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PRACTICE WHAT YOU TEACH

DELIA ARMSTRONG-BUSBY HAS DEVOTED HER LIFE TO LEARNING. BUT THIS LAST LESSON CAME HARD.A MATTER OF PRINCIPAL DELIA ARMSTRONG-BUSBY IS SMART. SHE'S TOUGH. AND SHE'S OUTTA THERE.

Delia launched a series of meetings to discuss what the teachers needed, hoping it would bring the two sides together. But she was unable to win over many of her detractors.

Still, she had more to worry about than a disgruntled staff. Mitchell had a double-digit dropout rate, especially among its growing population of minority and low-income students. Thirty percent of the kids were minority; 40 percent of the students were from families that lived below the poverty level.

And there were more immediate concerns. The school was located in a business area and hemmed in on two sides by large apartment complexes that had a reputation for drug-dealing, shootings and other crimes.

A police officer warned Delia to stay out of the school parking lots when she was alone because of the danger. "My God, if I can't even go to the parking lot, how safe are these children?" she thought. The kids had to walk past those apartments to even get to school.

Although compared to the degeneration of inner-city schools in Los Angeles, where Delia's sister still lived in the old family home and complained about the increasing violence, Mitchell's problems were small, it was already developing a reputation in Colorado Springs as a "gang school."

Delia was worried about the effect the gang threat might have on the kids. She was even more worried about some teachers who seemed to think these kids weren't worth saving.

In Los Angeles, Delia had seen what happened when the people with the power gave up on kids: The kids gave up on themselves. Why not join a gang? At least in a gang there were people to support you.

But at Mitchell, there was Delia. One afternoon a counselor took the new principal aside and told her one of the school's worst-kept secrets. It seemed that a handsome counselor and girls' track coach had been having sexual relations with female students--and one of the girls had gotten pregnant and had an abortion.

Delia checked with other members of the faculty and was shocked to learn that this had been going on for at least a decade. She brought in a social worker, Doug Douglas, who launched an investigation. He combed through school yearbooks to identify girls the coach was alleged to have seduced and then talked to them. Most of the girls corroborated the allegations.

It would be several years before the legislature passed a law requiring that any such allegation be turned over to the police. Delia took her information to district superintendent Mike Kneale.

She'd learned that the coach had been reported to her predecessor and the district administration before, but nothing had been done. She wasn't about to let it go this time, even if some faculty members and administrators still supported the coach. Some had even contacted the Colorado Springs Board of Education to try to stop the investigation. Among those who went to bat for the coach was Jim Kocher, an assistant principal at Washington Junior High School, who would later butt heads with Delia.

In the end, the coach was forced to resign, and Delia believed that justice had been served. Only later did she learn that the man had been hired by another school district after being recommended by teachers and administrators in School District 11.

And the coach wasn't the only male at Mitchell who couldn't keep his hands off the female students. After hearing other allegations, Delia launched investigations that ended with the firing of two more teachers. One man appealed to the school board and was allowed to resign. Again, some faculty members supported the men in spite of the evidence.

In 1986 Delia's older brother Scott, who had become a longshoreman like his father, was stabbed to death in his Los Angeles apartment--one he'd purchased because of its security guards and hallway cameras. Neither had been sufficient to save him.

It was a grim reminder for Delia that society couldn't lock out its problems. It had to deal with such sticky issues as dropout rates, growing illiteracy, gangs and drugs, or soon the problems would find a way past the walls erected to keep them out.

end of part 1

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