Superintendent Robert Runcie and President Barack Obama: Two Peas in a Pod?

As Robert Runcie nears completion of his first year as superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, the manner in which he plans to run things seems very clear; like President Barack Obama.

Could this be due to the fact that they are both Harvard graduates and hail from the great city of Chicago, Illinois? They both pride themselves on being great business men and have a network of friends and supporters that they can call upon to “hopefully” navigate successfully through choppy seas.

Last week, , Morgan Freeman, a usual staunch Obama supporter made a bold statement indicating that President Obama was not the first Black president, citing that his mother was White and much of his upbringing was influenced by his maternal grandparents, also White. Freeman contends that Obama, at best, is the first “mixed race President”.

When we take a closer look at President Obama and his support groups through policy changes, it might suggest that he is probably more a “Hispanic” president as he successfully granted amnesty to more than three quarters of a millions Latin Immigrants. That he is probably a more “Gay” president as he has brought about the vigorous conversations and support of not only gay rights and civil unions, but policy on gay marriage that will grant LGBTI couples the exact same rights afforded to heterosexual couples.

However President Barak Obama is the President of the United States of America and not the Preacher Pastor of the United States of America.

It has been known for some time that in the entertainment world supporting the rights and acceptance for being a homosexual, gay or a member of the LGBTI was the order of the day.

Early on in his presidency, it looked like President Obama might take a stand on what many feel is the problem with America; the issues of race. However, when he did he was shot down like a walking zombie.

When President Obama made the statement, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin,” Republican, Newt Gingrich, responded by accusing Obama of playing the race card and calling his comment, “disgraceful.” Gingrich, in an interview with Sean Hannity called it a tragedy for any race and said that Trayvon is an American, without regard to race- hum wishful thinking we might add.

President Obama cited that the police officer who arrested Harvard professor, Dr. Henry Louis Gates in his home had “acted stupidly”. Gates claimed racial profiling of the Cambridge Police Department and it spurred a national debate. President Obama’s comments led to major public scrutiny and resulted in his extending an olive branch by inviting the arresting officer, James Crowley, and Gates to the White House to discuss the matter over a beer. Gates accepted, but Crowley declined.

These are only two examples that shows how a Black president who responds at all to Black issues is scrutinized shot down and must moon walk and sing like Al Green back into his place. Having a Black president in the White House for his first term, may not prove to be as beneficial to progress and change for African Americans as many hoped.

The same thought holds true for the first Black superintendent in Broward. We suspect, the fellow Harvard grads and Chicagoans know each other well, and it would be safe to say Runcie has learned from the experiences of President Obama. Runcie has made an ineffective effort to galvanize the Black community. He has responded inadequately to African American communities who have reached out to him. Runcie has cited publicly that he is concerned about and committed to the fragile graduation rates of Black students, in particular the dismal graduation rate of Black males in Broward County. Though he has said it publicly, he has not mobilized the Black community around the issue. Sources say, however, he has begun discussions, absent the Black community, around closing low enrolled schools in African American communities.

Like President Obama, Runcie seems to believe solely that his job hinges on the support of Board members that work for the constituents of their single member districts. One Board member, Benjamin Williams, of district five represents the constituents of predominantly African American communities as the district was carved out to ensure an African American would always be on the Board. With this model the interests of African Americans in the poorest communities would always be ill-represented by having only one African American of nine Board members. Williams, serving 12 years under this system has been smothered by the over pervasiveness and indulgence of superintendents to the whilms of the other eight members, has appeared to lie dormant on issues affecting his African American constituents. Williams is retiring from the Board and will be replaced by one of almost a half dozen candidates running for his seat in the November election.

When the process for selecting a superintendent occurred last fall, it was evident that the nine member Board were hell bent on hiring an African American male. They narrowed it to two finalists, Robert Runcie and Bernard Taylor of Grand Rapids Public Schools. Current Board chair, Anne Murray, who was recently cleared of public scrutiny where she was exposed for repeatedly using the “N-word” while working in the school district’s transportation department, allegedly stated that the new superintendent had to be an African American.

Bernard Taylor, now superintendent of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana Schools, had come through the ranks of being an educator at almost every level before rising to superintendent. Runcie, on the other hand, had no superintendent experience, no classroom teacher experience and no principal experience. He touted that he is a business man. Though Runcie eventually received a unanimous vote, two Board members, Maureen Dineen and Nora Rupert, initially voted for Taylor citing their discomfort with Runcie’s lack of educational experience.

Selecting an African American gave Blacks a false sense of hope. Runcie, like Obama, is hog tied and steered in a direction away from African Americans. He either, by force or by choice, has elected to distance himself from African Americans and dealing directly with African American on issues affecting children in their communities. The Board wants to tackle school closure and believes only an African American could lead the charge as most, if not all of the school closures will be in Black communities. Let’s hope we do not see a repeat of the 1960’s where Black communities lose their schools and suffer the inconveniences of bussing while students in predominately White communities go untouched. And the million dollar question is whether the school closures will result in a more integrated school experience for Black children as Broward has reverted back to much of the segregation we saw from 60 years ago.

Had Hillary Clinton secured the 2008 Democratic ticket and won the presidency, she, like her husband, former President Bill Clinton, could have affected policy in favor of African Americans without being subjected to the criticisms President Obama has faced and being called a racist.

The same holds true with former superintendents Jim Notter and Frank Till. They could deal more fairly and equitably with issues facing Black communities and its children without having to deal with being accused of throwing the race card out like running a Boston in a hand of spades. Runcie, thus far, has elected not to face that scrutiny.

It is appearing more and more as if we will never be able to relieve our selves of the dependency of White people to move us forward because we are so afraid of speaking truth to power.

“Pharaoh let my people go!”

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