Charges of Racism Lobbed As Harrisburg Narrows Search for School Superintendent to 2 Candidates

Lara Brenckle, Patriot-News (Harrisburg), February 12, 2011

Harrisburg’s superintendent search is down to two candidates, both with deep roots in Pennsylvania education.

But almost as soon as Eric Holmes, acting superintendent of York City Schools, and Samuel DePaul, superintendent of Stanly County Schools in North Carolina, were announced as finalists, accusations of racism and political gamesmanship began to swirl.

One board member accused another of playing “plantation politics” with the futures of Harrisburg’s children.

Amid it all is the still-potent push to retain Sybil Knight-Burney, Harrisburg’s acting superintendent.

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Board member Lola Lawson, an opponent of the search process from the beginning, said Friday’s announcement was further confirmation other board members, especially board President Roy Christ [who is white], completely disregarded the will of the people.

“[Christ] is acting like he’s the great plantation master, come to save the little darkies,” Lawson said. “The arrogance of him to say ‘I know what’s better for you than you know for yourself.'”

Despite Christ not taking part in the selection process, Lawson accused him of orchestrating things from behind the scenes and using the superintendent search to position himself and others for higher office. “He’s part of the problem,” Lawson said. “He’s trying to position himself on the backs of a minority district.”

Lawson continues to advocate hiring an independent search firm to locate the best and brightest, people with experience turning around troubled districts and making real progress with minority students.

Failing that, Lawson supports retaining Knight-Burney, saying that she’s repeatedly shown her dedication to inner-city children and their education.

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Lola Lawson, board member (left) and Sybil Knight-Burney, acting superintendant.
 

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Eric Holmes (left) and Samuel DePaul.

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