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The Coalition of Essential Schools last week named Amy Gerstein as its executive director.

Ms. Gerstein has spent the past two years as the associate director of the Bay Area School Reform Collaborative in San Francisco. Her appointment to the Providence, R.I.-based reform network comes as the coalition seeks to give its member schools a greater role in decisionmaking and shift more support services to the field.

As the executive director, Ms. Gerstein said she will emphasize decentralization, partnerships, and democracy.

"We will not dictate policy but help teachers and schools do what they need to do," she said.

Ms. Gerstein, who will replace Robert McCarthy, is scheduled to begin her new job next month.

The 13-year-old coalition, founded by education reformer Theodore R. Sizer, who remains its chairman, works with more than 1,000 schools nationwide.

Jackie DeFazio, the president of the American Association of University Women, has been awarded by Harvard University's school of education the Anne Roe Award. The award is given biennially to an individual who provides a model of leadership and excellence to women and has significantly contributed to the local community, the education profession, or the nation. ... Actor Kirk Douglas and his wife have launched a foundation that will provide $2.5 million in grants to restore deteriorating public school playgrounds in the Los Angeles area. The Anne and Kirk Douglas Playground Grant will provide up to $25,000 matching grants to schools in the form of money, services, or labor equal to half their requested grant. Ms. Douglas came up with the plan after reading about the conditions of city school playgrounds.

August W. Steinhilber, the longtime general counsel of the National School Boards Association, will retire at the end of 1997. Mr. Steinhilber "is one of the greatest school law experts in the country," said Benjamin Ferrara, the chairman of the Council of School Attorneys. Mr. Steinhilber's office assists school districts with legal advice and files briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court and in other courts on major education law cases. He joined the NSBA in 1968 as the first head of its legislative office, and became general counsel in 1977.

--ADRIENNE D. COLES & MARK WALSH

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