Principal Turns Failing High School Around, One Student at a Time 

Creatas Images/Thinkstock(CINCINNATI) -- For years, Cincinnati's Taft Information Technology High School was notorious for being a dilapidated, crime-ridden school filled with failing and forgotten students. Teachers didn't want to teach there and it was often considered to be the worst slum school in the city. It was so dysfunctional that each clock told a different time -- all of which were wrong.

"There was no way I was going to let my son go to Taft," said Shonda Fowler, whose son is now a high school student.

Things began to change nine years ago. Taft got a new principal, his name is Anthony Smith and the motto he brought to Taft: "Failure is not an option." The phrase was not just directed at the students, but the teachers as well. Although Taft was designated a failing school, Smith decided to keep all of the teachers.

"I was ready to get rid of all the teachers because I had a premise that they didn't know what they were doing. I was wrong, 100 percent wrong," said Smith. "They knew what they were doing, they were working hard, just working hard in the wrong direction."

Smith teamed up with his teachers to closely monitor the progress or struggles of every student. Daily meetings helped identify those falling behind and plans were devised to help them catch up. Teaching reading and writing became an obsession, even in math and science classes.

"It's not good enough now to give an answer in math," said Rozell. "You have to be able to explain and articulate that answer."

But Smith's most unconventional partnership happened outside the classroom. The principal teamed up with Jack Cassidy, the hard-charging CEO of Cincinnati Bell, the city's local phone company. Cassidy was so inspired by Smith's determination that he put his company's name on the line. He promised free phones and laptops for every student who maintained a 3.3 grade point average. If they fell behind, the students would have to give the electronics back.

As a result, Taft has been transformed. Ten years ago the graduation rate was 18 percent. Now, 95 percent of the students graduate. The school, with an almost all-black student body closed the so-called racial achievement test gap. Taft students outscored white students in Ohio on the state's graduation tests in math, reading and science.

Now the place that students were once afraid to visit is attracting them. Kenny Fowler, whose mother once said she wouldn't allow her son to go to Taft, transferred there from one of the city's top schools. Kenny is now a straight-A student and his mother is now a believer.

This spring, the "old" Taft changes too. It will be replaced with a gleaming, new $18.8 million high school. The school will feature new desks, new lockers, a new gym, and even a clock -- that works. The school will still have the same commitment.

"You have to look at these children like they're the most important part of your life," said Smith. "I can teach you how to be a good teacher, I can't teach you how to care."

A lesson in saving troubled schools.. one student at a time.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


UCLA Student Off Hook for Asian Video Rant

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- UCLA student Alexandra Wallace, whose viral video rant about Asians sparked outrage and a nationwide debate about whether her disparaging remarks were considered "free speech," will face no disciplinary action by the university.

"While some of the sentiments that were expressed in the video were hurtful, appalling and offensive, we have not uncovered any acts that violated the student code of conduct," university spokesman Phil Hampton told ABC News on Friday. "We have no intention of pursuing the matter further."

Hampton added that the university "zealously protects freedom of expression, however misguided or offensive to our core values that speech may be."

He also said the university was "disappointed with some of the threatening and vitriolic language that has been used by some in response to the video.

Wallace, a junior political science major, received death threats after her videotaped tirade, titled "Asians in the Library," was posted last Friday, the same day the earthquake and tsunami hit.

In the video, which went viral over the weekend, Wallace vented about "the hordes of Asian people" at UCLA and mocked them for talking on the phone in the library. "Ohhhh! Ching chong ling long ting tong!" she said, imitating an Asian student talking on the phone.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Hallucinogenic Drug Kills Teen, 10 More Hospitalized

Thinkstock Images/Comstock(BLAINE, Minn.) -- One young man is dead and 10 others were hospitalized in Blaine, Minn. on Thursday after a mass overdose of the synthetic drug 2C-E, police said. Trevor Robinson, 19, died Thursday night. He was the father of a five-month-old baby.

The group took the drug during a spring break party at the home of one of the hospitalized boys. The other victims fled the residence and were suffering the effects of the overdose at separate locations before authorities found them and took them to the hospital.

The hallucinogenic drug is also known as "Europa" and, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency, "Tootsie." Officials say the drug was ordered over the Internet.

It is a close chemical cousin of 2C-B, a controlled substance that is legally available only to registrants such as researchers, chemists, or certain doctors; it is illegal for anyone else to have it. Since the DEA identifies it as an analog of a controlled substance, 2C-E is also technically illegal.

