Chapter Fifteen

Epilogue

Just as this report was finished, the federal district court approved, at the request of the new Little Rock School District superintendent and with the acquiescence of the other parties, a nine-month hiatus in federal court litigation and monitoring activities. This is a positive development that shows flexibility on the part of all parties, including the court. Dr. Don Roberts, the superintendent, has stated that he needs the hiatus in order to be able to focus on important instructional issues, and that he also will seek to negotiate revisions in the current desegregation plan.

In the spirit of plain talk, we want to add to this latest development a note of caution and also a word of encouragement.

First, the caution: Dr. Roberts is not the first superintendent to whom great hope has been attached. Most recently, after the first African-American superintendent, Dr. Henry Williams, was hired in 1993, there were expectations that the district would be able to move forward and achieve release from court supervision. The district is still in court in 1997. Earlier than that, a charismatic Mr. Gene Reville, Metropolitan Supervisor, seemed to be making progress in bringing people together throughout the community, then he died tragically in an automobile accident. It is also worth recalling that a burst of optimism followed the 1989 settlement agreement.

Superintendents have a way of coming and going rather often in Little Rock. Dr. Roberts came out of retirement to help the LRSD. Perhaps he will stay longer, but when he took the position he said it was for a period of one, possibly two, years. The challenge is bigger than one person, and, in any event, the superintendent needs the support of an informed and involved community that can carry on when he or she is gone.

Second, the encouragement: one person can make a big difference. Dr. Roberts figured out quickly what previous superintendents had reported: that a superintendent could not succeed in the existing circumstances. With the hiatus, he managed to change the existing circumstances. In addition, he has offered an innovative plan for introducing LRSD students early to the modern world of work and the good jobs to which good students can aspire.

Dr. Roberts is an old pro, in the best sense of that term. What better time to have a Community Congress on the Public Schools than when an old pro is available as a unique resource in the deliberations, and then available, at least for a while, to help the school district implement the community's new vision for its public schools?


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