The four D.C. Board of Education members who tried this week to block the appointment of Floretta McKenzie as the city's new superintendent praised her yesterday and vowed to work closely with her.
Those board members -- Barbara Lett Simmons (At-Large), Frank Shaffer-Corona (At Large), John E. Warren (Ward 6) and R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8) -- said they had voted for a proposal to continue the term of Acting Superintendent James T. Guines mainly because they felt there should have been more discussion of the candidates for the job before the board made its final decision on Wednesday night.
Lockridge, Warren and Shaffer-Conna sat dourly yesterday as McKenzie held her first press conference since her appointment. Nonetheless, Lockridge said afterward, "We don't have no bone to pick with Floretta." He noted that McKenzie kissed him before the conference.
Rather, he said, he and the others are still angry with their seven fellow board members, especially Linda Cropp (Ward 4), whom he accused of rushing the board into a vote to name the new superintendent.
"If there coiuld have been some discussion, every damn one of us probably would have come out of that room supporting Floretta. Now we've given the public the impression we didn't support her," Lockridge said.
Although Warren said at the Wednesday meeting that McKenzie was not his first choice for the job, he said yesterday he has sent a congratulatory telegram to her and is "looking forward to working with her."
Simmons, who publicly voted for McKenzie after her proposal to continue Guines' term failed in a 7-to-4 vote, insisted that she only made that proposal because she felt her fellow board members had violated "the integrity of the [selection] process," not because she favored Guines over McKenzie.
Shaffer-Corona said he voted for Simmons' proposal to extend Guines' tenure because he felt the city's Hispanics and the Chinese community had been excluded from the selection process and because the board had engaged in "no deliberations on the qualifications of the candidates."
Yesterday, he predicted he would become one of McKenzie's biggest supporters on the board and bragged about how she has asked him to meet with her "as soon as possible" to discuss one of his cherished subjects, bilingual education.
McKenzie's friends credit her with being an excellent team builder and she displayed a brand of diplomary yesterday that will become essential for her as she tries to deal with a board that was responsible for driving out former Superintendent Vincent E. Reed.
She sat next to board President Eugene Kinlow at the press conference, while the rest of the school board watched from their dais in the school board meeting room. When the conference was over, she turned immediately to shake the hands of each board member, approaching Simmons first.
She responded with humor to reporters' questions about the board's past history of conflicts with the superintendents. "Yes, I had to give some consideration to the possibility of a short tenure," she said, breaking into a wide grin, as the board members and the audience began to laugh.
McKenzie, a former U.S. Education Department official who was acting superintendent in D.C. in the early 1970s, pledged to "measure each educational decision, policy and plan by answering the question: What course will best serve our children? . . . . Uiltimately, no other motivation or rationale can matter more to us," she said.