Synthetic hallucinogens are becoming increasingly more available, coming from countries such as China and Thailand where there is little regulation and oversight on the production of chemicals, according to the DEA.

Lawmakers and drug enforcement agencies are increasing their attention to the availability of synthetic drugs. In Minnesota, the state House last month approved a bill to ban synthetic marijuana. In February, New York Sen. Charles Schumer proposed a bill to add bath salts to a list of federally controlled substances. Phony bath salts made with methylenedioxypyrovalerone and mephedrone are designed with the express purpose of giving a cheap, legal high. They can cause hallucinations, paranoia, suicidal thoughts, even some deaths.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Environmental Groups Question Obama's Support for Nuclear Industry

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Just as President Obama was publicly addressing the fallout from the cascading nuclear power plant disaster in Japan Thursday, the CEO of one of the largest nuclear power suppliers in the U.S. was lined up to speak at a closed-door gathering of top fundraisers for President Obama's reelection.

James E. Rogers, the CEO of Duke Energy, the nation's third largest nuclear energy supplier, was asked to lay out his fundraising plans for the 2012 Democratic National Convention, an effort he is undertaking as the host committee co-chair. The evening before, he was among those invited to join a discussion of the president's re-election fundraising plans at a private dinner in downtown Washington, D.C.

"It's troubling," said Dan Hirsch, a nuclear safety advocate in Southern California. Obama "is cozying up to large financial interests that might become donors and who wish our policy to be blind to the implications of this catastrophe."

Since his earliest days in the U.S. Senate, President Obama has had a close relationship with the nation's nuclear energy suppliers, and he brought his support for nuclear power with him to the White House. In his 2010 State of the Union address, he laid out his ambitions without ambiguity, calling for "building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country."

Obama has not only championed nuclear power, he has set aside millions of dollars for loan guarantees aimed at helping spur that new construction. His 2012 budget proposal calls for an additional $36 billion to triple the amount of money used to guarantee loans for nuclear plants.

So far one proposed plant in Georgia has been given a loan guarantee, completing a process that requires independent regulators to sign off on the design.

The White House points out that nuclear energy is just one piece of its portfolio as the president attempts to address global warming and curtail greenhouse gas emissions -- but that it accounts for 70 percent of the carbon-free energy currently being produced. And administration officials have long rejected suggestions that Obama is influenced by donors, noting that the president has had so many donors, supporters can be found on either side of just about any contentious issue.

"The administration's energy priorities are based solely on how best to build a 21st century, clean energy economy," said Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman. "That policy is not about picking one energy source over another, in fact it is about setting a bold but achievable clean energy goal, and providing industry the flexibility on how best to increase their clean energy share."

That includes, he said, the "responsible development of a broad range of energy sources -- including renewables like wind, solar, and homegrown biofuels, as well as natural gas, clean coal, and nuclear power."

Still, Obama's contact with top executives in the nuclear industry, in particular, has attracted criticism from some quarters of the environmental community -- even from those who otherwise support him. The bulk of that attention has been focused on the nation's top nuclear supplier, the Exelon Corporation.

Exelon is a Chicago-based energy giant that has invested heavily in Obama's campaign, with two executives serving as top fundraisers in 2008, and more than $200,000 in contributions coming from the company's employees. Since the inauguration, Exelon Chairman John W. Rowe's name has appeared at least twice on White House visitor logs for appointments with then chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel, and USA Today reported that he was tapped by the Obama White House to help lobby Congress on climate change legislation.

Another major utility, Duke Energy, also has been building a record of support for Obama. In addition to overseeing the Democratic convention host committee, Rogers is also personally a donor, and his company recently agreed to guarantee a $10 million line of credit to help get convention planning underway -- an arrangement first reported by the Charlotte Observer last week.

Both Democratic National Committee officials and Will Miller, who is acting executive director of the committee overseeing the convention, said Duke Energy's offer to back the line of credit was intended to help Charlotte win in its bid to host the convention, and had nothing to do with the president.

"They thought it was good business to help secure the convention, which is good for the region," said Will Miller, acting executive director of the committee overseeing the convention. "Duke was interested in helping the bid and said they'd be glad to put up credit security to help enhance the bid."

