Award Announcement

Calhoun County, Georgia School Superintendent Corkin F. Cherubini Receives the 1996 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award

Boston, MA, May 28, 1996 -- At a ceremony held today at the John F. Kennedy Library, members of the Kennedy family presented the seventh annual John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award™ to Calhoun County, Georgia School Superintendent, Corkin F. Cherubini, Ed.D., for his courage to dismantle long-standing academic tracking practices that he believed amounted to educational apartheid.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Caroline B. Kennedy, and John F. Kennedy, Jr., participated in the ceremony which commemorated the 79th anniversary of the birth of President Kennedy. Dr. Cherubini was presented with a $25,000 stipend and a silver lantern designed by Edwin Schlossberg, Inc., and made by Tiffany & Co., which represents the ideals of the Profile in Courage Award.

"Dr. Cherubini witnessed a new form of segregation many consider even more destructive than the old system of one-race schools," said Caroline Kennedy. "His selfless and courageous acts as superintendent to end academic tracking in his school district serve as an example of the kind of educational leadership needed to guarantee equal access to quality education for children on any academic level."

Senator Kennedy said, "Dr. Cherubini is being honored today for his courage to fight the status quo and challenge the entrenched system of racist tracking in the public schools. His successful leadership in this battle against injustice is an inspiring example to educators and parents working to improve schools in communities across the country."

In 1992, Dr. Cherubini, who taught junior and senior English literature for 22 years in Calhoun County, was elected to a four-year term as superintendent of schools. Once in charge, he set out to dismantle several of the district's practices that he had come to believe amounted to a type of educational apartheid.

Although integration came to the school district in 1970, white students in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade were "clustered" to maintain some white-majority classrooms, even though blacks traditionally represented about 70 percent of the student population.

In the third grade, Calhoun's students were tracked by perceived ability levels and placed in classes ranked A through D. Academic tracking is an attempt to group students according to educational ability. Dr. Cherubini and other opponents of academic tracking believe this system was created to circumvent desegregation and to establish a lower set of expectations for most black students. Seventy-five percent of the black students were channeled into the lower level classes, while most of the white students were placed in the high ability classes. Although a few black students had successfully petitioned to move to a higher level, students generally stayed in the same level throughout school, regardless of actual ability.

His first act was to "clean up kindergarten" by proposing random sorting of children which would make the classes more balanced. Dr. Cherubini then invited the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the Southeastern Desegregation Assistance Center to evaluate the legality of the district's academic tracking practices, which had resulted in blatant segregation.

The OCR ultimately agreed that Calhoun County's practices were in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars racial discrimination in federally financed education programs and prohibits tracking when grouping results in racially identifiable classes. The school board abolished the four-tier classification and is sending teachers to conferences to learn how to end racial tracking and is providing counseling.

The investigators also ordered the integration of the basketball and football cheerleading squads, which had traditionally been all black and all white, respectively. "The white cheerleading squad received 30 times more money than the black cheerleaders," said Dr. Cherubini. "They could go to camp, learn all the new moves, have newer uniforms."

Dr. Cherubini's boldness in fighting the status quo inflamed many white parents and school administrators who did not want the in-school system of segregation to change. His actions led to death threats, hate letters, and oral taunts from white parents and students; anonymous fliers with racially antagonistic messages; a fabricated riot scare; a recall effort by Concerned Calhoun Citizens for Education who filed a county injunction against him; an exodus of white students from the schools; and tension in the community that has not healed.

"What it's going to take is some attitude-changing about the importance of what we're doing, the necessity of what we're doing, and the moral, ethical and legal obligations we have to all of our kids," said Dr. Cherubini, whose term as superintendent ends this year.

The award takes its name from PROFILES IN COURAGE, the 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book written by John F. Kennedy when he was a U.S. senator from Massachusetts. The award was established by the Kennedy Library Foundation in 1989 to honor examples of political courage in contemporary public life. The book describes events in U.S. history in which courageous elected officials took principled stands on difficult issues and risked the wrath of their constituents and powerful special interest groups. In the book, President Kennedy described such officials as persons "whose abiding loyalty to their nation triumphed over all personal and political considerations,..who showed the real meaning of courage and a real faith in democracy."

