Bobb Touts Skills, 'Sense Of Urgency'

By Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 17, 2006

At the Potomac Avenue Metro one morning last week, Robert C. Bobb, a candidate for D.C. Board of Education president, looked for voters willing to talk about education. Dozens of people whizzed by, but Sheila Savage marched up to the 61-year-old Louisiana native and fired off questions.

"What are you going to do for the school system? I'm sure you know it's in bad shape," Savage said.

"Well, some schools are performing well . . ." Bobb started to reply, hoping to get to his platform on reading and early education.

"Yes, but what are you going to change?" Savage asked.

Change is foremost in the minds of thousands of District residents who will elect a new board president in November. Savage's family has little confidence in District public schools. Her granddaughter attends a private school through a District voucher program.

Bobb, who resigned last month as the District's city administrator, wants to be the change agent, though he has not worked in education. He is touting his management skills, honed during 34 years in city governments, as the kind of leadership experience the school board needs to turn around its low-performing school system.

"I want to bring a sense of urgency," said Bobb, who worked as a government manager in Oakland, Calif., Santa Ana, Calif., and Richmond. "I want to utilize my experience over the years to help reform and shape student performance and overall student achievement," Bobb said.

Bobb grew up in southern Louisiana, near sugar cane fields and a salt factory. His father worked in the fields for more than 50 years and never advanced past third grade. His mother, whose education extended to seventh grade, worked as a domestic. Bobb was the first of their five children.

He grew up mostly with his grandmother Ethel Bobb, who cleaned houses and did chores at a boarding facility for seasonal sugar cane workers. Young Bobb was at his grandmother's side helping with chores, and he would also stay close to her when she read. She loved to read and even as she stumbled over the words, she never stopped reading.

"She had the tenacity to never give up," said Bobb.

That upbringing left him with a strong work ethic. He began his public education in a one-room schoolhouse and became the first male in his family to graduate from high school. Then he did what was expected of him and other black males in his community -- he went to work in the sugar cane fields. It wasn't until his friends went off to college and returned to share stories with him did he feel like he was missing out.

So he entered Grambling State University in Louisiana and "never looked back," he said. He went on to get a master's degree in business from Western Michigan University.

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