Monday, August 14, 2000

Educators' fight may cost schools

Grant could be held up for anti-drug program

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ohio's state school superintendent will review recent changes to Cincinnati Public Schools' anti-drug program, but the review could delay federal grant money and affect student services.

        Some $497,000 in federal grant money was expected by late August to fund the district's award-winning student programs on drug and alcohol awareness, and teen leadership.

        With the programs under review by the state — caught up in district staff and faculty disagreement over how best to serve students — the grant could be delayed.

        The school year will start without students and teachers receiving training in drug and alcohol awareness, or leadership.

        Last year, the programs served 11 percent of the district's 44,200 students.

        Three administrative positions in the anti-drug program have been eliminated by the district.

        The review was prompted by a complaint from the advisory committee of Cincinnati's Safe and Drug Free schools program after the district decided to change how program money is distributed to schools, said Dottie Howe, Ohio Department of Education spokeswoman.

        The complaint by committee co-chair Earl Siegel asks Superintendent Susan Zellman to review Cincinnati Superintendent Steven Adamowski's plans to redesign district programs.

        “Superintendent Ada mowski has made some unilateral decisions concerning the redesign of the Safe and Drug Free Schools program without consultation, input or approval from the advisory committee,” Mr. Siegel wrote.

        Mr. Adamowski referred all comments to district spokesmen.

        Spokesman Jan Leslie said program services will be provided, despite changes in personnel.

        The district did not renew director Lowrie Turner's contract and returned two teachers who worked for the program to the classroom.

        Mr. Adamowski said he wants to give each school money for drug prevention. The district received approval from the federal government to make the changes. The state will decide if the changes are appropriate.

        In the past, decisions on how to spend the grant were made by Ms. Turner's staff, often without input from schools. Money was not distributed evenly to all schools.

        Mr. Adamowski told parents and students who spoke at several board of education meetings in the past two months that services in the anti-drug program would remain the same.

        Parents and others in the community are angered by talk of any changes because they say the program reaches beyond the schools and into the city's neighborhoods.

        “What people don't understand is that this has built into the community a beacon of survival for the young people,” said Nashid Shakir, an advisory committee member and parent.

        “To me this has succeeded not just in schools but in families,” Ms. Shakir said. “There are values now where people are bringing their brothers' and sisters' generation back up.”

        Keith Alford, 20, a graduate of the teen programs, offered an example.

        “There are people, even the police, who if they see you wearing a Teen Institute shirt and you're doing something wrong, will come over and tell you to take the shirt off because you are not representing what it stands for,” said Mr. Alford, who is studying electrical engineering at Wright State University.

        In May, the board of education voted to maintain the current program and conduct an evaluation in February.

        Terry Joyner, the district's director of instruction, now handles drug-prevention programs. She met with the advisory committee Friday to outline the district's goals.

        The district will rely on 10 prevention specialists to deliver services and work with schools to meet drug prevention goals. Every school will receive money and services to address substance abuse and peer leadership.

        “The effectiveness of the program was never the concern,” Ms. Joyner said. “The children who participated benefited greatly. It is an issue of equity.”

        Administrative costs totaled 20 percent of the program's budget, above the average 10 percent for federal grant programs, Ms. Joy ner said.

        Under Ms. Turner, the 13-year-old program went from one funded by the school system to one operating on federal dollars. Prevention specialists were housed in schools with the most need, based on suspension and expulsion rates over drugs. Western Hills and Woodward high schools coordinators were in-house, while Walnut Hills had none.

        But any school needing services could get them by calling her, Ms. Turner said.

        The schools also worked with community agencies to provide additional counseling and other services.

        Such partnerships will continue and expand, Ms. Joyner said.

        People upset about altering the programs say the proposed changes are not good for students.

        “I probably would not have made it through college without Lowrie (Turner),” said Liz Hiles, 24, who now works as Hamilton County's Teen Institute coordinator. “I used to call her from school crying my freshman year.”

        Gina Tyus, 23, said she wants to see her younger sister experience the anti-drug program.

        “I've come a long way,” Miss Tyus said. “In the ninth grade I started fights and cussed people out. I had issues.”

        Teen Institute helped her deal with those issues. When Miss Tyus' boyfriend was killed in a drug-related incident during her senior year at Woodward High, Teen Institute helped again.

        “I stopped going to school. I thought my world would end. I walked into Reading Road and waited for a car to hit me,” she said.

        People like teacher Dianne Siereveld and Miss Hiles provided support.

        “I've just been totally different since then,” said Miss Tyus, who is studying to be a dietary manager at Cincinnati State. “It's not so much the program as it is the people.”

        Ms. Joyner said the revamped anti-drug program will give students all the services that existed under Ms. Turner.

        “I think it's important for students to have relationships with caring adults,” Ms. Joyner said.

        “We know that can make an impact in their lives at this point. But the other thing that is important is for students to transition from being dependent on one individual to have more of a dependence on their ability to solve problems and make good decisions.”


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