Adnan Syed of ‘Serial,’ Newly Freed, Is Hired by Georgetown University | Big Indy News
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Adnan Syed of ‘Serial,’ Newly Freed, Is Hired by Georgetown University



Adnan Syed, who was freed in September after he spent 23 years in prison fighting a murder conviction that was chronicled in the hit podcast “Serial,” has been hired by Georgetown University as an associate for an organization whose work mirrors the efforts that led to his release, the university has announced.

Mr. Syed, the subject of the 2014 podcast and pop-culture sensation that raised questions about whether he had received a fair trial after being convicted of strangling his high school classmate and onetime girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999, will work for Georgetown’s Prisons and Justice Initiative.

Mr. Syed, who was 17 at the time of Ms. Lee’s death in Baltimore, has steadfastly maintained his innocence.

The university said that Mr. Syed, now 41, will help support programs at the organization, such as a class in which students reinvestigate wrongful convictions and seek to “bring innocent people home” by creating short documentaries about their findings. The program, founded in 2016, “brings together leading scholars, practitioners, students and those affected by the criminal justice system to tackle the problem of mass incarceration,” according to its website.

Georgetown University, which is in Washington, said that in the year leading up to his release, Mr. Syed was enrolled in the university’s bachelor of liberal arts program at the Maryland prison where he was incarcerated.

“To go from prison to being a Georgetown student and then to actually be on campus on a pathway to work for Georgetown at the Prisons and Justice Initiative, it’s a full circle moment,” Mr. Syed said in a statement. “P.J.I. changed my life. It changed my family’s life. Hopefully I can have the same kind of impact on others.”

He added that he hoped to continue his education at Georgetown and go to law school.

The new job this month culminated what has been a remarkable year for Mr. Syed, whose case has again received widespread public attention after a flurry of recent legal activity.

In September, Mr. Syed was released from prison after a judge overturned his murder conviction. Prosecutors said at the time that an investigation had uncovered various problems related to his case, including the potential involvement of two suspects and key evidence that prosecutors might have failed to provide to Mr. Syed’s lawyers.

In October, prosecutors in Baltimore dropped the charges against Mr. Syed after DNA testing on items that had never been fully examined proved Mr. Syed’s innocence, officials said.

Ms. Lee’s family filed an appeal with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals after prosecutors dropped the charges.

On Nov. 4, the court said in an order that the appeal could be heard in court in February.

Marc Howard, the director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative, said in a statement that Mr. Syed’s “commitment to the program and to his education was clear from the moment he stepped into the classroom.”

He added that Mr. Syed “is one of the most resilient and inspiring people I’ve ever met, and he has so much to offer our team and the other students in P.J.I. programs.”

In a Georgetown University article about the hiring, Mr. Syed said that he was in disbelief when he first saw a flier for the program.

“It became this domino effect to see us be accepted,” he said. “It made it become something real in the eyes of others, that there are opportunities. There can be a sense of hope: a sense of hope that things can get better, a sense of hope that I can work hard and still achieve something, a sense of hope that I can still do something that my family will be proud of.”

His attachment to the school was evident on Sept. 19, when he walked out of prison for the first time since he was a teenager.

Amid a throng of reporters and his supporters, Mr. Syed walked down the courthouse steps in Baltimore, smiling. He gave a wave.

And in his hand, he carried a binder with a Georgetown sticker. His graded papers and tests were inside.

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At Berkeley Law, a Debate Over Zionism, Free Speech and Campus Ideals



“Supporting Palestinian liberation does not mean opposition to Jewish people or the Jewish religion,” the group said in a statement to the Berkeley law community. Members of the group did not respond to messages seeking an interview.

After learning about the bylaw, Mr. Chemerinsky met with the university’s Hillel rabbi and spoke with several Jewish students, but, aside from concerns within the law school, the reaction was relatively muted, he said.

That changed, he said, after Kenneth L. Marcus, the civil rights chief of the U.S. Education Department during the Trump administration, wrote about the bylaw in September in The Jewish Journal under the explosive headline “Berkeley Develops Jewish Free Zones.”

Mr. Marcus wrote that the bylaw was “frightening and unexpected, like a bang on the door in the night,” and said that free speech does not protect discriminatory conduct.

The article went viral.

