News in Brief: A National Roundup

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N.Y.C.'s Alvarado Appointed to San Diego Academic Post

Anthony J. Alvarado, who is nationally known as an urban education reformer for his work in two of New York City's community school districts, has been named to the top academic post in the San Diego schools.

Anthony J. Alvarado

The announcement was made last week by Alan D. Bersin, who stepped down as the U.S. attorney in San Diego to head the 138,000-student district. ("San Diego's New Chief an Unlikely Pick," March 18, 1998.) Mr. Bersin, who begins his new job next month, is reorganizing the district's administration.

As the chancellor of instruction, Mr. Alvarado will oversee curriculum, staff development, and assessment. He also will manage a new professional-development academy for teachers and principals.

The 56-year-old educator is currently the superintendent of New York's Community District 2, where he has been credited with improving students' reading performance from 10th to second among the system's 32 subdistricts.

He also served as the chancellor of the citywide New York system from 1983 to 1984, and has been a contender in several superintendent searches this year.

Va. Teen Charged in Shootings

A 14-year-old student in Richmond, Va., was charged in a shooting last week that left two adults at his school wounded.

The student, Quinshawn D. Booker, had intended to hit another student following an earlier argument, according to police officials. Gregory Carter, a 45-year-old social studies teacher and basketball coach, and Eloise Wilson, a 74-year-old Head Start volunteer, both sustained non-life-threatening injuries in the June 15 incident at Armstrong High School.

With only one day of school left for the year, most students were taking final exams at 10 a.m., when the incident occurred. Classes were canceled for the next day, and students were given the opportunity to take their exams again.

A police officer assigned to the 700-student school chased the suspect for five blocks before arresting him.

Mr. Booker was charged as an adult with two counts of malicious wounding and with related firearms offenses.

Two days after the shooting, Republican Gov. James S. Gilmore III announced at Armstrong High School the formation of a new commission of government and community leaders, teachers, principals, and police to address youth safety.

Guilty Verdict for Woodham

A Mississippi jury has found Luke Woodham guilty of killing two classmates and wounding seven others in a shooting incident at Pearl High School last October.

Following the June 12 verdicts, state Circuit Court Judge Samac Richardson sentenced Mr. Woodham to two life sentences for first-degree murder, and seven 20-year terms for aggravated assault, ensuring that the 17-year-old will spend the rest of his life in prison.

The convictions gave both students and teachers some feeling of closure, said William Dodson, the superintendent of the 4,000-student Pearl district, outside Jackson. But, he added, six students charged as conspirators in the murders still await criminal trials.

The Pearl High School incident was the first in a series of multiple-victim school shootings during the 1997-98 school year. The shootings have raised concerns nationwide and prompted tough responses to threats of student violence. ("Officials Take No Chances After Killings," June 3, 1998.)

La. District Blocks 'Holdbacks'

To deter parents from intentionally seeking to have their children held back a year in school to further develop their athletic prowess, a Louisiana school board has decided that students will be ineligible to play sports for one semester if they are held back.

The unanimous vote this month by the board of the 18,000-student Ouachita Parish system in Monroe responded to reports that some parents were keeping their children out of school for 20 or more days so that they would be forced to repeat a grade, and thus be able to compete for another year at that grade level, according to Superintendent Lanny Johnson. ("Charges of Redshirting in La. Prompting Questions of Values," April 3, 1996.)

State policy requires that students who are absent for 20 or more days be denied advancement to the next grade. The new rule takes effect in the 1998-99 school year.

Sealed Audit Ordered Released

A judge in Somersworth, N.H., has ruled that an audit school officials had voted to keep sealed for 45 years must be made public.

Superior Court Judge Tina Nadeau of Strafford County said June 12 that the 1,766-student Somersworth district must unseal the audit of employees' compensation and conduct related to a grant program, but that it should blacken out the names and titles of the teachers involved.

The judge made the ruling after Foster's Daily Democrat, a local newspaper, argued that state law gave it the right to know what was in the document.

