NAACP president blasts student assignment plan

By DONNA WINCHESTER, Times Staff Writer
Published October 12, 2007

The president of the St. Petersburg NAACP leveled harsh criticism at the Pinellas School Board Thursday, charging that its proposed student assignment plan is a step backward that will result in the resegregation of south county schools.

The plan is so deeply flawed, Norman Brown told the St. Petersburg Times editorial board, that it has caused the NAACP to question the board's commitment to educating children.

"We are advocating for all children," Brown said. "This is not a plan that advocates for all children."He went on to describe the board as "wandering" and said that his wife, Mary Brown, can't wait until she's no longer board chairwoman.

Brown called school superintendent Clayton Wilcox weak and incapable of "thinking outside the box" when it comes to closing the achievement gap between black and white students.

"Coming from a district with a high minority population, we had hoped he would have ideas about how to deal with this problem of student performance," Brown said. "He's been here three years now, and he has not come up with one innovative idea."

Brown's remarks coincided with the board's decision at a workshop to postpone a preliminary vote on the assignment plan scheduled for Tuesday. Brown had urged board members to put the plan on hold in recent weeks at a series of public meetings.

On Thursday, he ramped up his criticism, going so far as to say he's glad he has no children in the school system. Besides disregarding African-American children, Brown said, the district has failed to monitor programs intended to improve student achievement and has not provided sufficient resources to teachers at struggling schools.

When asked what he would do to keep Pinellas schools from becoming resegregated in an era when districts are prohibited from using race ratios when making student assignments, Brown said he would consider zoning the county vertically rather than horizontally, creating east, central and west zones.

He added he would get the business community involved in brainstorming ideas.

"We need to stop thinking about what we did last year, 10 years ago," Brown said, "and start thinking about how education has changed."