Acting D.C. School Superintendent James T. Guines has chosen Rhody A. McCoy, the controversial former head of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville school district in New York City, to be his executive assistant for increasing "community involvement" in local schools.
Guines said McCoy, 57, also will work to "sensitize" principals to the need to share power with parents and other "nonschool-type people," an approach strongly favored by former superintendent Barbara A. Sizemore in the early 1970s, but de-emphasized by Vincent E. Reed, whom Guines replaced Jan. 1.
"Rhody McCoy is almost a legend in urban education," Guines declared in an interview. "He is a friend of mine. We're very, very close professionally and personally."
Although he hasn't worked out the details of McCoy's new $41,000-a-year job, Guines said McCoy's main task will be to "work with nonschool people and mobilize them in knowing their rights -- yes, their rights -- to have a voice in the education of their children." In his work with principals, McCoy's role will be to help them become "more comfortable sitting with all these people and planning things for the school," Guines said.
"Many [principals] seem to be more comfortable now dealing with [higher-level administrators] or looking at the boiler room than dealing with the community," Guines added.
At Ocean Hill-Brownsville, an experimental decentralized district in Brooklyn with about 9,000 students, McCoy became a fervent advocate of black community control of schools. In 1968 he was at the center of a bitter 36-day strike by the New York City techers' union after his community board sought to fire 19 white teachers and supervisors, whom they felt were unsympathetic to the project.
The strike ended only after the teachers were reinstated, and McCoy lost his job in 1970 when the Ocean Hill district was abolished. Since then he has held administrative and teaching positions in four colleges, including two years from 1974 to 1976 as dean of acontinuing education at Federal City College in Washington, now part of the University of the District of Columbia. It was then that he came to know Guines.
McCoy said he had been in Denver for the past year as special assistant to the president of Metropolitan State College when Guines phoned last Monday to offer him the new post in Washington. He arrived here late Wednesday and by Friday was installed in a carpeted office near Guines' own on the top floor of D.C. school headquarters.
"I thought at this point in my life I'd like to do it," McCoy explained."Dr. Guines is just an outstanding inovative educator and a commited person."
"He'd have to be," McCoy added, " to ask someone to work with him with my philosophy and the kind of baggage and luggage I carry with me."
Guines, an associate superintendent for instruction in the District since 1970, was named acting superintendent by the city school board after promising not to seek the post permanently after July 1, the board's deadline for filling the job. However, several board members said Guines might be "drafted" for the post, and Guines has indicated that he would be willing to stay.
Besides McCoy, Guines has named 11 other top administrators who would automatically lose their positions when he leaves office. All the others previously worked for the D.C. school system, but only four were continued in the posts they held under Reed. Two of Guines's appointees, Vice superintendent J. Weldon Greene and communications director Margaret G. Labat, had held key posts under Sizemore but remained outside Reed's inner circle of managers and assistants.
A native of Washington, McCoy was a classmate at Dunbar High School of Washington Teachers Union president William Simons, who praises him warmly. At Howard University, he became a friend of the late school board member and later city councilman Julius Hobson, who sought unsuccessfully to have McCoy named Washington school superintendent in 1970. (McCoy said he has no interest in becoming superintendent now.)
Before becoming administrator of the Ocean Hill district, McCoy had worked for the New York City school system since 1949.
In a New York Times article in 1970, McCoy wrote that the central issue in the Ocean Hill strike was "only one: power and its redistribution."
"Developments revealed," he wrote, "that no real redistribution of power can take place peaceably in our society. It is clear that these issues are political. This alarms only those clinging to the myth that politics and education are separate."
McCoy ended the article with the observation that "power in the United States is distributed ethnically and by class.
"The poor blacks, Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans and Indians are, have been, and will be kept powerless," he concluded. "The struggle is only beginning."
"That still applies, absolutely," McCoy said when he reread the article last week during an interview, though he added later that blacks in some positions, such as school superintendents, now have "the illusions of power" and didn't hold even those in 1970.
He said the community-controlled schools in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, with "this crazy little group of militants," had a "major impact on community life and . . . opened up doors to minorities" to be teachers and principals, but he addedd "It's time was then and gone.
"They don't have Afros now," McCoy said. "They don't stand on the streets and yell and scream and threaten to kill each other. That doesn't mean the issues have been solved. But it's as different as automobiles and airplanes."
In Washington, Guines said, McCoy will not try to create any new community-controlled local school boards but instead will work with those set up about a decade ago in Anacostia and the Adams-Morgan area. He said McCoy also will try to invigorate the neighborhood school councils that are supposed to operate in schools throughtout the city but are now "pretty much nothing."
Guines said he doesn't expect any sharp controversies.
"Rhody McCoy is a militant. He is aggressive," Guines said. "But I think through the years he had mellowed. . . He is not the same Rhody McCoy we read about in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, taking on Mayor Lindsay, on [union leader] Albert Shanker. He still has the same philosphy and the same convictions. But I don't think he has the same energy level. You can't keep that up."