Mr. Chemerinsky said he learned about Mr. Marcus’s article, which he described as “inflammatory and distorted,” while he was in Los Angeles for a conference. Mr. Chemerinsky said he typed out a response to the article, which was appended to it, and then didn’t think much of it. That afternoon, he was deluged by emails. At an alumni event that night, the law school’s perceived hostility to Jews was “all anyone wanted to talk about.”

In an interview, Mr. Marcus, a Berkeley law school alumnus, said that he was contacted by law students there who were concerned about the bylaw. He said he spent weeks trying to support them and wrote his article after Berkeley did not “rectify the problem.”

Not allowing Zionist speakers, he said, was a proxy for prohibiting Jews. The provisions, he said, are “aimed at the Jewish community and those who support the Jewish community,” even while acknowledging that the policy could allow Jewish speakers and bar those who are not Jewish.

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‘Better Defined By Their Strengths’: 5 Ways to Support Students With Learning Differences



“People with learning differences are human,” wrote Deanna White, a neurodiversity advocate and parent learning coach in response to a question we posed on LinkedIn. “Unique individuals and wonderful humans that are better defined by their strengths. So stop focusing on the weakness.”

We invited our social media followers across Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to weigh in on the most effective way schools can better support students with learning differences.

Responses ranged from shifting educators’ mindset—like highlighting student strengths—to more far-reaching changes that would require schoolwide or district support.

Focus on students’ strengths

There are many ways of encouraging students to play to their strengths, as educators Winston Sakurai and Phyllis Fagell demonstrated in an August 2022 article by Education Week Assistant Editor Denisa Superville.

They detailed how they shared their own learning struggles as a way to connect with their students. Their personal successes show students, who may be struggling academically or socially, that anything is possible.

Here’s what other educators had to say.

1. Help them understand their learning strengths and challenges and growing them as strong self-advocates.

2. Devoting time and money to developing teachers’ abilities to differentiate.

– Amy S.

By having high expectations and giving them exposure to high-quality materials and experiences, even ones that seem “above them.” They will shock us with their insights every time.

– Angela P. 😒😒🥴

Meet students where they are

In a 2015 primer on the topic, EdWeek Assistant Editor Sarah D. Sparks wrote about how “differentiated instruction”—the process of identifying students’ individual learning strengths, needs, and interests and adapting lessons to match them—became a popular approach to helping diverse students learn together. Respondents largely agreed.

Time to work with every student. If you can meet with a child for a bit of time to help with exactly what she or he needs, it might ignite both learning and understanding.

Alison K.

So many ways…start with environment, a.k.a. The Third Teacher.

  • Reduce obstacles

  • Increase supports

  • Meet kids where they are

(h/t @drncgarrett)

Matt R.

Small class sizes, strong positive teacher/student relationships, differentiated instruction, and reflection.

Yvonne E.

Smaller class sizes

In a 2017 Opinion essay, former teacher Marc Vicenti wrote about “the daily wear and tear on educators when trying to juggle a full teaching load and meaningful relationships with lively young people who all have different needs and experiences.”

“We can either choose to be less effective in our practice or exhaust ourselves—neither of which is beneficial to students or our own well-being,” he wrote.

Smaller class sizes are one way of mitigating the risk of burnout while working to meet each student’s needs.

Small classes, small schools, local control. I am the principal in a pretty small school in a small community and I know every child, and every family and we can build programs to meet our students’ needs. A country run or state run school system can’t do that.

Ryan G.

Increase funding to actually lower the student-to-teacher ratio. This allows teachers to give more time to the individual.

Cathleen W.

Fewer standardized tests

Standardized tests have long been criticized for narrowing instruction and for holding all students to the same standard when “students enter school at varying levels and learn and grow at different rates.”

The backlash against standardized testing renewed interest in alternative ways to evaluate students’ learning progress, like “performance assessments—the idea of measuring what students can do, not merely what they know”.

STOP standardized testing.

Dawn W.

Fewer standardized or timed tests, teaching to mastery, not according to a schedule.


Give students a voice

Sometimes it’s best to go to the source to discern how to best tackle an issue. Giving these students a voice can not only empower them in their learning, but also help educators understand how to have the biggest impact.

Ask them how they learn and what helps. Give them a voice!

Grisel W.

Yes! Listening to what students need and giving them a voice is something we need to do for all students, but especially those who need more help in the classroom.

Victoria D.

