Thursday, March 23, 2000

Gore to salute Sands' success

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If Sands Montessori sixth-grader Jeremy Hill has a chance to talk to Vice President Al Gore today, he'll make a simple request: Fix the third-floor bathroom.

        “It's not that big a deal, but I do have to go downstairs when I have to go,” the 12-year-old from the West End said Wednesday, a day before Mr. Gore is scheduled to visit the 88-year-old building.

  • Address: 940 Poplar St.
  • Built: 1912.
  • Grades: Preschool—sixth grade.
  • Enrollment: 670.
  • History: Cincinnati's first public Montessori elementary and first magnet school, created in 1975, moved to Popular Street building in 1979.
  • Major renovations: A $1.5 million renovation to the roof and facade was completed in 1997. It began in 1995 after a chunk of terra cotta broke off the roofline and fell to the schoolyard.
  • Future: Cincinnati Public Schools facilities plan calls for the school to be closed in 2002 and the Montessori program to be moved to the current Academy of World Languages in Evanston. The school board has yet to officially approve the plan.
        Teachers and administrators are used to working around distractions such as bad plumbing (the bathroom won't be fixed until this summer), missing or ancient windows and even falling concrete.

        The school maintains some of the highest achievement levels in the Cincinnati Public Schools, despite the fact the four-story facility is literally falling apart.

        Sands sixth-graders met or surpassed state minimums on all but one of last year's Ohio Proficiency Tests. And the school increased the number of children passing the fourth-grade citizenship test by 11 percent and the reading test by nearly 8 percent last year.

        The success at the crumbling facility — chunks of the roof fell four stories on a Sunday in 1995, forcing the temporary closing of the school — is why the Gore campaign chose Sands for the stump appearance.

        “A big part of our campaign is building new schools and renovating old ones,” said Gore campaign spokesman Doug Hattaway. “The people at this school have been doing it for several years despite a building that is almost falling down, so this seemed like the perfect point to get our message across.”

        The visit comes a day after Mr. Gore — who has enough delegates to secure the Democratic presidential nomination this summer — announced his support for the $24.8 billion bipartisan bill titled America's Better Classroom Act.

        The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., and Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., would allow the federal government to cover the interest on any bonds issued for school construction or renovation.

        Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the expected Republican presidential nominee, has proposed states be given block grants instead, with individual districts having the power to decide whether they need new schools.

        There is little doubt whether Cincinnati Public Schools needs new schools. The district has consistently ranked among the worst in the nation when it comes to the quality of facilities.

        But neither plan would help Sands. District administrators have targeted the building for closure in July 2002.

        The Sands program was started in another building in 1975 as the nation's first public elementary Montessori school and relocated to the current building in the West End building in 1979.

        The plan calls for the Sands Montessori program — one of five in the district — to move to the Academy of World Languages building in Evans ton.

        Repairs on the roof and facade at Sands were finished three years ago, but music teacher Tony Barkley uses the plywood where a window used to be as poster space.

        Many of the remaining windows are opaque. They block a lot of sunlight and students are used to hearing them rattle in the winter.

        “It makes a sound like ZZZZZZZZ,” said sixth-grader Shamonique Jones of College Hill.

        Principal Maureen Murphy-Lintz said the school is committed to learning despite the state of the infrastructure.

        And she said the learning will continue today. Students will be taking the Ohio Proficiency Tests this morning instead of making huge welcome signs or preparing a staged welcome for the vice president.

        “This is an important time for us, and I don't want them distracted,” Mrs. Murphy-Lintz said. “Not all the kids will get to meet him anyway, so I don't want to get them all hyped up and then disappoint them.”

        Despite the planned low-key approach, students are excited Mr. Gore is coming, including fourth-grader Hosna Akhlaghpour, who moved to the United States from Iran seven years ago.

        “I'm learning a lot about the political process in this country,” said 9-year-old Hosna, of Clifton.

        Other students hope Mr. Gore's visit will underscore the plight of other schools.

        “If the roof had fallen in when someone was there or during school, somebody could have been hurt,” said sixth-grader Vanessa Miller of Clifton.

        “And there are schools in the city that are worse than ours, so it's good that he's focusing in on this.”


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