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Schools recall time of faith


MY ASSIGNMENT last Sept. 11 was to cover the religious schools' reaction to the terror. I found these schools had one thing in their grasp that the public schools could not command, at least formally, at least publicly, at least verbally:


"We came together as a faith community by way of prayer," Ronald J. Valenti, superintendent of Baltimore Catholic schools, said the other day when I asked him about the year since 9/11. "It's been a great sense of comfort."

Rabbi Herman N. Neuberger, president of Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Pikesville, said much the same thing. "We live in a world that's much neglectful of spiritual values," said Neuberger. "What happened made us reaffirm our principles and values."

No one knows how long it will last - there are some signs of lagging church attendance a year later, said Valenti - but Sept. 11 spurred an increase in school voluntarism and in the number of men and women switching careers to lower-paying teaching jobs. (In parochial schools, they're notably lower-paying.)

"I noticed a real sense of reflection about the value of life and what it means to be connected to family," said Valenti.

When the terrorists struck in 2001, the fall term was up and running, so it wasn't until this fall's teacher orientation that Valenti and other leaders observed some of the effects. "People are switching," said Valenti. "Lawyers, accountants, stockbrokers are coming into teaching. Many of them feel a need to give back."

That sense of selflessness spread throughout education, public and private. For example, Teach for America, the program that places recent college liberal arts graduates in teaching jobs in the nation's most neglected schools, experienced a 180 percent increase in applications - to 14,000 - this year.

A lesson learned by most schools might be called preparedness. Baltimore Catholic schools were lucky last Sept. 11. They had just put in place a crisis management plan that stood the 94 archdiocesan schools in good stead in the terrible days after the attacks.

Amended in light of the experience of 9/11, the plan encourages rational acts in times of crisis. When emergency rises, for example, principals are not to go on the intercom and announce a catastrophe. Instead, each school has a code that alerts teachers. They consult administrators and break the news gently and appropriately, depending on the age and maturity of their students.

Nor are schools encouraged to allow kids to watch "unfiltered" television in the wake of a tragedy. Valenti said many younger children went home last Sept. 11 thinking that dozens of buildings had been attacked; they failed to understand that the repeated TV images were of the same two World Trade Center structures - over and over again.

The Catholic schools, which enroll 37,000 children in Central Maryland, are decentralized. But Valenti e-mailed principals Monday, urging them, he said, "to be prepared. All schools have planned religious exercises. Every school is involved in some kind of memorial."

A rare show of protest from a united front

Just hope they weren't taking names at the city school board meeting Monday evening, as a few dozen principals and assistant principals showed up to protest the latest development in the rearrangement of chairs on the system's administrative deck.

Even though the principals protested silently - none allowed her name to be used by The Sun - this was an unusual revolt. Principals seldom band together when they feel insulted and degraded, which is often.

In this case, they were protesting the salaries paid the schools' new academic coaches, some of whom will earn more than assistant principals and even some principals. It's not that the principals don't welcome additional help; it's that they know who the coaches are. They know that many have nowhere near the experience of veteran school chiefs and their assistants, and they know their own salaries lag in a business in which running a school is perhaps the most demanding job.

To add insult to injury, the new coaches, who are exempt from cafeteria duty and test coordination, had off yesterday, Election Day, while the principals had to work.

The reorganization, which began this year with the demotion and redeployment of about 200 central office administrators, is at least the 15th in the system since 1971.

UM business school rated 16th in nation by recruiters

A Wall Street Journal survey of corporate business recruiters released this week named the University of Maryland, College Park's business school 16th best in the nation, behind Dartmouth (first), Michigan and Harvard but ahead of Duke, Cornell and the University of Virginia.

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