The Search fr Character

By Vance Vaughn

What is your school board looking for in a superintendent? Behind closed doors, are you asking questions about the candidate’s race? Are you subconsciously searching for someone who looks like you and possesses your values and beliefs to educate the children you represent? Or are you searching for the best candidate you can possibly find?

One can only guess an individual board member’s mind-set when faced with this immensely important task. After your board makes its decision, your actions can sometimes uncover your motives. That’s what happened in my situation.

In the spring and summer of 2006, before I accepted an assistant professor’s position at the University of Texas at Tyler, I simultaneously served as superintendent for two small, majority white school districts in East Texas. This phenomenon is unusual for a superintendent of any race or gender, but especially an African-American male.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are slightly over 300 African-American superintendents in the nation, representing about 3 percent of the total school districts in the U.S. Two-thirds of these superintendents lead districts in which more than 75 percent of the student population is African American.

Not too far withdrawn from 1954’s Brown vs. Board of Education, especially from its forced implementation in my region more than a decade later, I realize that school boards are pressured to hire people like them to represent the students they serve. In many instances, even in today’s world, race, nationality, religion, and gender do play a role when hiring decisions are made.

But should they?

Many boards, including the two I worked for, look beyond those characteristics. In doing so, they find applicants who are trustworthy, honest, full of integrity, and able to communicate with all types of people. They know this important rule: It’s about character, not color.

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