Duke Energy spokesman Tom Williams said Rogers's efforts are less about supporting Obama's reelection than they are about economic development for Charlotte, N.C., where the convention will be held. "He has supported both Republicans and Democrats," Williams said. "Duke supported the effort to attract the Republican convention in 2000. This is all about promoting Charlotte."

That said, Williams acknowledged the company does have a policy agenda in Washington, and has not been shy about pursuing it. Among the company's goals are climate legislation -- backed by the president -- that includes efforts to promote nuclear energy. They also support Obama's efforts to promote federal backing for nuclear plant construction. The company is considering building two reactors in South Carolina.

Some environmentalists tell ABC News the overlap of Obama's agenda and the industry's has at times made them uneasy. Now, scenes of smoldering nuclear reactors in Japan have heightened their concerns that the nuclear industry may have too much sway with this administration.

"Unfortunately, I think they have committed themselves to this position," said Dave Hamilton, the director of the Sierra Club's global warming and energy program. "Even today, they seem resolute."

The president addressed the Japanese disaster and the fears it has stoked in the U.S. during remarks to the press on Thursday. From a podium in the Rose Garden, the president announced he has ordered a comprehensive review of the safety of domestic nuclear plants.

Obama reiterated his belief that nuclear power remains "an important part of our own energy future." He repeated a message that has been offered by the nuclear industry in recent days, saying that U.S. "nuclear power plants have undergone exhaustive study and have been declared safe for any number of extreme contingencies."

"When we see a crisis like the one in Japan, we have a responsibility to learn from this event, and to draw from those lessons to ensure the safety and security of our people," he said.

Williams, the Duke Energy spokesman, said the company agrees. "We need to continue to develop and advance it and learn from what happened in Japan," he told ABC News, adding, "You're not going to be able to address climate change without nuclear energy."

The president's remarks brought a different reaction from the group Friends of the Earth. "President Obama has talked a lot in the past about humility, but his continued support for dangerous new reactors looks more like hubris," said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth U.S. "It's irresponsible and puts the public at risk."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


DoD, Major Private Contractor Potentially Vulnerable in Cyber Attack

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A U.S. cyber-security company charged with protecting computers for the U.S. government and thousands of private clients has itself been the target of a successful hacking attack, potentially compromising the security of software used by the Department of Defense and major defense contractor Lockheed Martin.

While the U.S. government has been aware of the attack and working with the company on plugging the security breach for more than a week, according to sources familiar with the investigation, it was only Thursday that Massachusetts-based company RSA alerted the public. RSA, the security division of EMC, claims over 25,000 clients and 40 million users of its security token technology worldwide.

"Recently our security systems identified an extremely sophisticated cyber attack in progress being mounted against RSA," said executive chairman Arthur Coviello in a statement posted on the company's website and in a filing to the SEC notifying shareholders of an adverse event. "Our investigation also revealed that the attack resulted in certain information being extracted from RSA's systems. Some of that information is specifically related to RSA's SecurID two-factor authentication products."

In addition to the U.S. government, according to its website, RSA SecureID customers include major American corporations, healthcare institutions and charities, as well as banks and institutions that cater to high net worth individuals, like Rolls Royce and Bentley Motors. The state of Kansas is also listed as a SecureID customer.

"This is a very major security compromise that has possibly put at risk numerous sensitive government sites and private industry as well" said former U.S. National Security Advisor Richard Clarke, an ABC News consultant.

Coviello said while some information relating to RSA's token authentication system had been "extracted" by the intruders, RSA is "confident that the information extracted does not enable a successful direct attack on any of our RSA SecurID customers."

Sources familiar with the investigation tell ABC News the company and the U.S. government have been working quietly to try to determine the extent of the damage and to build a patch to plug the leak.

In its statement Thursday, the company described the attack as an "extremely sophisticated" APT (Advanced Persistent Threat) attack, which cyber-experts say sounds similar to a 2009 attack on Google suspected to come from Chinese hackers.

"These hackers are not kids sitting in basements having fun," said Larry Clinton, President of the Internet Security Alliance. "An APT threat comes from highly organized, highly sophisticated, well-funded thieves. There is some evidence that this is state sponsored, and some attacks have come from China."

A company spokesman would not comment on reports of a delay in alerting the public, but in his online statement RSA executive chairman Coviello said, "We took a variety of aggressive measures against the threat to protect our business and our customers, including further hardening of our IT infrastructure".

The company's statement said its investigation is continuing and it is working closely with "appropriate authorities."

