Two days after a Sun-Sentinel investigation into Parkland school shooter Nicholas Cruz named Brevard Schools Superintendent Desmond Blackburn as part of a controversial Broward Schools program designed to keep school-age offenders in class and out of jail, Blackburn announced he was resigning to run a California-based national nonprofit.
From 2007 until he was hired to head up Brevard Public Schools in July 2015, Blackburn served in various executive and training capacities in Broward County. The Sun-Sentinel reports Blackburn trained teachers to implement Superintendent Robert Runcie’s pet program called “Promise,” which resulted in more lenient disciplinary measures, and massive declines in reports of in-school incidents to law enforcement. Runcie and Broward schools have come under fire for not releasing all records related to Cruz and any potential connection to the Promise program.
On Saturday, the Sun-Sentinel reported, “Desmond Blackburn, then Broward’s chief school performance and accountability officer, specifically instructed teachers and staff in a video years ago to challenge and nurture students, while using suspensions, expulsions and arrests as ‘absolute last resorts.’”
Blackburn’s statewide profile was elevated in March when Gov. Rick Scott appointed the career educator to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public School Safety Commission, drawing attention to his track record in Broward. One main job of the commission is to examine all the systematic failures leading up to the Feb. 14 shooting.
A BPS statement released Monday said Blackburn gave 90 days’ notice. Hiring a replacement was expected to come up this past Tuesday when the School Board was scheduled to hold a workshop.
School Board member Tina Descovich said Blackburn told her last week that he was leaving. “When he first told me, I was extremely disappointed,” Descovich said. “We have a great working relationship I think he has fantastic leadership skills, and he really has set our district on a course for success in three years and I really wanted to see that continue.”
Descovich praised Blackburn for seeking input from stakeholders and creating a strategic plan for the district. “It is the guide and the direction for the district and it keeps everybody on task and focused with the mission,” Descovich said.
After seeing the Sun-Sentinel piece, Descovich posted this on her official Facebook page: “Teachers- thoughts on Brevard’s discipline plan? I’ve been assured by staff that we do not have this happening in BPS. Our suspension rates are actually increasing. But I want to hear from those in the classrooms.”
Descovich said she had previously asked district officials about how Brevard compares to Broward County.
Board member Matt Susin said he was also informed prior to Monday that Blackburn would be leaving, and that no one had ever expected Blackburn to stay in Brevard long term.
“We knew Desmond was on to bigger and better things from Brevard,” Susin said. “That was always a known factor. The average life of superintendents is about 3-6 years. So we always knew this was going to happen.’’
He said he knows of no connection between the Parkland shooting and Blackburn’s resignation. “No, no, no,” Susin said. “I mean honestly, we wouldn’t in any way make a decision based upon Parkland. There’s no smoking gun in any way as far as we knew. Dr. Blackburn did this on his own because he took a position in a higher place.”
“I think we should look internally and there are a lot of good candidates internally before we should go externally,” Susin said. “We need to move fast to make a decision because we don’t want next year’s school year to start without a really good new superintendent who has the time he needs or she needs in order to get a strong footing.”
Correspondent Jan Wesner Childs contributed to this report.