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Table of Contents

Feb 2002

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Cover Story


We remember that Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492; that Jimmy's father, the fire chief, showed us how to "Stop, Drop and Roll"; and that crabs shed their shells, a lesson we learned while soaking in the briny smell of salt water during a fourth-grade field trip to the aquarium.

What happened, then, to all those vocabulary words, spelling lists and dates of Roman conquests we knew up, down and inside out the night before a quiz or test? A week later, it seemed we'd already forgotten them.

And the list goes on. Numerous schools nationwide have been or are at the center of health problems linked to mold, lead paint and toxic dumps or industrial sites. But it is nearly impossible to directly correlate health problems among students with the school's problems, experts and public health officials say.


Imagine having to fly in a twin-engine airplane to visit one of your schools. Average round-trip price: $2,500. But, there is no other way, and worse yet, weather frequently interferes.

"Sometimes, you have to turn around," says Bob Crumley. "It actually has gotten a lot better. We now have airstrips."

Bill Keim is not your typical superintendent. He dropped out of college his first time around. He traveled the Middle East to help children and then operated an orphanage in Bethlehem. He even helped negotiate the release of American hostages in Iraq before the Persian Gulf war.

An unassuming person, the 51-year-old pursued teaching in between travels and became top man about two years ago at Mercer Island School District in Washington state, a district of five schools with about 4,200 students.


As I write this, it's been nearly four months since the terrorist attacks changed this country. To date, I haven't covered the topic in my monthly letter, and the magazine has not devoted much space to this story or the fallout it has caused, and will continue to cause.