The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Support for Gay Marriage Reaches a Milestone

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- More than half of Americans say it should be legal for gays and lesbians to marry, a first in nearly a decade of polls by ABC News and The Washington Post.

This milestone result caps a dramatic, long-term shift in public attitudes.  From a low of 32 percent in a 2004 survey of registered voters, support for gay marriage has grown to 53 percent today.  Forty-four percent are opposed, down 18 points from that 2004 survey.

The issue remains divisive; as many adults "strongly" oppose gay marriage as strongly support it, and opposition rises to more than two-to-one among Republicans and conservatives and three-to-one among evangelical white Protestants, a core conservative group.  But opposition to gay marriage has weakened in these groups from its levels a few years ago, and support has grown sharply among others -- notably, among Catholics, political moderates, people in their 30s and 40s, and men.

The results reflect a changing albeit still polarized climate.  Gay marriage has been legalized in five states and the District of Columbia, by court ruling or legislative action, since 2003, while many other states prohibit it.  The Obama administration late last month said it would no longer defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law banning federal recognition of gay marriages. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


New Jersey Murder Triggers Bath Salts Crackdown

Polka Dot Images/Thinkstock(CRANFORD, N.J.) -- The arrest of a New Jersey student who has been charged with the murder of his girlfriend has intensified a statewide push to ban the sale of a designer drug marketed and sold as bath salts.

William Parisio, 22, is being held on $400,000 bail after the beaten body of his girlfriend, Pamela Schmidt, also 22, was found in his basement bedroom in Cranford, New Jersey.

Parisio, who had recently dropped out of Rutgers University, had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder on his 19th birthday and had been in and out of drug rehabilitation programs.

His mother, Dianna Parisio, called the police after discovering Schmidt's body around noon on Sunday.  She told authorities that her son had recently been taking bath salts, sold over the counter and increasingly used as a cheap, legal high.

Two members of the New Jersey state Assembly had already been planning to introduce legislation modeled after a similar bill in New York aimed at halting sales of bath salts in the state.

"This is just such a senseless tragedy.  It's absolutely heartbreaking.  I wish we had had this in place so that this tragedy could have been prevented," Assemblywoman Linda Stender, who is co-sponsoring the legislation, told ABC News.  "This innocuous 'bath salt,' which has the active ingredient MDPV in it, is like playing a game of Russian roulette because you don't know what the effect is going to be on a person."

Stender's bill would make it a third-degree crime punishable by three to five years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines to manufacture, distribute or possess products containing any trace of the chemical.

The phony bath salts are usually manufactured in Europe, China and India and sold in individual bags -- about $20 for a two-gram pouch -- on the Internet, in convenience stores and on the street.  They come branded with names like Ivory Wave, Ocean, Charge +, White Lightning, Scarface, Hurricane Charlie, Red Dove, Cloud-9 and White Dove.  Symptoms can range from a racing heart to headaches to a paranoid psychotic impact.

The powders cause intense cravings for more even though they can trigger extreme paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, hypertension and, in some cases, suicidal thoughts.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Massachusetts Mom Accused of Killing Daughter in Exorcism

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NANTUCKET, Mass.) -- A Massachusetts mom is accused of killing her three-year-old daughter by stuffing roses down her throat in an exorcism to remove the demons inside the girl, according to court documents.

Dora Alicia Tejada Pleitez, 26, was arrested Tuesday in connection with her daughter's death.  She is being held without bail pending a mental competency hearing.  She pleaded not guilty.

On Monday afternoon, Pleitez's brother discovered his sister holding her daughter Nicole's lifeless body.  Pleitez's brother, Amilcar Antonio Tejada, had returned home after his wife called to tell him that Pleitez was acting in a bizarre manner.

Tejada told police that when he arrived at the Nantucket home, his sister told him that "they need to pray and that their sister, Maria Elena, was also in the room," according to court documents.

Maria Elena had died several years ago.  Pleitez told her brother that her daughter's face looked like the ghost of Maria Elena.

Pleitez previously told her brother that she'd been "given a gift by God that allowed her to see people that had passed away," according to court documents.

While being treated at the hospital for an injury to her hand sustained the day her daughter died, Pleitez told staff that she had stuck a rose down Nicole's throat because God had told her to, according to court documents.

On Tuesday, the same day she was arrested for her daughter's death, Pleitez told her priest that she was forcing a rose down Nicole's throat to ward off the devil when "she realized the rose was actually her fist and that 'the devil' bit her hand through Nicole," the documents read.