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The Big Problem With Who Runs for School Boards—and How to Fix It (Opinion)



The first two years of my first term on my local school board were, in retrospect, a sleepy affair. I was elected in May 2017, following Donald Trump’s taking office, and although interest in politics was up, my experience on the board was still typical of the “before times.”

Everything changed with the pandemic.

With school buildings closed and students learning at home, parents got a front-row seat to their children’s schooling, and they didn’t always like what they saw. Now they felt compelled to scrutinize curriculum choices, library books, teacher quality, and health-care decisions.

School closures, mask mandates, and lies about vaccines and critical race theory resulted in mass school board meetings, which were made more accessible as live streaming became ubiquitous.

School boards make decisions about what we care most about—our children. School districts, funded by taxpayer dollars, are also often one of the largest employers, land and facility owners, and transportation hubs in a jurisdiction. Therefore, it makes sense that democratically elected members should provide public accountability.

The power of school boards also means it is imperative that school boards reflect their communities—in every demographically diverse way imaginable.

The days of board members operating in obscurity are over. The goals must be to ensure that a destructive vocal minority doesn’t take over and that the board knows how to effectively engage the community to lead constructive change. Parents want their voices heard, and school boards should be the conduit to executing what communities want to see from their districts.

Earlier this year, the nonprofit I co-lead published a report with first-of-its-kind data about our nation’s school board members. We researched why people run for school board, what their priorities are, and what support they need to fulfill campaign promises. We paid particular attention to the opinions of elected leaders of color, as they have long been underrepresented. Our findings provide the beginning of a path forward for our nation’s school boards.

Our data made three things clear to us:

  • We must develop ecosystems to recruit, train, and elect school board members who are more reflective of public school families and who are committed to changing a calcified system that isn’t working.
  • We must support those board members to govern effectively between elections when the real work happens.
  • We must change the design of school board work to make the jobs more accessible to a wider cross-section of community members.

Our report,”Empty Seats at Powerful Tables,” highlights data that show the extent to which our nation’s school boards and their leadership are not representative of the families their schools serve across race, gender, age, sexual identity, language, or disability.

The system favors potential candidates who are older, wealthier, and more likely to be white than the average school-age parent.

Board members historically have been far older than the typical school-age parent. Our survey confirmed that a majority of board members are 55 or older. The age gap is a reflection a larger problem with the structure of school boards. With the inherent shortcomings of a job with nominal or no pay, long night meetings, and insufficient training and resources, the system favors potential candidates who are older, wealthier, and are more likely to be white than the average school-age parent. The result is that the parents who know school isn’t working for their children usually don’t run or don’t run again. The status quo is preserved.

As an elected leader in my early 40s, I still need to work full time as I’m in my prime earning years. I also have young children to care for as well as aging parents. My school board job has a big impact on my paid work and family. By comparison, several of my early school board colleagues were retired, with grown children and deceased parents, giving them significantly more available time. How do we restructure the role so younger parents of diverse backgrounds can be present at the decisionmaking table?

Our report highlights a warning and an opportunity—only 38 percent of current school board members surveyed plan to run for reelection. (More than 70 percent of 2016 incumbents ran for reelection.) This could be an opportunity to elect more diverse, representative, and innovative board members, but it also points to the challenges of the job and the need to make it sustainable.

After several cycles of recruiting and supporting more diverse people to run in my district of about 18,000 students, we now have a board that looks much more like our community in age, race, gender identity, and sexual orientation. All seven of us are parents of school-age children who work outside the home. But how long can we sustain this intense volunteer job that now includes regular threats and opponents trying to reverse our progress on equity?

Perhaps school board members should be paid a living wage. Perhaps board members should have staff to help them research, write, and monitor policies that will change systemic barriers to improving student outcomes and experiences. Perhaps board meetings should be held at different times and locations and with child care, transportation, and food available. Certainly, board members should be provided with free, high-quality training to help them govern, including being able to challenge the status quo.

A lot of attention was paid to which school board members were elected on Nov. 8, but between elections, countless decisions will be made by those elected leaders with much less fanfare. Large crowds gather for a discussion about book bans, but often not for the decisions that appear less insidious on the surface yet have life-changing consequences, especially for the students who depend on school the most. Decisions such as which students have access to which schools, which students get the most experienced teachers, what curriculum is taught, how resources are prioritized, how students are disciplined, and many more.

Let’s reimagine elected school boards so that they can work on behalf of students and families to dramatically improve our public schools and finally make good on the promise of the American dream for all.

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