Colorblind leadership

Published 9:20 am Saturday, October 15, 2011

The appointment of Edna King to the Franklin School Board two years ago caused much handwringing in white leadership circles.

I never understood why.

King is competent, passionate, feisty and dedicated to any task she undertakes. She’s also nobody’s puppet.

King proved her mettle again this week when she cast the decisive vote against a radical change in the city schools’ grading policy. Administrators, without consulting parents or informing the school board, last month declared that no child could receive a grade lower than a 60 on a test or assignment.

Though the vote to end the grading practice was 4-0 and seemingly unanimous, there was anything but consensus on the board. Three board members — Vice Chairman Mona Murphy, Johnetta Nichols and Verta Jackson — tacitly backed the policy and the administration. King, ever the independent spirit, broke ranks with her African-American colleagues on the school board and opposed both the policy and the shameful way it was implemented.

When it became clear how King would vote, Murphy, Nichols and Jackson skipped Tuesday’s meeting in an apparent silent protest of the board’s decision.

Opposition to King’s 2009 appointment — including “no” votes by three City Council members — never was explained publicly. In hushed tones around town, there was much fretting about the implications of a majority-black school board.

Sadly, there was little attention to King’s qualifications. A former educator and lifelong advocate of public education, King had demonstrated her heart for community service in both Isle of Wight County, where she and her husband, Tony, used to live, and in Franklin. In Isle of Wight, she chaired the Planning Commission, providing strong leadership in a role that required much political skill and the ability to listen and balance competing interests.

Way too much energy in this community is wasted on race-based concerns. Some white leaders worry privately about “black control” of community institutions. Some black leaders talk openly about “black rule” — the notion that, because African-Americans constitute a majority of the city’s population, they should hold a majority of seats on the City Council.

It’s all silly and divisive. Our community can prosper by setting aside petty rivalries and pursuing a shared vision of economic growth, first-rate government services, including public education, and a terrific quality of life for all citizens.

To his credit, former City Councilman Mark Fetherolf cast a colorblind, decisive vote for King’s appointment to the school board two years ago. King, in turn, has provided colorblind leadership. Our community needs more of it.

STEVE STEWART is publisher of The Tidewater News. His email address is