Alexander praises reform measures at 2 city schools

September 03, 1992|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

The Bush administration's top education official endured a verbal assault during a visit to a Baltimore school yesterday.

The incident occurred when Education Secretary Lamar Alexander visited Dr. Bernard Harris Sr. Elementary School in East Baltimore.

As Mr. Alexander left the school, he was confronted by Marilyn Hunter, a field officer of the Maryland State Teachers Association and one of a small group of anti-Bush protesters.

"It certainly is no pleasure to meet you," sniffed Ms. Hunter, as she shook hands with the official she disparagingly called "the point man on the Bush education program."

Mr. Alexander pointedly replied: "You're obviously not a teacher."

As Mr. Alexander headed to his car, Ms. Hunter shot back: "I teach my children honesty, which is more than I can say for the present administration. Please look around at the hungry children who are the result of the 12 years of your administration."

Mr. Alexander came to Baltimore to inspect and praise a pair of schools involved in dramatic reform measures. The exchange with Ms. Hunter was an unexpected twist to his carefully choreographed tour.

One of the schools that Mr. Alexander visited, Harlem Park Middle School, is being run by a private contractor this year, in part of a bold nine-school experiment in school privatization.

Dr. Bernard Harris Sr. Elementary School is one of eight city schools participating in "Success For All," a nationally praised program initiated by the Johns Hopkins University.

In meetings with staff and students at both schools, Mr. Alexander said such programs represent "break-the-mold" attempts to change the shape of public education.

"Our children are not going back to the same old schools; our schools are changing," he said, citing Baltimore's privatization experiment and a new federally funded project in St. Mary's County based on the "Success For All" model.

The programs parallel the president's own education goals, he said.

Mr. Alexander's visit was part of a Bush administration campaign to highlight innovative school reform measures across the country. In a news conference at Dr. Bernard Harris Sr. Elementary, Mr. Alexander rejected suggestions that his visit was political.

"Just because it happens to be an election year doesn't mean that we should fail to honor those educators who are willing to put their necks on the line," he said. "We're not doing this in any partisan way."

But he took the opportunity to recap some of administration's education moves, including a program to fund 535 innovative school projects around the country.

Mr. Alexander also chided Congress for blocking the administration's efforts to cut the red tape involved with some $11 billion in federal education programs.

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