The issue was whether the audit was considered a personnel or a financial matter, said Edgar Melanson, the superintendent of the Somersworth and Rollinsford districts.

The judge concluded that the benefits of disclosure outweighed the privacy interests of the individuals.

Teacher Ends 'Print' Battle

A California substitute teacher who cannot be successfully fingerprinted is calling it quits after trying for 10 years to be hired as a full-time teacher in the state.

Kenneth Payne suffers from an incurable skin disease and cannot give a legible set of fingerprints, which the state requires of all its teachers for criminal-background checks. ("Right To Teach in Calif. Denied Without Prints," April 29, 1998.)

Over the past two months, Mr. Payne's lawyers have worked with the California Department of Justice to find a solution. The department agreed July 11 to modify its policy to include alternative searches if a person is unable to give a set of classifiable prints. But the changes still would not give Mr. Payne statewide clearance.

Mr. Payne has decided to begin looking for positions in Washington state and Idaho, where the clearance process is more promising, according to his lawyer, Stephen A. Rosenbaum.

Mr. Rosenbaum, a lawyer at the Berkeley, Calif.-based Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, said they would continue to push for legislation to keep others from having the same problem.

Court Faults Bus Company

A New York state court has ruled that the Troy school district can terminate its five-year contract with a bus company.

The 5,000-student district asked for a summary judgment against the company, Albany Yellow Communications Inc., for breach of contract. The district said that since September 1996, there have been more than 85 instances in which the contract was violated.

Some of the complaints against the company's employees included tardiness in picking up and dropping off students, drunk driving, numerous traffic accidents, and traffic tickets.

Judge James B. Canfield said June 8 that the contract could be terminated because the company had not provided any relevant arguments in its defense. Company officials said they would appeal.

The board was expected to vote June 24 on whether to terminate the contract.

Seniors Fall Short on Service

About 30 high school seniors who failed to complete Maryland's service-learning requirement won't be tossing their caps at graduation, a state spokesman said.

The class of 1998--46,500 strong statewide--had five years to complete the state mandate for 75 hours of such work--plenty of time to feed the homeless, aid the elderly, and clean up the community, said spokesman Ron Pfeiffer.

The laggards will still receive diplomas, but they are required to make up the hours over the summer.

Maryland--the only state to do so-- mandated in 1992 that high school graduates complete a community-service requirement. The class of 1997 was the first to complete such projects. Last year, 50 students did not meet the requirement.

Conn. Prank Leads to Arrests

A senior "prank day" at a Connecticut high school has resulted in 23 arrests and 71 suspensions.

The students, hoping to create a diversion, placed a 911 call to the New Fairfield police department just after midnight on June 9. As police responded to the call, more than two dozen students broke into New Fairfield High School. They ransacked classrooms, put Vaseline on handrails and doorknobs, and hung pornographic pictures, according to the school's principal, Allan Fossbender.

An off-duty police officer who was under contract to watch the building discovered the students around 1 a.m. Mr. Fossbender gave five-day suspensions to 71 students and pressed charges against 23 students for burglary and criminal mischief.

Officials estimate the damage at the 787-student school at nearly $1,400.


Phillip Runkel

Phillip E. Runkel, the Michigan superintendent of schools from 1980 to 1987, died June 10 from complications following lung surgery. He was 70.

Mr. Runkel took over as state schools chief during a statewide recession and became a tireless campaigner for local school tax elections. He also worked to put together technical-assistance teams to help academically troubled districts.

He began his career as a business teacher and coach in the Hale, Mich., public schools in 1951. After rising to the rank of middle school principal in the Michigan districts of Bloomingdale, Birmingham, and Utica, he became the superintendent of the Grand Rapids schools in 1969.

Mr. Runkel was the managing director of Everen Securities of Lansing and Chicago at the time of his death.

Vol. 17, Issue 41, Page 4

Published in Print: June 24, 1998, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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