Longtime local NAACP chapter president Tony Brown has legitimate reasons to doubt the sincerity of the school district’s latest promise to address and resolve the remaining issues cited in a 1967 federal court-imposed desegregation order.
As he so eloquently put it: “We’ve had 53 years of this foolishness.”
That’s more than five decades of School Board members and superintendents pretending to care about the plight of Black students in our public schools, offering lip service while no meaningful action was taken.
Now, though – in the best interests of the students he so passionately wants to help – Brown needs to put aside the district’s past indifference and take one last, massive leap of faith.
He needs to give School Superintendent David Moore a real chance to fix the problems that for too long have been ignored, and allow him to do it his way, with his plan and his people.
He needs to trust that Moore, unlike his predecessors, is serious about improving academic achievement among Black students, increasing the percentage of Black teachers and administrators, and confronting the district’s other troubling racial disparities, such as the alarming difference in how Black and white students are disciplined.
That won’t be easy, given Brown’s current feelings about Moore, who was hired in November 2019 and immediately announced the desegregation order would be a priority for his administration.
The two men don’t appear to be fond of each other, and their interactions thus far have been, for the most part, contentious as they’ve disagreed from the outset on aspects of what’s supposed to be a joint plan between the district and NAACP to address the desegregation order.
They’ve also clashed over the legitimacy of the district’s efforts to recruit and retain Black teachers and administrators, as well as over who Moore should hire as his “chief equity and diversity officer,” a newly created position that will pay up to $115,000 annually.
Brown’s recent remarks won’t do anything to bring them closer.
Brown openly admits he doesn’t trust Moore – that he considers him a more-polished version of the district’s previous all-talk, no-action superintendents – and he believes Moore doesn’t respect him.
He also questions Moore’s motives, saying they “aren’t pure,” and remains skeptical of the superintendent’s commitment to resolving the issues that put Black students here at a disadvantage.
In fact, Brown described the quarterly, court-mandated status report the district filed last month as “seven pages of fluff” that weren’t relevant to the order.
“It’s all just window dressing,” Brown said. “He was brought in to be a fixer, and he just wants to check the boxes so the district can put the desegregation order in the past.”
Brown is especially wary of Moore’s claims that the district is making progress in recruiting Black teachers – a formidable challenge for an overwhelmingly white community that offers Black, college-educated young adults little affordable housing and limited social opportunities.
None of those factors, he said, is as problematic as the “history of systemic racism” in the county and school district.
“But nobody wants to talk about that,” Brown said. “Nobody wants to talk about the faculty and administration not being reflective, percentage-wise, of the school district or the community. Nobody wants to talk about the number of Black teachers they’ve turned away.”
Moore strongly defends his efforts, noting the number of Black teachers working in our public schools – where 18 percent of students are Black – has increased from 9 percent to 11.4 percent since his arrival and that the district offered contracts to eight more Black teachers at a recent job fair.
Regarding other aspects of the desegregation order, Moore points to a reduction in Black students who’ve been suspended on his watch, saying the number has been cut in half.
“There were a lot of factors involved, particularly COVID, which kept a lot of students out of school,” he said. “But when I first came here, an African-American student was four times more likely to be suspended than a white student.”
That is no longer the case.
Moore said he’s also committed to improving the academic achievement levels of Black students – a mission stressed throughout the district’s new strategic plan – and said the soon-to-be-hired chief equity officer will be immersed in that effort, though he or she won’t work alone.
“One of the first moves I made when I got here was to say, ‘Equity was everyone’s responsibility, and we’re going to put it on everyone’s evaluation,’” Moore said at last week’s School Board meeting.
“We’re fully committed to doing this work,” he said, adding that the district’s goal is to “ensure all students have the opportunity to maximize their full potential.”
Brown, however, isn’t satisfied with the district’s efforts, and he remains critical of Moore’s decision to revise a 2019 plan that included 53 recommendations presented by the district’s Equity Committee that were agreed upon by both the district and NAACP.
“We did some monumental work, but Moore felt compelled to change it,” Brown said. “He came in and threw it in the trash, at least figuratively. And why? Because it wasn’t his.
“The way he sees it: He knows more than everybody else, and he has to be in control,” he added. “Everything’s got to be his way or no way. And when someone like me challenges him, he makes me out to be an obstructionist.”
Moore said the recommendations put forth by the Equity Committee in 2019 have been “incorporated and highlighted” in both the district’s strategic plan and African American Achievement Plan.
In addition, he said he’ll continue to accept recommendations from the committee, the NAACP and town-hall sessions with the public.
As for his desire to be in control, Moore, who was an assistant superintendent in Miami-Dade County before taking the top job here, cited his extensive background working in school districts in urban core areas and his “deep understanding” of the issues in the desegregation order.
“I understand that Mr. Brown has been told things in the past and nothing happened, but now there’s follow-through and action,” Moore said. “This district – for the first time in forever – is getting things done with regard to the order, and we’re going to continue to move forward.
“I assure you: With or without the support of the NAACP, this district is going to be successful in addressing and resolving these issues.”
The School Board hired Moore because it believed he was the “rock star” administrator needed to embark on transformational and impactful change in a district that, as he described it, was on the “verge of financial and academic bankruptcy.”
Three months in, however, Moore was forced to contend with a global pandemic that required schools to quickly adapt to a new way of educating students, and his response has been impressive.
He and school leaders across the county opened classrooms at the beginning of the school year, despite the pandemic, and kept them open, while also providing ways for students to study at home if they didn’t want to attend school in person.
All the while, Moore continued to embrace the challenge of an embarrassing, decades-old desegregation order and – Brown’s disapproval of the superintendent’s strategy and tactics notwithstanding – he seems to be making progress.
“This shouldn’t be a them-versus-us thing,” School Board Chairman Brian Barefoot said. “What we’re trying to do is too important. There’s no middle ground. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”
Brown said the desegregation order makes the NAACP and school district partners in addressing the issues. And, certainly, the NAACP’s input should be welcomed and seriously considered.
Ultimately, though, it’s the district that’s responsible for making the necessary changes.
That means it’s up to Moore, who has done enough through his first 18 months here to earn the benefit of the doubt – yes, even in his handling of the desegregation order.
So let the man work.
Let him present his plan. Let him bring in his people. Let’s see what he does.
Then decide whether he can be trusted.