Yesterday the Fort Worth school board narrowed its search for a new superintendent to one candidate. While the board is playing it close to the vest by not releasing the name of the lucky pick, those close to the process believe it will be Interim Superintendent Walter Dansby, who has held the temp job since former super, Melody Johnson, resigned abruptly in May.
(Caveat: If one wants to call it “lucky” to be taking over a district with 29 failing schools, a $55 million deficit, a $13 million hiring scandal, multiple whistleblower lawsuits costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside legal fees, a failed $4.9 million student accountability system, teacher morale at a low point, the latest controversy still simmering over a principal who was kicked upstairs to an administrative post rather than being fired for admitting that he pinched athlete’s nipples as a” disciplinary” act, and a Child Protective Services investigation into the pinching principal’s behavior. But hey, you can’t call the job not challenging.
Good luck whoever you are.
Dansby is who most interested observers have their bets on as he came to the interview with four solid board member votes for him and one that is highly probable, said the Rev. Kyev Tatum, whose Black, Brown and Tan Coalition (a group of local church and community leaders organized to improve the education of the students in this district) has backed him from the start and lobbied hard for him to be hired permanently. “All roads lead to Walter,” Tatum wrote in an email to Fort Worth Weekly. Interim board president Juan Rangel (who as vice-president took over the gavel when former president Ray Dickerson abruptly quit in December) and trustees Ann Sutherland, Carlos Vasquez and TA Sims have made no secret that they favored Dansby even though all four said they were giving the other candidates fair consideration. Trustee Christene Moss is said to be favoring Dansby as well, pressed by her constituents who are predominately black, many living in the Stop Six community where Dansby grew up.
If he is chosen he will be the first African American to hold the post on a permanent basis.
Dansby, who was born in Fort Worth, grew up in the low-income Stop Six community, and has worked in the district for 37 years as a teacher, coach, assistant principal, principal and deputy superintendent, fits the criteria that the trustees have said matters most in a leader: one who understands the problems of a mostly poor, highly diverse urban district, has ties to the community, is a strong promoter of educational excellence, is a teacher-advocate and one who has spent time in the classroom.
He also has the support of the United Educators Association, the largest educational employees’ union in North Texas. UEA recently urged the board to hire him based on his ability to bring people together, focus on quality education for all students, his support of teachers and his long educational history with the district. There will be no time lost in a “learning curve” with Dansby, Deputy Executive Director Steven Poole told the board. “We need a strong leader who understands where FWISD has come from, where we are, and where we need to go,” he said, pointing out that the teacher leaders of the group have “chosen Walter Dansby as the person best to lead the district.”
He has detractors, none of whom, however, will go on the record. Critics of his leadership say he is stuck in the past in his understanding of the diverse makeup of the district, especially the gay, lesbian, transexual and bisexual students who are coming “out of the closet” in greater numbers than ever before. Some say he has a tendency to lecture rather than listen and is slow to make tough decisions. They point to his failure to fire Principal Doug Williams of Dunbar High School after the principal admitted that he pinched the nipples of students there and took pictures of athletes without their shirts on, posing them against a black backgrond after school hours, triggering an investigation by CPS. Dansby removed Williams as principal and placed him in an administrative post in the RISE program designed to help failing schools improve their academic ratings.
Dansby told the Weeklythat he removed Williams from any connections to kids and put him in administration for the balance of his contract, which will end in August. His salary remains the same, a little more than $100,000. “When his contract is up, he’ll have to reapply just as anyone else would,”Dansby said. Those close to Dansby, such as Tatum, believe Dansby did that to avoid another costly lawsuit. Currently there are three whistleblower lawsuits in court, with outside legal costs running more than half a million dollars and counting. All three, to be fair to Dansby, originated under the regime of Johnson.
The board is scheduled to name the finalist this coming Tuesday, Jan. 17, at its regularly scheduled board meeting. Then it has 21 days to do its due diligence on the candidate’s background with a final vote on hiring — if no skeletons show up — in February.