D.C. officials wonder what became of $100,000 award to McKinley High

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 18, 2010; 9:23 PM

D.C. school officials are trying to determine what became of a $100,000 award from AARP to McKinley Technology High School that was intended to fund a community service program for students and senior citizens that never started.

In February 2008, the Northeast Washington school was one of seven high schools across the country to win the Ethel Percy Andrus Award - named after AARP's founder - for fostering relationships between generations. Students had spent the previous year working with senior citizens who came to McKinley once a week for tutoring on how to use the Internet.

They planned to use the money to expand that effort with a program they called "Senior2Senior," in which students would take mini-laptops into senior centers to provide Internet tutoring.

The school held a huge dinner in the school gymnasium. Then-Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) came by for a photo-op with an oversize ceremonial check from AARP.

"Senior2Senior" never got off the ground. Thomas Ammazzalorso, the former McKinley history and social science teacher who wrote the original application to AARP, said the money didn't become available until the spring of 2008. He said he planned on using it for the classes of 2009, 2010 and 2011.

But after the ceremony, he said, he never heard about the funds again.

"Though I authored the award and physically held the check for a few moments, I do not know what happened to the money," said Ammazzalorso, who now teaches at Coolidge High School. "Once the funds were deposited, I never heard of the money again."

The matter is now in the hands of the D.C. schools' security division, which has had an investigator at McKinley for several weeks examining financial records. Sources familiar with the inquiry say the school system might be looking at other aspects of management at McKinley.

McKinley Principal David Pinder, who administers a total school budget of about $4.2 million in city funds, did not return a series of e-mail and phone messages asking for comment.

Safiya Simmons, a spokeswoman for the school system's interim chancellor, Kaya Henderson, said: "There is an investigation, and it is ongoing. We cannot comment until it is concluded."

Elly Spinweber, AARP's senior manager for media relations, said the organization did not follow up on McKinley's progress with an audit or other oversight because the $100,000 was considered an award, not a grant.

McKinley, with an enrollment of about 700 students, is one of five specialized high schools in the D.C. school system. McKinley focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

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