by Max Brantley
LR School Board member Melanie Fox is asking board members to put off today's 5 p.m. special meeting. She cites Good Friday (UPDATE: and also a request from teachers who said a 5 p.m. meeting should be put off because of benchmark exams next week). As to the test issue: ???? But if she was concerned about that Good Friday conflict she should have voted for the meeting to proceed Thursday night. Any move to delay today is simply that, a move to delay the inevitable and ratchet tension to the fission-point.
The outcome seems clear. A board majority will vote to end Superintendent Roy Brooks' employment. Only the housekeeping details are to be revealed. We also must wait to see the extent to which an emotionally charged crowd of adults can behave like they'd want their children to behave in a room where a hotly contested event ended in a way that made some happy and others unhappy. Will the winners gloat and pump their fists? Or will they quietly file out with best wishes for opponents? Will the losers hurl abusive statements at winners and threats of future disruption? Or will they accept defeat gracefully and turn to ways they can channel their energy to positive outcomes in the future?
But I'm burying the lead of this story. It is time to look forward, not to the past. The Little Rock schools are far more important than one man's job. They will continue Monday. Interim leadership will be a critical factor in bridging the widening divide that exists in the district, too much of it on racial lines.
It is a place custom-made for the intervention of UALR. The urban university has been striving under Chancellor Joel Anderson's leadership to establish itself as a place of sober study and fair resolution of vexing metropolitan issues. It's worked tirelessly already on the Little Rock schools and provided an important road map for the process that finds the district now released from federal court supervision. It brokered the water utility merger. It's worked on Riverdale traffic issues. Anderson has, in fact, made racial relationships in Pulaski County the signature issue of his tenure. There could be no more appropriate intervenor than UALR; none with less baggage; none more likely to be an honest mediator.
It is time for UALR to step up again.I'd like to take credit for this idea, but others are already at work on it.
Might Chancellor Anderson be persuaded to loan a qualified executive or education faculty to the schools to lead the district on an interim basis? He or she would not be a candidate to be permanent superintendent. He or she would have credibility on either side of the Little Rock divide.
Some people I know think UALR has an obvious candidate with just such a resume. His name is Charles Donaldson, the widely respected (and liked) vice chancellor for educational and student services at UALR and dean of the University College. His equally well-liked wife, Mable, happens to be a retired Little Rock school district administrator. They happen to be black.
It will not be easy to get someone to volunteer to stand, even temporarily, atop this powder keg. But I haven't heard a better, more promising idea for the important coming days of the Little Rock School District. The time to wound is just about past. The time to heal comes.
SPEAKING OF HEALING: An LRSD teacher and future LR faculty member attended last night's meeting and was moved to write about the racial divide he observed. He wrote an open letter to the school district. It's too long to publish here, but I've published it as a guest column on our website. Check it out.