parents, teachers, and citizens who have worked under the system during a two-year pilot program at five elementary schools in the central Florida district, which includes Orlando.

Thirteen more schools are scheduled to use the modified calendar this summer. Under the Orange County plan, students attend class for 12 weeks at a stretch, followed by a 3-week break. The plan will be phased in at the district's 85 elementary schools over the next four years.

School officials predicted that the plan will allow them to save as much as $64 million in building costs.

Faced with an abundance of private donations, the Greenwich (Conn.) Board of Education has approved a policy requiring schools to seek board approval to accept gifts or donations valued at more than $5,000.

The school system has had a similar policy in existence for several years, according to Judy Krok, the district's assistant director of personnel, but recent increases in philanthropy have necessitated a longer and more detailed examination of the issue.

Although the district, which serves a very affluent community, views the rising generosity of donors as "obviously very desirable from one point of view," the board also wants to "make sure we are in compliance with.. the town charter," according to Ms. Krok. It also seeks to ensure that "a gift does not inadvertently influence curriculum or program direction without such influence being given due consideration."

An elementary school in Wales, Mass., is struggling with what has been called the state's largest elementary class due to budget woes that forced the firing of five of the district's seven teachers.

The principal of Wales Elementary School last week took over teaching duties for a combined class of 58 students in grades 5 and 6, while one of the remaining teachers taught 52 pupils in grades 3 and 4, and the other teacher managed 76 K-2 students.

School officials received some relief later in the week when a private donation allowed them to hire a 2nd-grade teacher until the town votes on a property-tax referendum Jan. 3. The five teachers, along with a secretary and a custodian, were laid off after voters defeated a referendum last month.

Budget cuts in nearby Holyoke, meanwhile, prompted a group of Hispanic parents to file a motion in federal court last week asking the city to provide $8 million to restore the school budget to its 1990-91 level.

The motion asks the city to comply with the terms of a 1981 desegregation consent decree designed to provide better educational opportunities for Hispanic students. State and local budget cuts have caused the city to take "major steps backward" in complying with the decree, said Alan Katz, a lawyer representing the parents..

Vol. 11, Issue 15, Page 3

Published in Print: December 11, 1991, as District News Roundup
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