Rhody A. McCoy, new executive assistant to acting District School Superintendent James T. Guines, is the kind of man about whom no two people agree.
They either hate him or they love him. There's no in between. And this makes some people fearful of the effect he might have on District school problems. They look at his past and shudder about the future.
In his contoversial role as head of the Ocean Hill-Brownsvill School District in New York in the late 1960s, locked in a bitter struggle with the teachers union, McCoy was dubbed a "Jew-hater" by some while others pictured him as a champion of black liberation.
As dean of continuing education at Federal City College between 1974 and 1976, McCoy was deemed professionally unsatisfactory and personally arrogant by faculty and administrators. But other college, officials called him an aggressive, idealistic leader whose strong personality clashed with those of his colleagues.
At the University of San Francisco, where he directed teacher education between 1977 and 1979, McCoy said he was accused of "selling degrees" in an off-campus program which allowed teachers to complete a 30-credit Master's program in 20 weeks. But his boss there described him as an "outstanding educator who built a fine program in the community."
Is the 57-year-old McCoy an educational Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? District residents will soon find out.
Despite his reputation for controversy, Mcycoy, who has furrows in his brow resembling deep canals on a craggy surface, comes across in person as a throughly engaging man. Usually puffing on a pipe, he converys a deep sense of self-assurance. He plays tennis regularly and owns 15 appaloosa horses which he races regulary on tracks in California, Massachusetts and Indiana.
"I have enough horses to keep me broke," he laughed. "But I have one horse that's raced 27 times and brought home a paycheck 24 times!"
His coming back to Washington means a return home; he was born and raised here. His father, a small businessman, and his mother, a domestic, separated when he was young. After attending Shaw Junior High School and Dunbar High School (Washington Teachers Union President William Simons was a Dunbar classmate), he went away to West Virginia State College for two years.
Later came two years in the army during World War II at Okinawa, a Bachelor's degree from Howard and a Master's from New York University. McCoyhs wife died in 1979 and their seven grown children are scattered around the country (a daughter is an oral surgery resident at Howard's dental school). The educator came here from Denver, where for the last year he had been special assistant for urban affairs to the president of Metropolitian State College.
Guines has assigned McCoy, who took office January 10 at a salary of $41,000, to help increase community involvement in local schools -- to "sensitze" administrators to the need for sharing power and working with "non-school type people."
One of his first tasks is to devise a prgram for parents of the 6,000 District children who recently failed the reading and math tests.
"The only controversy we're going to stir up is to demonstrate that a 96 percent black school district can succeed," said Guines with a deep laugh.
What does McCoy say?
"That's easy," he answered. "My experience has been that most parents do not know specifically what is expected in the school system and what the schools are doing. It's been a great mystique. Therefore, you can't support them in terms of a statement and supporting them in terms of actual participation and involvement you must know what's going on in the school. That's not a hard task."
McCoy also talked of training parents in the process of helping their children through the paper trail of applying for college or reading diagnostic tests.
"I just want to make education accessible to people," he said puffing on his pipe.
Simple enough. Then why all the controversy?
"I suppose I became controversial in New York City because of a point in time," he said. "If I had 550 teachers and 540 of them were white, and I fired 10 white teachers, there would be some resentment by the white community. Not because I fired white teachers but because a black fired white teachers. That was the point in time.
"There was never any intent to fire teachers. There was a written agreement that we could not transfer teachers who didn't work out, or as the media put it, were not sypathetic to educating children. It has nothing to do with political causes. They were incompetent."
The stormy episode at Ocean Hill-Browscille in Brooklyn to which McCoy referred included a bitter 36-day strike in 1968 by the New York City teachers' union after a community board tried to fire 19 white teachers and supervisors. McCoy was a fervent advocate of decentralized control of public schools.
The strike ended with the teachers being reinstated. McCoy lost his job in 1970 when the school district was abolished.
He provoked similar controversy as a dean at Federal City College, now part of UDC.
