Some of my closest political friends and confidants of the last 30 years have been Richmond County school board members.
The late B.J. Annis and her son, Jeff. Jerry Brigham. Bill Lee. Kenneth Echols. Cherie Foster. Kingsley Riley.
Yep… Kinglsey Riley.
Mrs. Riley had nothing, and I mean nothing, politically in common with the others I listed and have known so well over the years, but she may have been one of the most brutally honest politicians Augusta has ever seen. Elected to the school board after a career that saw her teaching elementary school children in three local counties, she spent almost 20 years as a trustee trying to reverse every injustice, every wrong and every slight that had been done to minority students and system employees in the name of racial prejudice.
She was a black educator with a liberal agenda that would make Rachel Maddow wince. The reason I loved that dear woman so much? She would look you dead in the eye and tell you what she thought.
“Black children need black teachers and black administrators. Black boys need black coaches, and black girls need to see successful professional black women in the schoolhouse, to serve as a great and constant example.”
If she said it once, she said it a million times.
Mrs. Riley has been gone a long time; she passed away nine years ago to be exact, and she had retired from the school board a few years before that. But the spirit and weight of her strong beliefs, which ironically come in just short of full blown segregation, still seem to haunt the Richmond County Board of Education.
I asked her once if she thought white children needed to see white adults in positions of authority in the school system, and she candidly told me, “No… they need to see black professionals as well…”
“They can see white men in charge of everything else, maybe a few black principals in their hometown will open their minds a bit…,” Riley said.
Can’t argue the logic in that.
While Mrs. Riley did not live to see Sheriff Richard Roundtree or President Barack Obama elected, she was there as Richmond County’s first black superintendent was voted into office. Since then there have been two more black men to hold the position, and it is beginning to appear the next system leader is also going to be black, with the lone finalist announced for the position, Dr. Angela Pringle.
If successful, Dr. Pringle will become the board’s first female superintendent, which, in Georgia’s second largest city, is no small feat.
The final vote is still more than a week away, and there are indications that there are a few professional concerns about her resume which may require in-depth explanation before any final approval is considered. In that time frame, is it a stretch to ask the question, is Dr. Pringle the best suited candidate for this unique and challenged system, or is she just the best suited black candidate?
On the record, you will be hard pressed to get any of the 10 sitting trustees to admit that the job is limited to “black applicants only,” but it is hard to understand how fellow applicant, Deputy Superintendent Tim Spivey is being passed over for any other reason.
Spivey has served the system well for many years, as a teacher, principal and deputy super. He has been invaluable in the time that Dr. Frank Roberson has struggled to overcome the effects of the life-threatening neurological disorder that took him out of action for over a year. In short, Spivey has been their “go to guy.”
He also happens to be white.
Privately, two current trustees tell me that it appears white candidates are not seriously considered for the job, and when I press those folks as to why they don’t “dig in” and insist, they say it is because harmony in the system is more important in the long run.
One need look no further than the Augusta Commission to see that “finalists” can be turned down, and the search for the best hire refined and more carefully considered.
I hope and pray that the well-meaning but misguided racial loyalties Kingsley Riley voiced over two decades on the board are not really what is at hand in the selection of Dr. Pringle, and that the fourth consecutive black finalist voted on for the position just, coincidentally, happens to be black.
The headline to this column asks an important question, but instead of it being whispered quietly among reporters and citizens, perhaps it is time to have the conversation out loud. Mrs. Riley was bold enough to say it; is anyone else willing to do the same?