Multiracial group of city leaders press ACS for minority representation

Rebecca Bibbs, The Herald Bulletin, Anderson, Ind.
·6 min read

Feb. 16—ANDERSON — When Lindsay Brown approached Doyle Moore, Rebecca Crumes and George Pancol last week about signing a letter requesting a meeting with Anderson Community Schools board of trustees president Patrick Hill and a couple of additional board members, they were all in.

They are among dozens of leaders from various walks of life who signed on to the letter generated in response to a failed motion by ACS board newcomer Carrie Bale, who requested a non-voting committee of Black stakeholders to help with the superintendent search.

Applications for the permanent position were due by last Friday.

"For me, it's just being able to get in a position to bring some changes," Moore said. "Voices are not being heard. I have a problem with that. It's one of those things that has to change in some kind of way. It's just time, I think, to galvanize those people and say we need to sit down, and we need to get something done here."

The letter requested that a meeting be set for Feb. 18 or 19. However, Brown said he has had no response from Hill, who also has not responded to calls for comments from The Herald Bulletin.

Brown, a concerned taxpayer whose children attend Anderson Preparatory Academy because of a lack of responsiveness he said he received from ACS in the past, has in recent months challenged the board on several issues. Though many are on behalf of the Black community, he said that what is good for Black students will be good for all students.

Moore, Crumes and Pancol as well as leaders of the Black community have expressed concerns about a variety of issues that are subjects of documented national research centered on urban school districts. These include excessive discipline of Black students compared to the same infraction by white students, lower graduation rates and failure to steer bright Black students toward college.

Moore said he has followed the issues between the board and the Black community, including the attempt to hand the superintendent's position to interim superintendent Joe Cronk without a broader search and the attempted hiring of a white principal at Anderson Elementary School when there was a more qualified Black candidate.

"They're making decisions on something they can't even identify with," he said of the board. "When you don't have representation from the inside who understands where you come from, it's hard to bring about any change. To have some people in your community who represent you and represent where you come from, that's big for me."

Though the school board's stance seems somewhat defensive, Moore said, they shouldn't feel threatened by stakeholders who request an airing of their issues and concerns.

"Sometimes when you say what is bothering you, it's not an attack on you. It's just saying this is a problem. It should be addressed. That shouldn't threaten anybody," he said.

The school board, Moore said, represents not just one type of student. The board's elected members must make decisions that benefit even those who are different from them and their own children, he said.

"I can make a decision that affects everybody because I am choosing to believe this reality doesn't exist," he said. "Nobody should feel threatened by bettering the community as a whole. I want everyone to do well, not just African Americans."

Though Crumes is president pro tem of the Anderson City Council, which has no control over the school board, she said the fate of ACS leadership is of concern to the city because it directly affects economic development.

"The schools are tied to your economic development, the growth of your city," she said. "These companies spend millions to bring people to work here, and these people have families. First thing they're gonna look at is your school system. Even white people want diversity. Tomorrow's world ain't gonna be white. They have to work with all kinds of people."

Crumes said she agreed with Bale's motion for a group that would better represent the interests of the ACS student body.

"Whatever your population makes up, that's what you should have, even if you make it a subcommittee," she said. "I think that it's unimaginable that they would think diversity on the search team is not necessary, unless they are looking to pick who they want to pick whether they are white or not."

Knowing Hill personally, Crumes said repeatedly she is disappointed in his leadership and his lack of response to the letter, which was sent by email on Thursday.

"That's just pure arrogance. You can do that in Anderson. You can't do that anywhere else," she said. "Ignoring people, whether he agreed with them or not, it warranted some type of response by now. As long as they have votes and can get elected, they don't have to answer to anybody."

As for the other school board members, Crumes said, it may just be simple denial.

"It seems like the more they recognize it, the further they move away from it," she said. "People get mad when you say they're racist, but they are doing racist things. And they don't want to do any training."

Anderson is becoming more diverse, and it's time leaders throughout the various governmental bodies recognize that, Crumes said.

"Some people can't handle the truth. They don't want to think of their school district as racist," she said. "There are still pockets in America that want segregation. It's not what they say. It's what they don't say."

Pancol, who is white, not only signed Brown's letter but wrote a separate one to the ACS board.

"If not me, who?" he said. "It was time for me to step out of my comfort zone and send a letter and encourage the school board to meet with Black community leaders to address the issues. This movement is important to make sure the people who are in the position to make things better at least hear from community leaders."

Pancol recalled being one of four commencement speakers when he graduated from Anderson High School in 1970. One of the other speakers was a Black student, Regina Faulkner.

"Anderson High School was a great school for my Black friends then, much better than it is now," he said. "We can make it a great high school for all of the students, not just white students and Black students."

The former juvenile court judge, who two years ago started the Race, Equity and Inclusion Workgroup, also brought diversity and anti-bias training last year to the Madison County courts. He said he believes the ACS board would benefit from that same two-day workshop.

"I think if they went through that, their eyes would be opened. It opened my eyes. I admit, I thought I knew what it would be like, but I didn't know," he said.

The bottom line, Pancol said, is the board should want ACS to be the district of choice.

"I want people to choose to go to Anderson High School, not Lapel and Pendleton. They used to pay to go to Anderson High School from those places and now it's the opposite," he said.

Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB, or call 765-640-4883.