On the heels of a Windsor school board meeting that laid bare tensions between its members and a division created by the hiring of Loyola University's Dr. Marlon James, Board President Doreen Richardson is calling on dissenting board members to accept the board's actions and rally around a community effort to get Windsor students on the right track.
"What happened [November 14] was unfortunate," Richardson said of the board's last meeting. "What were closing statements turned into a threatening, loud, contentious argument."
According to Richardson, since the board voted, 6-3, to commission Dr. James' equity and excellence audit of Windsor High School, its members have been split — board members have engaged in personal attacks based on the board's vote.
"Rather than address the merit of the decision, the opposition have resorted to personal attacks on those who support it," said Richardson.
"We must stop acting in ways that are disruptive and lead by example," added Richardson. "We must rally around work that has to be done, not around actions that undermine the integrity of the board."
The board has taken two votes on James' hiring — one vote to approve Windsor Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Villar to enter into a contractual agreement with the Loyola University-Chicago professor, and another in an attempt to rescind the board's approval when opposition continued.
The board reaffirmed its decision to hire James with the second vote, but claims of procedure and bylaw violations have ensued.
Despite claims that Richardson and Villar led a push to hire James that was in conflict with board policy, .
The board is set to hold a special meeting on Tues., Nov. 27 with the potential to take action on the policy-violation claims.
While the commission of a project as abstract as James' proposed equity and excellence audit wouldn't necessarily bring expectations of full board support, Richardson has been thrown for a loop by the extent to which some of her colleagues have gone following the board's action towards a goal she says was outlined since she was seated to head the schools-governing body.
"My first speech to the board woas about equity and excellence. There was never any challenge around the proposition of equity and excellence," she said.
"We've had plenty of discussion about it — we brought in a consultant over the summer to understand productive board discussion and what it means to be an effective board."
Additionally, board members, Richardson said, had two opportunities to listen to Dr. James and his work — once over the summer and again in September when the board voted to commission his project.
Still, she said, she feels its necessary to correct misconceptions among board members and the community.
Foremost among the misconceptions is that James was hired to close the achievement gap.
"We did not hire Dr. James to close the achievement gap, as some have said. That is our job. His job is to create data and bring his educational expertise to the school, which will help us develop a response [to his findings]," said Richardson.
Richardson said she believes James expertise in teaching teachers and social justice will be particularly beneficial to the district's work to create a solution to fix an educational system that currently lacks equity and has limited excellence.
"Systems, in spite of themselves, despite intentions of individuals, result in inequity," she said.
"This is not a race-based or gender-based study," she added. "Whether you're black, white, female or male, we need to get down to the notion of seeing if students receive an equitable experience in our system.
James, she added, will help the district "understand the components to ensuring access to equity and excellence" and provide a solution that engages the entire community and builds the district's capacity for Windsor students to excel.