Michael L. Synar, former congressman from Oklahoma, was the 1995 award recipient. For 16 years, Synar distinguished himself as a political leader willing to take on tough and controversial issues, pitting him against leaders of his own party or his own state and special interests and corporate giants. He waged high profile crusades against tobacco companies, cattle ranchers, the gun lobby, and the energy industry. In 1994, he lost his bid for a ninth term, finally succumbing to the relentless efforts of powerful special interests to unseat him. In 1995, Synar was appointed chairman of the National Bankruptcy Review Commission and U.S. ambassador to the International Telecommunications Union. Michael Synar died in 1996.

Henry B. Gonzalez, a congressman from San Antonio, Texas, was the 1994 award recipient. In 1989, as chairman of the House Banking Committee, Gonzalez launched a series of dramatic hearings on the savings and loan crisis, which resulted in far-reaching legislation to reform the industry and led to the September 1990 conviction of Charles Keating, chairman of the failed Lincoln Savings and Loan institution in Irvine, Calif., for 17 counts of fraud. Gonzalez also was cited for investigating the involvement of high-level officials in the Reagan and Bush administrations in the sale of U.S. arms to Iraq, which the Iraqi government used to pursue nuclear and chemical weapons development and to purchase military hardware leading up to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

James J. Florio, former governor of New Jersey, was the 1993 award recipient. In 1990, under Governor Florio's leadership, New Jersey passed the strictest gun control law in the nation, banning the sale and restricting the possession of assault weapons in the state. For the next three years, Florio vetoed legislative attempts to weaken the bill and created an unprecedented coalition to support the ban. In 1993, the state senate voted unanimously to uphold his veto. The action was a significant legislative victory for Florio, who also was engaged in continuing battles over his reforms in the state tax and education systems.

Lowell Weicker, former governor of Connecticut, was the 1992 recipient of the award. In 1991, a month after his inauguration, Governor Weicker sent shock waves through the state by proposing a personal income tax as part of his fiscal year 1992 budget to deal with the state's $963 million deficit. As governor of one of only 10 states in the country without an income tax, Weicker risked his career by challenging the popular bipartisan anti-income tax coalition. Despite threats to his safety, large scale bitter protests, and six months of deadlock in a rancorous battle, Weicker's budget package was finally approved by the state legislature.

Charles Weltner, a justice on the Supreme Court of Georgia, was the 1991 recipient of the award. As a United States congressman from Georgia in 1966, Weltner signed a Democratic loyalty oath to support the entire state party ticket in the general election that year. When Lester Maddox, an advocate of segregation, emerged as the party's nominee for governor, rather than "compromise with hate," as Weltner put it, and support Maddox, he placed principle above ambition and withdrew from his own race for reelection. Justice Weltner died in 1992.

The recipient of the first Profile in Courage Award, in 1990, was former United States Congressman Carl Elliott of Alabama, who was selected for his leadership in civil rights and federal aid to education in years when those stands were extremely unpopular in the South. He fought and lost a bitter race for reelection in 1964. Elliott's experiences are detailed in his 1992 book, THE COST OF COURAGE: THE JOURNEY OF AN AMERICAN CONGRESSMAN.

The chairman of the Profile in Courage Award Committee is Richard K. Donahue, lawyer, former president and vice chairman of NIKE, Inc., and former special assistant to President Kennedy. Other members of the committee are: Jill Ker Conway, historian, author, and former president of Smith College; T. Jefferson Coolidge, Jr., businessman, and president of Thomas Jefferson Forum; John C. Culver, attorney, and former U.S. representative and senator from Iowa; Charles U. Daly, director of the Kennedy Library Foundation, and former staff assistant to President Kennedy; John S. Dyson, deputy mayor of New York, and former chairman of the New York Power Authority; Antonia Hernandez, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Elaine Jones, director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Caroline B. Kennedy, attorney, and president of the Kennedy Library Foundation; John F. Kennedy, Jr., lawyer, editor, and vice chairman of the Kennedy Library Foundation; Paul G. Kirk, Jr., attorney, and chairman of the Kennedy Library Foundation; Sumner M. Redstone, CEO of National Amusements, and chairman of Viacom International; John Seigenthaler, chairman emeritus of The Tennessean (Nashville), and chairman of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University; and Theodore C. Sorensen, author, attorney, and former special counsel to President Kennedy.

Further Information:
Shelley Sommer (617) 514-1662