Tuesday, January 16, 2001

Cabinet nominee has local connections

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The choice of Ron Paige, President-elect Bush's choice to be secretary of education, is great news, say Tristate educators. Cincinnati schools chief Steven Adamowski says Mr. Paige's experience as superintendent of Houston's schools — the nation's 7th largest district — and his commitment to children make him a top choice.

        Mr. Paige spent two years at the University of Cincinnati as an assistant football coach and physical education instructor. He is remembered as an educator who went the extra mile for students.

        Last year, he and Mr. Adamowski served on the DeWitt Wallace Readers Digest Fund Education Advisory Board.

        “His background is not traditional, and as a result all those traditional education ideas were not beaten into him,” Mr. Adamowski said. His approach will “empower school districts to do things on their own.”

        Mr. Adamowski and other Cincinnatians who worked with Mr. Paige say he can bring a fresh voice and experience to national debates on education. The president-elect calls Mr. Paige “a reformer with a record of results.”

        As Houston superintendent, Mr. Paige brought reforms and better academic results to the city's 210,000 ethnically diverse students.

        And he's all about change.

        “Public education is the greatest social invention of mankind,” Mr. Paige has said, “but it needs fixing.”

        Those who know Mr. Paige say he's the one to make the fix.

        Jim Kelly was an assistant Bearcats football coach with Mr. Paige in 1969 and 1970, under head coach Ray Callahan.

        Mr. Kelly worked the offensive ends; Mr. Paige the defensive ends. When the Bearcats traveled, the two shared a room.

        Mr. Kelly, recently retired, is pleased about Mr. Paige's appointment.

        “He's got the intelligence to do it, but also when you are in the field of education you're used to working and you have to be dedicated to that,” Mr. Kelly said.

        He recalled Mr. Paige going the extra mile for UC quarterback Albert Johnson, who left school to be a defensive back for the Houston Oilers, where he played from 1972 to 1979.

        Mr. Paige had already left UC to become athletic director and head football coach at Texas Southern.

        Mr. “Johnson left with one semester to go. All he needed to do was his student teaching, so we arranged with Rod over the phone to have him do his teaching in Houston,” Mr. Kelly said.

Breadth of experience

               Mr. Paige's experience means there will be someone in Washington who knows what districts such as Cincinnati's are facing. And the ties even go deeper.

        Mr. Paige will take Houston Schools' Press Secretary Terry Abbott with him to Washington. The Cincinnati Business Council hired Mr. Abbott as a consultant to the school district's November campaign to pass a 6-mill levy.

        What makes Mr. Paige such a standout for the secretary of education job is the breadth of his experience, his Cincinnati peers said.

        “He's an urban superintendent with a reformer's orientation,” Mr. Adamowski said. “I hope we can be helpful to Mr. Paige in some of his initiatives.”


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