Part of my (late) morning (or even afternoon) ritual is to read the Atlanta-Journal Constitution (AJC) for stories related to education. My first stop is usually the GetSchooled blog by Maureen Downey, then on to education articles by Aileen Dodd, as they often write on some interesting topics. This morning there was an article written by Aileen that caught my eye: Broad Prize win makes diversity a focus in Gwinnett school board race.’ My interest is not solely motivated by the fact that it is election time (Subliminal Message: VOTE), but instead because I live in Gwinnett County and my kids attend school here. If you read my blog on a regular basis then you know I am not one to mince words when it comes to the school system. Yes, the district recently won the Broad Prize in Urban Education, but that does not exclude this district from having issues regarding race, disparities in the number and severity of disciplinary actions against minority students, or even the overrepresentation of minority students receiving services through Special Education. I have written about these issues time and time again. Sadly, it appears that only minorities (and a handful of White people) are genuinely concerned about the ramifications of these institutionally racist (yes, that is the correct application of the word racist) policies because we are the only ones to voice concerns. But I take offense at people who try to deny the importance of diversity, especially within a county and school district that is now majority-minority.
A few weeks ago, Maureen wrote a blog post based on interviews she conducted with the two school board candidates for District 4 in Gwinnett County: Dr. Robert McClure and Mark Williams. Dr. McClure does not have a web site or Facebook page. I assume he never created them because he has almost always ran uncontested. McClure, like many other people within the community, denies that the board lacks diversity. All five board members are White and have served for many years. (Side Note: One of the members is fairly old; I could swear I saw her doze off during a board meeting.) Williams stated that it would be impossible for staff and leadership to truly reflect the community. He did add this: ‘However, you can put in place a staff and leadership that respects the broad range of diversity that exists in the county.’ Kinda sounds like he wants to say diversity matters, but he may be weary of directly doing so because it may cost him some votes. Newsflash: The people who live in District 4 fall into two groups: Those who are aware of their own diversity and those who have tried to run from it. We know that there are more Black and Latino families in this community; we see it everyday. No one will fault you for acknowledging that the district has not done enough to keep up with its rapidly-changing, demographics. Denying the significance of and need for diversity makes about as much sense as Barack Obama denying the significance of his blackness…oh wait, he did allude to that, didn’t he? OK, bad example.
I will not repeat my concerns with this district or its leaders because I am starting to sound like a broken record. It is a sad commentary that incendiary and culturally insensitive remarks can be made by education leaders without ramifications. It’s even more dangerous to reward those same leaders with million dollar prizes and accolades. Your acknowledgement of their achievements should not come at the expense of excusing their bouts with foot-in-mouth disease or offending the very people for whom the district received credit in assisting (closing the opportunity gap). As long as school board elections are low on the list of priorities of most voters, this district’s leadership will continue to move forward, business as usual. The same homogeneous group will continue to make decisions for a group of vastly different children, without input from parents, experts on diversity issues, or without consideration for the reality that holding an office for an extended period does not mean you are the most qualified individual for the job. It simply means that you have been a member of this community longer and, therefore, possess more name recognition than someone who may actually bring a diverse viewpoint and new ideas to the table. Winning a monetary prize does not exclude you from being respectful of diversity, the manner in which your system has continuously failed students with Special Needs (check the dismal numbers), or addressing the obvious disciplinary disparities between Black, Latino, and White students.
By all means, winning money is simply a means to maintaining the status quo. Interpret as you wish.