District News Roundup

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The District of Columbia school board has approved a plan designed to encourage more white students to enroll in city schools.

The board last week endorsed a plan to seek $6.5 million over two years from the U.S. Education Department to establish magnet programs at 10 elementary and junior high schools.

If the department approves the program, it will bring much-needed funds into the financially strapped district, which is planning to lay off hundreds of employees and close a dozen schools by next fall.

Nearly 90 percent of the approximately 80,000 students in the city are black, 6 percent are Hispanic, and 4 percent are white. Most white parents in the city send their children to parochial or private schools.

The goal of the program is to "reduce racial isolation in elementary and secondary schools,'' the board resolution states, by providing extra funding for special programs at the schools and giving white students preference in enrolling in them.

Under the plan, three elementary schools would establish mathematics, science, and technology programs; two elementary and one junior high school would begin international-studies programs; and one elementary and one junior high would offer arts-and-sciences programs.

Superintendent Franklin L. Smith has ordered every school in the district to develop an instructional theme to attract students and plans to implement a citywide choice policy.

A 15-year old sophomore fatally shot himself during lunch at a high school in Gloucester, Mass., late last month.

The boy, whom authorities would not identify, had asked a number of friends to join him in the cafeteria at Gloucester High School because he wanted to make "an announcement,'' according to police.

After bantering with his friends, the student reached into his bag, pulled out a .22-caliber handgun, put it to his head, and pulled the trigger, police said.

The student was rushed to a nearby hospital, and was later airlifted to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he died.

Principal Charles Symonds described the boy as a popular, "nice kid'' who played for the school's soccer team.

Authorities said they did not know if the boy was trying to kill himself or why he had the gun.

School officials set up counseling sessions for students and staff members, Mr. Symonds said.

In an effort to combat increasing violence in the Philadelphia public schools, the city's police department has loaned the district a top official to revamp its security operations.

Superintendent Constance E. Clayton and Police Commissioner Richard Neal announced late last month that Chief Inspector William T. Bergman Jr. will temporarily serve as the district's executive director for school safety.

For the next six months, Mr. Bergman will supervise the district's safety officers, oversee their training, and create a network consisting of the district, the police, and community agencies and groups, Ms. Clayton said.

Mr. Bergman, who joined the force in 1969, has been active in decentralizing the department and promoting its community-relations policy. Last year, he was among the finalists for police commissioner.

Violence in the district is on the increase, school officials say. In November, a student opened fire in a South Philadelphia high school, wounding two students. In December, another high school student was stabbed during a fight. Last month, one high school student was found slain and another charged with murder in connection with a carjacking incident.

The Attorney General of Massachusetts has called on officials at Medford High School to hire more black faculty members in an effort to quell racial tensions following a violent altercation between black and white students in December.

The large-scale brawl in the school cafeteria resulted in numerous injuries and arrests, and the school was closed for more than a week.

Attorney General Scott Harshbarger asserts in his report on the incident that "the scarcity of minorities among the faculty contributes to an overall lack of role models for minority students and to an atmosphere that minimizes the importance of a strong minority presence in the institution's power structure.''

Currently, the staff of 125 includes five black faculty members.

The report recommends that Medford High faculty members and students undergo sensitivity training, that a code of student conduct be developed, that a mural in a hallway in which the only black is a slave be removed, and that better discipline policies be developed.

School officials generally endorsed the report, but said that few faculty positions open up each year and that no money is available to hire additional staff members.

The ousted chairman of the Harlan County, Ky., school board was indicted late last month by a local grand jury and will go to court to defend against charges that he used the position to profit financially.

The charge, which stems from one of the findings that led the state school board to remove the official, Benny Dale Coleman, relates to a $3,487 credit that his building-supply company received from a paint company after it made sales to the district. Officials have charged that the credit was a bribe.

State prosecutors said Mr. Coleman could face one to five years in prison if convicted of the misconduct charge. Prosecutors hinted that a future grand jury could add more charges related to the board activities that led to the removal of Mr. Coleman and two fellow board members.

Mr. Coleman did not comment following the indictment, but in a lawsuit contesting his removal had argued that there was nothing improper about the credit, which he said he knew nothing about.

The grand jury also recently indicted another former board member and the district's former interim superintendent on misconduct charges.

The superintendent of schools in Cobb County, Ga., has resigned following charges of alleged financial misdoings in his previous position.

Late last month, the Cobb County school board declined to renew the contract of Superintendent Arthur Steller, who came to the 76,000-student district in November after seven years as head of the Oklahoma City district.

Board members were due to renew Mr. Steller's six-month contract next month when they were called by Oklahoma reporters for comment on a state auditor's report. The report alleges that Mr. Steller improperly received more than $200,000, including $80,000 in unused sick leave, from the Oklahoma City schools.

Mr. Steller faces no criminal charges for his alleged actions.

The Cobb County board appointed Grace O'Calhoun, a 27-year veteran of the district, as the new superintendent.

Mr. Steller said last week that the Oklahoma report is "full of errors'' and that he was preparing a response. He remains a consultant to the Cobb County system until his contract expires in June.

At the urging of angry ministers and war veterans, the Detroit school board has rejected a proposal to stop opening its meetings with a prayer and a salute to the American flag.

The board voted 6 to 5 last month to reject the proposal even after it had been modified to retain the flag ceremony and to provide for a moment of silence when the prayer traditionally had been said.

The board acted after hearing from several speakers, including James Holley, the pastor of Little Rock Baptist Church in Detroit, who called the proposal "a slap in the face of the church community'' and urged the board "not to divide this city.''

The changes, proposed by a board member, Kwame Kenyatta, were backed by some local political activists who said they did not feel represented by the flag salute and prayer.

Two Maryland high schools are incorporating Swahili into their foreign-language program after a survey indicated student interest in the language was high.

Students at Frederick and Gov. Thomas Johnson high schools, both in Frederick County, can enroll in the course this month for the fall semester. If enough response is generated, Swahili will be offered as a two-year, sequential language program, along with French, German, Latin, Spanish, and Russian, school officials said.

School officials surveyed students in grades 9 through 11 at three high schools after citizens asked why the county schools did not offer an African language.

African languages are not often available at the precollegiate level.

A number of people have questioned how useful Swahili--the language spoken throughout central and eastern Africa--will be, said Fred White, who petitioned the district to offer the language. But he noted that students of other languages may not be able to use those languages either.

Susan Smith, a foreign-language curriculum specialist for the district, said that the overwhelming response to the survey was unexpected. The district has relatively few minority students.

Vol. 12, Issue 24

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