At the home, police found pink rose petals on the floor.

Pleitez told hospital staff that she had considered performing an exorcism on her son, Luis, too.  She "had thought about fighting the demons out of both children and that at one point had a child in each arm," the documents read.

When police arrived Monday at around 12:40 p.m., the little girl was rushed to Nantucket Cottage Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Americans Less Generous in Japan Disaster Relief?

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A week after Japan was crippled by an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, there's little sign Americans are giving as feverishly, or as generously, to international relief efforts as they have before.

To compare, two days after an earthquake ravaged Haiti last year, American citizens text-messaged more than $5 million in donations to the Red Cross disaster relief effort.  Five days after the quake, the agency had raised more than $92 million for the cause.  And ten days after the disaster in Haiti, Americans gave more than $57 million during a two-hour telethon hosted by George Clooney and MTV.

But no telethon for Japan seems to be on the horizon.

"There has not been a telethon, which is driving me crazy," said Wayne Elsey, CEO of Soles4Souls, a charity he created following the 2004 South Asian tsunami.  Soles4Souls works with celebrities to collect and distribute shoes to people displaced by natural disasters.

"I'm not sure if it's fatigue, or if people don't see the magnitude of the problem, or they have other projects they're working on," Elsey said, "but there needs to be a bigger emphasis on this."

The American Red Cross said it raised $47 million for the Japan earthquake and Pacific tsunami response through Wednesday afternoon, including more than $2.6 million in donations via text messages.  The amount is roughly half what it raised in the same period following the Haiti quake.

And while several other prominent U.S.-based aid groups, including Catholic Relief Services, International Rescue Committee, and World Vision also reported raising hundreds of thousands of dollars each in the past few days, some have decided not to raise money at all.

CARE USA, Oxfam American and Doctors Without Borders all opted not to directly fundraise for the Japanese relief effort, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

"With Haiti there was a lot of guilt about how poor the people were and how much suffering they endured.  But with Japan, it's a rich country, their GDP is similar to ours, and in many ways the needs of their people can be met by the Japanese government and the systems they have in place," said Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, a charity watchdog group.

"The point of charity is to address need.  Japan is not making desperate pleas for aid, and charities aren't going to do rebuilding.  That's going to be government and private insurance.  So people need to balance this with the problems in the rest of the world, even in our own country which has been hit by the recession," he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Indian Point Near New York City on List of High-Risk Nuclear Plants

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The crisis in Japan has reignited intense debate among lawmakers about the safety of U.S. nuclear power plants, and nowhere more so than at Indian Point, where two aging reactors located just 24 miles north of New York City.

"We are using up our reservoir of good luck," said Richard Brodsky, a former New York State legislator who last week lost a lawsuit over the level of insulation required around electrical cables at Indian Point.  "The chances of an accident at Indian Point are small but the consequences are so dramatic."

An analysis by the Daily Beast Thursday ranked reactors at the Buchanan, New York plant as the most dangerous among 65 U.S. nuclear facilities, based on risk of natural disaster, safety performance and the surrounding population.

Also ranking high on the list were San Onofre in San Clemente, California; Limerick in Limerick, Pennsylvania; Dresden in Morris, Illinois; and Diablo Canyon in Avila, California.

Diane Screnci, a spokeswoman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, rejected the list, saying the NRC doesn't do risk rankings. "Currently, the operating nuclear power plants in the U.S. remain safe, with no need for immediate action," she said by e-mail.

Screnci said that even though "overall seismic risk estimates remain small," the NRC has identified 27 reactors "where we need to complete additional analysis. That's being done. The Indian Point Units are two of those."

Some politicians aren't satisfied with the promise of additional analysis. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Wednesday called for Indian Point to be closed, pointing out that Reactor 3 at Indian Point sits on the Ramapo Fault.

Rep. Eliot Engel, a Democrat whose district includes parts of New York City and Westchester County, pointed out that the planes that attacked the World Trade Center flew over Indian Point and said its license should not be renewed.

But another local congresswoman, Rep. Nan Hayworth, a Republican, says the plant should stay online. "It is a crucial source of carbon-clean power," she said.

And having toured the plant and spoken to people in the community, she added, "I have not heard anything that makes me think Indian Point's continuing operation poses a threat."

"The plant is built to withstand an earthquake far worse than this area has ever experienced," said Jerry Nappi, a spokesman for Indian Point.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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