In a 1976 performance report, Ronald Williams, then college vice president of Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, wrote that McCoy hadn't been able to develop "immediate or long-range goals for the school" or to adequatley coordinater those activites required to launch new programs in the school of continuing education."
One administrator still at the university charged McCoy with not keeping records in several instances for non-credit and/or certificate courses. The educator, who requested anonymity, said McCoy promised Lorton Reformitory prisoners courses the university did not offer, that he failed to coordinate programs with other deans and that he wrote proposals and other documents which required rewriting because of spelling and grammatical errors and unclear thought.
"He even [asked other schools] to offer a Master's degree in public administration when the school of continuing education was not an academic unit and could not offer degrees," the adminstrator said. "He didn't know that we offered the degree in another part of the university."
An in-house staff evaluation of McCoy. also in 1976, contended that "communication within the school of continuing education has deteriorated over the past year to a problem of substantial proportions. In many respects, the 'school' of continuing education no longer exists; only a collection of isolated programs."
According to the committee of faculty and administrators, headed by Jeanne Lea, now a professor of adult education at the university, McCoy stopped regular staff and project directors' meetings and halted "free communication." Moreover, their report goes on, McCoy "assigned members of his office staff to organize a major conference on life expectancy, excluding the project directors who were directly responsible for its developments and implementation."
Said an administrator: "Part of the problem was that we didn't know what his educational philosophy was. I think he came here [in 1974] hoping to become [district] school superintendent."
McCoy shruggs off the criticism wryly.
"I was involved in the design of formulas for UDC coming out of FCC," he said, "I was also involved in a number of programs where the kind of service I expected people to render was not being rendered at the level or quality I wanted. So, therefore, I was moving people into and out of positions to get the quality I needed. When it became apparent there were obstacles in the way, I opted out."
McCoy said he encountered similar opposition in his subsequent job -- at the University of San Francisco, where he designed programs in which a teacher could spend 20 weeks getting a Master's degree.
He recalled: "They said, 'Wait a minute. What are you doing?" I explained it as the same program as on campus, except we're doing it in Los Angeles and the overwhelming percentages of students are minorities. I set up a similar program for the Bachelor's degree, but the moment it became predominantly black, there were problems. So I just opted to leave.
"Mastering the system and manipulating it -- that's the key. I like to believe that it's my ability to master the system and manipulate it. If I ever had time to sit down and write a book, I think I could both show and document it." But a former colleague had another point of view. "When he first came here, he didn't appear to be the ogre we heard he was," said the educator. "But we soon found out what he was really like. He was abrasive and showed an inability to work with other people."
Donald Greene, an assistant dean at UDC, said, "Many people mistake his arrogance for abrasiveness. The problems he had here were due more to personality clashes than differences in philosophy. He's a fantastic guy, a fighter, an idealist."
He's also got an enthusiastic supporter in his new boss, James Guines. Said the acting superintendent: "I knew of McCoy's work in Ocean Hill-Brownsville. I had followed him. He was something of an idol. I met him while McCoy was at UDC, at a meeting on nontraditional education problems.
"Later there were some incidents at Kramer Junior High School. Fights between students. Meetings were held and chaos developed. We didn't have money to hire consultants. So Rhody volunteered to help. We closed the school for two days and took the students to a hotel where we talked with them. Rhody worked with the parents in the community and I worked with the students. We got it settled down and we both worked on the problem further in our spare time."
This experience sealed their friendship. They started going fishing together.
"We would get together a lot and just discuss the problems of the city and the school's and talk about possible solutions," Guines said. "rhody is an innovator. He likes to challenge people. Out at San Francisco, he had [Golden State Warriors coach] Al Attles in a doctoral program. He sees these guys with time to develop and he pushes them into programs to improve themselves.
"I'll try to convince the future superintendent to keep McCoy on," added Guines, who took the superintendent's job for a six-month term ending in July. But there is already talk that Guines may be offered the job on a permanent basis.
However, if McCoy has only six months in the job, how much impact can he make?
He leaned back in his chair and took a long puff on his pipe. "I think," he said, "given my expertise and experience, I'll leave a track."