'The Basics' Is Once Again Rallying Cry in Littleton Election

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In an election two years ago that drew national attention and split a community, three candidates were elected to the school board in Littleton, Colo., touting a back-to-basics platform.

They promised to overhaul the district's controversial performance-based graduation requirements, and to make broad changes in curriculum, policy, and procedures. Their election marked the defeat of one of the nation's most closely watched school-reform experiments.

As this year's election approaches, the focus for voters is once again a call for "the basics," with a new slate of candidates promising to return to more traditional-style education, and to do it faster.

The new candidates have criticized the three-member slate that seized control of the board in the 16,000-student district in 1993 for moving too slowly. After their election, Carol Brzeczek, John Fanchi, and current school board President Bill Cisney quickly used their 3-1 majority to oust the superintendent, call for a curriculum review, and repeal the performance-based graduation requirements at Littleton High School. (See Education Week, Feb. 9, 1994.)

In the subsequent months, several administrators resigned amid turmoil over the new board's agenda.

Mr. Fanchi has since resigned, and two years remain on his four-year term. That seat and two others are up for grabs on the Nov. 7 ballot, with a total of nine candidates competing for them.

Much of campaign in recent weeks has focused on three moderate candidates, including incumbent board member Jack Ballard, and a slate of three new back-to-basics candidates.

Al Litwak believes "traditional education" should be the cornerstone of Littleton's curriculum. He said his slate does not disagree with the philosophy of the current board members, but believes they're not moving fast enough. The changes "that were promised were never undertaken with the determination needed to reach the objective," said Mr. Litwak, 65, an economic consultant.

Mr. Ballard, though, believes a victory by Mr. Litwak's slate would stifle debate over the future of education in Littleton.

Mr. Ballard said the moderate candidates are open to discussion of other options, including some less traditional schools, because they believe the one big issue is the need for "a good, strong, academic core curriculum."

Albany, N.Y.

Claims of Party Backing Dog Board Candidates

The Albany, N.Y., school board race has taken on the aura of a Halloween costume party, with the boogeymen said to be disguised as independent candidates.

At least on the surface, all nine candidates in the race are independent, in compliance with a state law that requires nonpartisan school board elections.

But three candidates have been singled out by the The Times Union newspaper and some of their campaign opponents, who say the three are being backed by the local Democratic Party in a bid to regain its control of the board.

The allegation is a charged one in the race for the three open seats on the seven-member board. The local Democratic Party was said to control the board until 1989, when a parents' group, Citizens of Albany for Responsible Education, took control. Board members whose candidacies were backed by the group still retain a 4-3 majority.

One candidate, incumbent board member Patrick J. Amodeo, acknowledged last week that he has mobilized several of the city's Democratic ward leaders to assist in his campaign. But he denied that such support constitutes party backing.

Mr. Amodeo alleged that CARE itself operates as a party and backs three candidates, despite claims of its past leaders that the group is defunct.

Many of the debates leading up to the election have focused on the city's magnet schools, which are used to integrate the minority children who make up more than half the district's 9,400-student enrollment.

Ward T. Dewitt, an incumbent board member, has sought to expand the magnet program to include younger grades, but Mr. Amodeo has denounced this as "social engineering."

--Peter Schmidt

Fairfax County, Va.

Many Board Candidates Support Creationism

Fairfax County, Va., voters will get to choose their school board members for the first time this fall, and teaching creationism has emerged as one of several hotly contested issues in this inaugural race.

The state legislature in 1992 passed a law that allowed Virginia districts to replace appointed school boards with elected ones, if local voters approved the action in a referendum. (See Education Week, Feb. 26, 1992.)

Last year, Fairfax County residents, whose 143,000-student school district in the Washington suburbs is the nation's 11th largest, voted overwhelmingly in favor of a elected school board.

A field of 34 candidates is now vying for seats on the 12-member board, which includes three at-large positions.

About a dozen of the candidates support teaching creationism alongside evolution in science classes, according to two advocacy groups that have compiled voter-information guides.

"As Bible-believing Christians, we definitely believe in teaching that where scientific evidence tends to support creation, that can be pointed out to the student," said William Nowers, the president of the Fairfax County affiliate of the American Family Association, a conservative citizens' group that supports the teaching of creationism. "We don't need to keep them in the dark."

