Upset that the top candidate turned down the job of minority achievement director for the Baltimore County schools, members of the black community are demanding that school administrators and the Board of Education move swiftly to fill the position.
"That was a big letdown, no doubt about it," said Herbert H. Lindsey, conference president of the Maryland State NAACP, referring to Baltimore County schools administrator Barbara S. J. Dezmon's decision to turn down the sensitive, high-profile job. "The issue of minority achievement has to be taken seriously by school administrators."
Last month, Dezmon rejected the school board's appointment, which was announced at a public meeting in early August before she had signed a contract. She had concerns that school administrators might not give her the resources she needed to do the job.
Baltimore County school officials have promised to consider the concerns of minority residents in redefining the job description and filling it with a qualified candidate. During the past week, Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione has spoken with several community leaders to discuss the position and its goals.
"Certainly, [Marchione] understands that minority achievement needs to be a priority for the school system," said schools spokesman Charles A. Herndon. "He's made it one."
Ella White Campbell, a retired city schoolteacher and Liberty Road community activist, fears that the important administrative slot could be filled with merely "a warm body," she said yesterday.
"I don't feel confident that it will work out because I know the games they play behind the scenes," White Campbell said. "It is a travesty when [school officials] ignore the best qualified candidate in favor of cronyism."
Also concerned about the position is state Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a 10th District Democrat. "They can't just fill it with a public relations person or an ombudsman," she said. "What we need is someone who can implement training for [all teachers] in multiculturalism, someone with vision."
Many black community leaders considered Dezmon to be the most qualified candidate -- she helped write the state's first report on minority achievement.
"Barbara is professionally knowledgeable and committed to addressing those issues," Lindsey said. "It was a bright spot for us when the board appointed her to that position. To us, that was a good indicator that the Baltimore County school system was finally committed to doing something systematically about addressing gaps in minority education."
Local and state NAACP officials of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will be monitoring the schools issue closely, Lindsey said. Should it turn out that the new director lacks adequate resources -- a fair salary and support staff -- protests could follow, he said.
Dezmon said she does not intend to take the job, even if school officials redefine it.
Still, she said the Baltimore County school system has made progress, and she applauded Marchione, school board members and teachers for their efforts to narrow the learning gap between black and white students.
"Many teachers are really trying as hard as they can to really resolve minority achievement issues and help students," she said.