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Honeymoon Dysfunction? — The Warmth of Sankofa by Mae Catherine Godhigh

Peoria Public Schools #150 has a history and a herstory of great superintendents. We can agree, some of them were great and some of them were not so great. There is also a herstory of Honeymoon Dysfunction. We are approaching the back to school season. Soon there will be the annual Welcome Back to School Orientation. Boy, do I have avid memories of those days; especially the introductions of our new superintendents.

This article involves two black qualified women by the names of Dr. Kay Royster and Dr. Grenita Lathan. Both of them are ex-honeymooners. You probably know the names for all the wrong reasons. But since I have no horse in anyone’s race, I’m going to play the devil’s advocate. There is an undeniable path and pattern which exist between the two. In the beginning, we love the new superintendents. Then we fight with new superintendents. Lastly, we end our honeymoon with the new superintendents. (Did I mention with hefty price tags?) My question is, so… who keeps getting it wrong? Let’s begin with the district’s search committee. Are they qualified to identify the difference between a person who is intellectually alive and a person who is intellectually disabled? Secondly, can the district even afford another search committee?

I’ve watched the outcome of leaders who refuse to be marginalized. They are swiftly scrutinized and categorized. Both women would be accused of being angry black women who ran the district through fear and intimidation.

During my #150 tenure, I faced stigmatization. You know what? I learned how to take it on the chin because failure was not an option for me. Let the record show, we are not all angry black women. We are black women who are tired of being branded as angry black women. Even the First Lady of the United States is not exempt from this ignorant typecasting. Before her first 100 days in the White House, Michelle Obama was portrayed all over the media as being an angry black woman. Contrary to public opinion, she remains one the most brilliant, graceful and respected first ladies in American history.

Dr. Kay Royster (2002-2004) was the first barrier breaker and black qualified woman to lead #150. She was hired to help raise student achievement. Dr. Royster was a forward thinker and progressive leader. Later, Dr. Royster would be found guilty of dreaming different dreams.

Just the idea of removing outdated textbooks from certain schools and replacing them with current textbooks sounds intelligent to me. All schools, north and south of Forrest Hill Avenue would benefit. I guess this made some people a little nervous. In July 2004, after claims of mismanagement, she was placed on leave. But Dr. Kay Royster walked away with enough honeymoon $ to make her smile again.

Fast-forward to July 2010, Dr. Grenita Lathan was hired to bring reform, change and increased accountability. Let’s just be honest, the honeymoon was long over before Dr. Lathan began her investigation. The resignation of Principal John Wetterauer ignited a powder keg of resentment against Dr. Lathan. However, I maintain, it was Dr. Lathan’s job to investigate the smoke. With one year left on her contract and with no love lost, she packed her bags and made a graceful exit. But Dr. Grenita Lathan walked away with enough honeymoon $ to make her smile again. I hope this is not how District #150 will write its “Herstory.” We hire the Right Women for the Wrong district. And they walk away with enough honeymoon $ to make them smile again.

Change is nothing new to District 150. We’ve watched honeymoons thrive and honeymoons die. We’ve said goodnight and goodbye. Here are my observations and proposals for a school district I attended, I worked for, I retired from and I loved.

Dear District 150,

A wise person will realize, after war, comes the spirit of reconciliation and rebuilding. If you want real CHANGE, start respecting and hiring qualified talent in your own front yard. Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat’s talent should not have gone undiscovered only to be rediscovered. Honor the Kids First mission statement. Let’s end the honeymoon dysfunction. By the way, increased classroom size is not the answer either. Since our district is facing a $5.9 million deficit in its operating fund, can we please get it right this time? Let’s stop squandering the taxpayer’s money. Let’s end this city’s continued embarrassment. Together, let’s move forward and make our school district vibrant and attractive again.

Finally, I extend my congratulations to our Interim Superintendent Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat. I am confident she will get the job done.