Boston schools to have a black as superintendent. City moves further away from era of racial confrontation
Boston — ``When pursuing any worthwhile goal, I don't take `no' for an answer.'' That is how Laval S. Wilson, a native of Chicago, introduces himself in his r'esum'e.
The Boston School Committee voted ``yes'' on Wednesday (9 to 4) to make Dr. Wilson superintendent of the oldest public school system in the United States.
He will become the first black educator to head the system which 11 years ago was ordered to desegregate. Since then US District Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. has overseen the schools.
The new superintendent's first priority will be compliance with Judge Garrity's final orders, to be issued Aug. 7 when he is to relinquish his supervisory role.
Wilson will have the task of bringing Boston's multiracial, multicultural populace together in support of a school system that has been fraught with racial tensions. At the same time he will have to gain the confidence of Boston's industrial, political, and community leaders -- all of whom have criticized local education in recent years.
But Boston has moved beyond racial violence and white boycotts that greeted ``forced busing'' in 1974. During the final two years of Dr. Robert Spillane's service as superintendent, racial problems have been minimal, and students' standardized test grades have risen.
Although some see Boston as a Northern city making a ``last-ditch stand'' against busing and court-ordered desegregation, Wilson says he does not see his new job as a black racial mission.
``I am a professional educator,'' he said in a phone interview. ``I will not be a superintendent for black children alone. My job will be to serve every child enrolled in Boston schools, regardless of race, ethnic heritage, or color.''
Wilson comes to Boston after working for four years as superintendent of Rochester, N.Y., schools, a system with 33,000 students. He was that city's first black superintendent, as he was in Berkeley, Calif., for six years.
The school entity Wilson will serve is far different from the one Judge Garrity took over 11 years ago. Among the changes are:
Today's enrollment of 56,000 is 50 percent black, 30 percent white, and 20 percent other minority -- Hispanic, Asian, and others. Originally, the system contained 90,000 students, 67 percent of them white, 25 percent black, and about 8 percent others.
Administrative staff and teaching faculty are 19 percent black today, in line with court orders, compared with less than 5 percent black in 1974.
The school committee is interracial, 9 whites, 3 blacks, and 1 Hispanic, including 9 district and at-large members, in contrast to an at-large committee of five with no minorities. The old panel openly opposed Judge Garrity's orders. The new one says it is committed to complying them.
Judge Garrity's final orders are specific: Desegregation will remain the policy of the school system. The number of minority teachers and administrators will be based on their percentage in the city's population. Parents must have a role in the operation of schools. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) will monitor the performance of the system.
Dr. Wilson will also have to deal with unfulfilled interests of various groups. Hispanics and other ethnics want improved bilingual education. Teachers and administrative unions prefer seniority to affirmative action where layoffs are concerned. Other unsettled issues include student assignments; a proper balance between neighborhood and ``magnet'' schools; and much more.
``This is obviously a historic moment for Boston,'' said John Nucci, president of the school board. ``And moreover, we selected a highly qualified person.'' He voted for Wilson.
Jack E. Robinson, president of the Boston NAACP, which filed the desegregation suit in 1972, called the naming of Dr. Wilson as an ``exciting moment in the progress of Boston in race relations.''
``This would never have happened 11 years ago,'' said the Rev. Vernon Carter, an activist black minister of the 1960s and '70s, as he praised the appointment.
Mayor Raymond L. Flynn -- 11 years ago a foe of ``forced busing'' -- termed the appointment of Dr. Wilson an example of the maturity of Boston. The mayor has committed himself to promoting racial harmony -- including a $750 million renovation of Roxbury which promises mainstream jobs for minorities and women. Wilson, however, will have to deal with the mayor and the City Council on a budget for the schools. His first budget, probably $270 million, will have been set before he takes office.
``Dr. Wilson will be a role model for black children,'' said John D. O'Bryant, the first black elected to the school board in the 20th century.
His vote was one of the nine for Wilson. Peter J. Negroni of New York City rceived four votes. The third finalist, Larry Cuban of Stanford University, received no votes.