The music continued last week, but it was not the sound of pride that had accompanied the elevator ride to leadership for blacks in Prince George’s County. The majority-black school board on Thursday selected a white superintendent from a tiny district in California to run one of the largest predominantly black school systems in the country.
The arrangement did not make for easy listening.
“Let me tell you, this was an agonizing decision for me,” said Howard W. Stone Jr., vice chairman of the school board, who is black. “We’ve had three black school superintendents who didn’t work out, and I sure didn’t want to leave black people and especially black students with the impression that a black can’t lead.
“Did I want to turn this system over to a white man? Not if I’d had my druthers. But after looking at all of the candidates, this was the best guy to lead the system, raise the test scores and get our kids the best education possible.”
Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson, who also is black, put it this way: Deasy “won’t be laying down the law so much as motivating people, giving them a vision of their destiny and how they can achieve it through education. That has nothing to do with being black or white. It has to do with energy, personality and know-how.”
Try as Johnson might to discount the significance of race, it simply can’t be done. In fact, he loves to revel in its positive aspects, such the miracle of Prince George’s—a land once worked by African slaves now home to many of the country’s wealthiest, best-educated African Americans.
But neither he nor the rest of the county’s black middle class wants to talk publicly about the embarrassing spectacle of black school leaders getting caught up in catfights and scandals. Now, with a white man in charge, they won’t have to. And low-income blacks, who have long felt abandoned by their more affluent neighbors, get to root for a Great White Hope.
A cozy relationship with the business community is part of what makes schools in, say, Fairfax and Montgomery counties so successful. Deasy is said to bring with him support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. No black candidate for the Prince George’s post could boast of having such connections.
The stage was set: black pride vs. pragmatism—and pride did not prevail.