Pubdate: Sun, 28 Oct 2001
Source: Medford Mail Tribune (OR)
Copyright: 2001 The Mail Tribune
Author: Damian Mann
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Drug debate leaves Di Chiro wondering if her belief system fits in with the 
culture in Ashland

Backlash from the school administration's firm stance on drugs and alcohol 
has left the relatively new superintendent questioning how she fits into 
the Ashland culture.

"I guess the jury's still out on that," said Juli Di Chiro.

After she came under fire for the expulsion of two leadership students 
suspected of smoking marijuana, Di Chiro wonders whether her belief system 
resonates with most parents.

Compared to her experience in other school systems, she said, "I feel less 
of a consensus here."

Di Chiro, who joined the district last year from the Santa Monica, Calif., 
school system, acknowledges she brings something of a big-city demeanor to 
a small-town atmosphere.

But she also says she can't change who she is, particularly her strong 
belief that students should not use drugs and alcohol.

Di Chiro said she has received as much support as opposition from parents 
over her role in the expulsion debate.

Some parents have stood steadfastly behind her decision, believing the 
district should be firm in preventing students from using drugs and alcohol.

Others have called her inflexible.

While many letters and calls from angry community residents denounced the 
students' expulsion by the administration, a petition was signed by 300 
local residents disapproving of the school board's decision to overturn the 

Di Chiro remains confident her feelings ultimately represent Ashland as a 
whole, however.

"I have to feel that (the backlash) doesn't represent the majority of the 
people, and the board seems to support the majority of the work I'm doing," 
she said.

Having witnessed the detrimental effects of drug abuse on friends, Di Chiro 
feels strongly that drugs and alcohol should be kept away from students, 
and that school policy should reflect that.

"You can say that's being power hungry," she said. "But I don't care how 
people characterize it. I know from my own heart that it comes out of care 
and concern for kids and their well being."

 From the time a child leaves home until the time it returns after school, 
that child is the responsibility of the district, Di Chiro said.

Most of the time, the district has no problems disciplining a student who 
has behaved inappropriately.

"Nine times out of 10, a kid just admits what he did," she said.

Whether she's a good fit for the community is something only time will 
tell. "That's something for the community to decide if my beliefs and 
values don't resonate with them," she said.

Di Chiro hopes the debate over the drug and alcohol issue dies down as the 
district faces the weightier issue of balancing its budget amid a potential 
$1 million shortfall.

As an administrator, she finds the budget situation familiar.

But she does worry that deep cuts might prevent her from being an effective 

Di Chiro had hoped to fill a curriculum director position because she now 
assumes those duties in addition to her own.

Given financial and political realities, she said, it will be difficult to 
fill this position.

"The life and blood of the district is curriculum," she said. "Over time, 
(not having a curriculum director) will erode the quality of our programs."

Also, with increased responsibilities, Di Chiro finds it more difficult to 
visit the schools she serves.

"I forced myself to go to every school this month," she said. "It should be 
every week."

Despite a year filled with controversy and uncertainty, Di Chiro said 
Ashland's situation is not unique as districts throughout the country 
struggle with some of the same issues.

"This is not a crisis," she said.
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