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Bits and Pieces

Remembering Winston

Before you can have a merger of two towns, you have to have two towns. The founding of the Winston part of Winston-Salem happened 150 years ago. On Wednesday the city celebrated the event with ice cream and cake in Grace Court on Fourth Street. Eric Elliott, the president of the West End Association, had the idea.

Salem was founded in 1766. The towns merged in 1913. Winston was created as the county seat when Forsyth County was split off from Stokes County. In those days, incorporation was a matter of a public land auction and $256.25.

Times have changed. Winston grew to the point where Winston-Salem was at one time the largest city in the state. The celebration of the anniversary this week, appropriately, was more reminiscent of the early days. It's good to acknowledge and respect your roots.

School Redistricting

Stripped of its rhetorical excesses, the message that the Rev. Carlton Eversley, the chairman of the local NAACP's education caucus, delivered to the Forsyth County commissioners this past Monday night resonated with considerable reason: The city-county public school system's redistricting plan generally and the themed school method of attracting a diverse student body in particular aren't working very well to achieve racial balance. So increasing the spending to develop schools with educational themes designed to attract students from other districts to improve racial balance seems at best premature.

Schools Superintendent Don Martin continues to defend the plan, and says that 25 percent of all students in middle school have chosen schools outside their neighborhood district. That's good, perhaps, but is it good enough?

Of the 24 schools that have used themes, 15 do not meet the racial balance guidelines set by the school board. These guidelines are not particularly stringent. Ceding the point that Martin makes about racial balance being just one goal of the redistricting plan and acknowledging that testing results are showing improvement, can the plan really be called a success if it fails to achieve racial balance, never mind an equitable distribution of educational resources?

One would hope not.

Performance Gap

Speaking of the city-county school system, perhaps the most telling educational statistic of all is the one that compares Forsyth County math and reading achievement test scores in the eighth grade. In 1998, 47 percent of black students were at grade level, while 81 percent of white students were. There is some good news. Black improvement was greater than white improvement. But that gap is simply unacceptable in a community hoping for a healthy and harmonious future. What, exactly, racial balance in the schools has to do with academic performance may be unclear, but that performance gap must close.

It is, to be fair, encouraging to see that not only did blacks improve more than whites from 1996 to 1998, but they also made significant improvement from third grade to eighth, from 35 percent in third grade to 47 percent in eighth. That result may not lay to rest concerns among blacks that minorities and whites enter school at roughly the same level and then minorities lose ground, but it shows movement in the right direction.

Knee-Jerk Law

Forsyth's Sen. Ham Horton did the right thing this week in helping block a fast-moving proposal to toughen penalties for school bomb threats.

In the wake of the Littleton, Colo., shootings, bomb threats have been a major problem across North Carolina. But this proposal would have gone too far, allowing school systems to sue parents for the costs of disruptions caused by bomb hoaxes. As Horton pointed out on the Senate floor, the new legislation would have made the penalty for a bomb hoax heavier than for actually taking a bomb to school.

Familiar Face

Amid the stress of negotiations over the war in Kosovo, where can Secretary of State Madeleine Albright go when she needs a strong shoulder on which to lean? To Doug Sosnik, the Winston-Salem native who is a top aide to President Clinton. A photo accompanying a cover story about ''Albright at War'' in the May 17 issue of Time magazine shows Albright aboard Air Force One on the way home from Europe, leaning on a smiling Sosnik and looking over his shoulder at his cards as he plays Hearts with Clinton.

Valuable Experience?

In his new autobiography, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura brags about losing his virginity at 16 to win a bet, tells of visiting prostitutes, admits he's used marijuana and confides he doesn't wear underwear. If the backgrounds of some in Washington are any indication, it sounds as if ''The Body'' may be better qualified for political office than many gave him credit for.

A Long, Hard Road

Speaking of untraditional politicians, a local TV station's glowing profile of Davidson County Sheriff Gerald Hege this week proclaimed that, ''The road to the governor's mansion now runs through Davidson County.'' Well, maybe, but it's a limited access highway.

Published: May 15, 1999