From Negro Student to Black Superintendent: Counternarratives on Segregation and Desegregation

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study is to document the segregated schooling reflections of Black school superintendents and explore how those experiences informed their educational philosophies in the post-desegregation era. Critical race theory is used as a methodological and analytical framework to present participants' reflections of living in segregated communities, going to all Black schools, working to meet the high expectations of parents and teachers, and how those realities shaped their self-concept as Negro students. Study findings support the growing body of literature on valued segregated schools and negative consequences of desegregation on the education of Black students, but its significance lies in the uniquely informed perspectives of the Black school superintendent. It concludes with a discussion of implications for the future of Black education.

INTRODUCTION

When the U.S. Supreme Court, on June 28, 2007, declared unconstitutional the use of raceconscious assignment plans as a strategy for achieving racial balance in K- 12 public schools in Seattle, Washington and Louisville, Kentucky, many educators, parents, and scholars nationwide perceived the decision as an explicit reversal of the landmark Brown decision of 1954 (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954). Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, et al (2007) also compelled education researchers and scholars from various fields and disciplines to put forth an amicus brief stressing the educational value of diversity and integration in our nation's schools based on social science research (Orfield, Frankenberg, & Garces, 2008). Those researchers included in the brief supported the notion that race-conscious education plans and policies are critical to the promotion of racial balance and educational success for all students, particularly in increasingly multiracial, multicultural, and diverse school and community contexts.

While supporters of racially integrated schools ground their advocacy in empirical research that credits desegregation and race-conscious education policies for improved achievement among students of color (Kozol, 1991; Orfield & Eaton, 1996; Orfield, Frankenberg, & Garces, 2008; Smrekar & Goldring, 2009; Wells, Holmes, Revilla, & Atanda, 2009), a growing body of research conducted by and from the perspectives of African American students, parents, and educators tells a more complicated story concerning all Black segregated schools (Anderson, 1988; Jones, 1981; Jones-Wilson, 1990; Morris, 1999, 2008; Walker, 1996, 2000) and the (un)intended consequences of desegregation (Afrik, 1993; Bell, 2004; Dempsey & Noblit 1993; Foster, 1997; Horsford, 2007; Horsford & McKenzie, 2008; Irvine & Irvine, 1983; Jones, 1981; Morris & Morris, 2002; Noblit & Méndez, 2008; Shujaa & AfHk, 1996; Tillman, 2004; Walker, 1996). In fact mis work has made significant contributions to expanding our understanding of the contexts and characteristics of Black education during segregation, after desegregation, and its implications for African American education and achievement in the era of resegregation (Boger & Orfield, 2005; Orfield & Eaton, 1996; Tatum, 2007).

Despite these scholarly contributions, which, in many ways serve as a counternarrative to the dominant discourse of Black education as deficient disadvantaged, and at-risk and mainstream narratives that equate school desegregation with educational equality, a perspective that remains underexplored and underexamined is that of the Black school superintendent. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to document the segregated schooling reflections of Black school superintendents and explore how those experiences informed their educational philosophies and work in the post-desegregation era. According to Murtadha and Watts (2005),

The omission of Black leadership narratives, along with an adequate analysis of the contexts in which leadership has worked, limits our ability to develop ways to improve schools and communities for children who live in poverty and children of color who are becoming the majority of the nation's schools, (p. …