But other candidates say that creationism should not be a part of science class.

"Biblical creation is theology and belongs in a Sunday-school class," said Barbara Szumowski, an executive board member of the Fairfax Alliance for Responsible Education. "It's a battle that was fought years and years ago, and I don't think modern, mainstream Fairfax County wants to go through it again."

--Meg Sommerfeld

Pawtucket, R.I.

African Native Seeks A Voice on the Board

A native of the West African island nation of Cape Verde is running for the school board in Pawtucket, R.I., where the segregation of white and minority students has prompted threats of state intervention.

Local election officials say Joao G. Goncalves Jr., a 26-year-old community activist and insurance-claims adjuster who has lived in Pawtucket for most of his life, is the first minority candidate to seek a spot on the seven-member board. Mr. Goncalves, a U.S. citizen, is one of many immigrants from the Atlantic island group who have settled in the 9,000-student district.

All seven seats on the board are up for election, and Mr. Goncalves is one of eleven candidates.

He was a member of a local task force that recommended changes in the district's busing and student-assignment policies after state officials said the city had not met state guidelines for maintaining racial balance in the schools.

The Pawtucket school committee, which initially accepted the changes recommended by the task force, reversed its decision last spring. As a result, the state education department has threatened to withhold state aid or impose other sanctions if the board does not relent. (See Education Week, April 5, 1995.)

Mr. Goncalves said last week that he wants the new board to pass the task force's plan, which includes steps for overall school improvement. Schools in Pawtucket with high concentrations of minority students--a growing number from Central America and Africa--are not performing well on standardized tests, he added.

"There's a need for these kids to have representation," said Mr. Goncalves, who helped found a nonprofit community-development center for other immigrants from Cape Verde.

--Joanna Richardson

San Francisco

School Admissions Policy An Issue in Mayoral Race

The leading candidates to be San Francisco's next mayor are taking the middle ground on race-based admissions to schools, a subject that has mobilized the city's Chinese-American community.

Chinese-American parents, angered because some of their children have been denied admission to some of the city's most desirable schools because of efforts to preserve racial balance, have made the district's admissions policy an issue in the race.

Mayor Frank Jordan, who is seeking a second term in office, and former state Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, his main challenger, both favor a compromise approach to racial quotas in schools. They say the district's policy should retain diversity but also provide more options for students who are turned away because of their race.

Only Ben Hom--the sole Republican in the seven-way race, and a long-shot candidate in the predominantly Democratic city--has publicly called for abolition of all race-related restrictions on admissions.

A group of Chinese-American parents contends that the district's court-ordered school-desegregation policy keeps qualified students out of public schools such as Lowell High School, which has one of the most sought-after academic programs in the city.

Last month, the parents won the first round in their lawsuit over the policy, which requires that no ethnic group make up more than 45 percent of a neighborhood school's student body or 40 percent of a magnet school's enrollment. (See Education Week, Oct. 11, 1995.)

--Joanna Richardson

West Hartford, Conn.

Party Lines DrawnOver Redistricting Plan

A controversial plan to redistrict elementary schools may help Republican school board candidates weaken Democratic control in the 8,600-student West Hartford district.

Democrats have dominated the board for nearly a decade and are almost certain to retain their majority this time around.

Four candidates--two Democrats and two Republicans--are vying for the three seats on the seven-member board.

Even if both Republicans win seats, however, Democrats will retain a 4-3 majority.

The Republicans have campaigned strongly against a plan approved by the current board to redistrict the town's elementary schools, which also calls for the creation of three new magnet schools.

Republican candidate Paul Semanski is a member of Citizens for Quality Education, a grassroots organization that formed last year to fight the redistricting plan.

"I was unhappy with the rapid implementation of the magnet schools," and with the redistricting, he said. "I'm working to maintain and provide quality neighborhood schools."

Despite the group's efforts, the redistricting plan went into effect at the beginning of this school year, though it is undergoing changes.

"The plan is already in place," said Diane Randall, a Democratic candidate. "The community is ready to move forward."

--Adrienne D. Coles

Vol. 15, Issue 09

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