By Bobby R. Henry, Sr.
It seems the entire district is asleep or like the walking dead. To my surprise and the surprise of Superintendent Vickie Cartwright, the attendance at the District 7 Town Hall on Tuesday was quite dismal. The attendance at the Facilities meeting at Plantation High School on Wednesday was no better.
The District 7 Town Hall meeting was originally scheduled to take place at the Pompano Administration Center and was subsequently moved next door to Pompano High School. The expectation was that there would over 200 attendees, but when you extract district personnel and district 7 school principals, there may have been 25 attendees.
When inquiring about the poor attendance, I learned that Pompano and Deerfield Beach community members optioned not to attend because they believe Cartwright did not do what she was charged to do. Cartwright was specifically charged to meet with the Pompano and Deerfield Beach communities, yet she scheduled a meeting of the entire District 7. Furthermore, the community was offended that once again, the Superintendent refused to hold the meeting in the community, but rather scheduled it at a district facility. To hold a meeting at Pompano High School, a school with an abundance of privilege and district support and resources, was a slap in the face to Blanche Ely, a high school where they struggle to get something as simple as a fence.
The meeting had its highlights.
It was moderated by John Sullivan, Chief of Communications and Cartwright was joined on stage by District 7 Board member, Nora Rupert and at large board member, Debra Hixon. Another at large board member. Allan Zeman was scheduled to attend; however, he cancelled attendance at the 11th hour without citing a reason. It is rumored that a flyer sent out by members of the community characterizing him as a member of the “Cartwright Gang” and describing the crew as “disrespectful and untrustworthy” made him do an about face, though he has never served in an official capacity in any branch of the United States armed forces.
Early in the meeting, Chris Nelson, community activist, confronted Debra Hixon about the FTX scandal. Hixon was paid a $49,000 salary from FTX and she used her position as school board member to connect and promote the organization to Broward teachers and students, which is a clear violation of ethics. Three Black students from Broward competed and won an FTX contest promoted by Hixon and now their scholarships are in jeopardy because of the bankruptcy of the crypto currency giant. Hixon sat like a frightened deer in headlights and refused to respond. Sullivan, the moderator tried to quieten Nelson but he persisted to the point where Cartwright read the following from a prepared statement:
“The FTX charity hackathon was open to students from across south Florida. The competition was not organized by Broward County Public Schools and the District was not a recipient of any funds from FTX.”
The FTX scandal is NOT going away, and Hixon will need to address it. Nelson appeared on Jesse Waters Primetime on Fox News at 7:30 PM Thursday to talk about the FTX Hack-a-Thon scandal and the Board member’s involvement.
Additional shots were fired by community activist, Terry Scott who challenged Cartwright on the authenticity of her vision for all students, particularly those from marginalized communities. Scott assured her that they would get behind her vision if it was clear and authentic. Cartwright failed to make an emotional connection or deposit but rode her dead horse with indignant stubbornness. She defended. She defended, defended, and defended some more. She failed to listen.
Probably the most insulting thing of the evening was the banning of purses by participants and the amount of security present. Black people know this all too well. We walk into a high-end store like Louis Vuitton and all security eyes are following us around the store. It is truly a conscious, unconscious bias that is prevalent in Broward school and the community at large. Attendees at the Town Hall were prohibited from bringing in purses or bags, yet the Superintendent and Board members brought in their purses and had them in clear view on stage. There is just this assumption that Black people are going to come in and become violent. They act as if we are going to come to a public meeting and shoot up the place. But all research points to White males as having this propensity to violence when they don’t get their way. They shoot up the mall, the school s, clubs and climb on the side of the Capitol building to stop a democratic process.
There were over a dozen security and law enforcement officers from the district and the local municipality, yet it is rumored that schools do not have the appropriate security personnel to protect our children.
Though not on stage, newly elected Board member, Brenda Fam was in the audience, and she spoke toward the end of the night. Fam was transparent about the disparities and struggles of schools like Blanche Ely, Pompano Middle and Markham Elementary when compared to the schools in her district. She shared that her schools have nice gyms, cafeterias, and media centers, while these Pompano schools do not have some of the basics that should be afforded to all students. She also revealed that the district has named three schools that it will be closing, though they have had no collaboration with the communities regarding these decisions. Superintendent Cartwright and Board members Rupert and Hixon attempted to look surprised and asked Fam to publicly state the three schools slated for closure. Fam did not oblige but it is rumored that the three schools are: Plantation Middle, Collins Elementary and Northside Elementary. These three schools are predominately Black and are under enrolled. However, there are other schools, like Silver Shores Elementary in West Miramar, that are not predominately Black but suffer with low enrollment. This appears to be a repeat of history of desegregation. Black schools being closed resulting in Black teachers and students being displaced.
State Representative Patricia Hawkins Williams also spoke. Williams has been the single constant voice from local politicians regarding the disparity and injustice occurring in Broward schools. She admonished Cartwright and the Board for not being responsive to her calls and requests specifically about the fence issue at Blanche Ely High School. To put it mildly, this surprised me. While the Superintendent and Board should be responsive to all constituents, it is beyond belief that a state representative is ignored, and her specific requests get no traction. This is unheard of. Williams told Cartwright and the Board that she, along with others in the community, have brought forward their concerns about the fence and they have pushed off and ignored. She told them, “that if a child is hurt due to their negligence, the blood is on the hands of the district.”
There was a prevailing theme that the district just does not respond to this Black community. But there was a final speaker of the night who Cartwright may have believed was there as a supporter, however, after hearing the horrendous conditions and poor response from the district, he threw the community a lifeline. Chuck Harper, the District Advisory Council (DAC) chair for the north area spoke to the DAC process used to bring concerns to the district with a mandated policy 20-day requirement for a response. He invited members of Pompano Strong to join the DAC and use their process to force the district to be responsive to their needs.
Broward County Public Schools is on fire. If it ain’t one thing, it’s another. It is not going to get better until there is new leadership. There is a system of corruption that needs to be rooted out from its core. The longer we wait, the worse it is for all children, but specifically for Black, Brown, and marginalized children and communities.