Jeremiah Floyd has spent 11 years teaching school board members across the country how to function more smoothly among themselves and within their communities. Now he will get a chance to prove that he knows whereof he speaks.
A black educator and an associate executive director of the National School Boards Association, Floyd was elected by the Montgomery County School Board last week to fill the vacancy left by Odessa Shannon, the only black member of the board. Shannon resigned to take a high-ranking position with County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist.
Floyd's election, praised by many, mended a small rift developing between the board and the black community active in school issues.
Shannon said Floyd is "very focused and very sharp." Roscoe Nix, president of the local branch of the NAACP, said he is "a strong person with extraordinary experience."
In an interview at his school board association office in Alexandria, Floyd stood firmly by his committment to improve minority academic achievement and to raise the status of the teaching profession. He said he will ask for a comprehensive study of the reasons why teachers leave the Montgomery school system and will "advocate raising teachers' salaries to be competitive" with private industry. "It comes down to public esteem . . . to the professional status of the teacher," he said.
Floyd was one of five blacks among the 10 finalists considered for the post. Several black organizations, including the NAACP and Blacks United for Excellence in Education, urged the board to appoint a black to Shannon's seat.
Yet the 52-year-old Floyd, a straightforward man with a wide and graceful smile, said he doesn't worry that some people may think he was appointed because he is black, rather than because of his qualifications.
He noted that when President Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court, "there was a great deal of concern about her qualifications . . . . Right-to-life groups and others were putting on the pressure. . . . To my knowledge there was no idea put forward that she owed her seat to the people pressuring the Senate to confirm her.
"I say that that's the American way. No one gets appointed to anything on the basis of their own merit. It's what you bring to the enterprise and the support you have. I don't apologize to people that black people thought I had something to contribute and said so."
As manager of the school board association's Office of Communications and Membership, Floyd is responsible for the national organization's public relations, for liason work between the 52 state and U.S. territory boards, for a special council on the problems of large urban schools, and for staff development programs.
Before joining the association in 1973, he was an elementary school principal in Evanston, Ill., an elected member of the Wilmette Board of Education, and a mathematics teacher. He also has written a dozen articles on mathematics and minorities in education.
His modern, new office graced with the high-tech look of white walls and stark light purple furniture, is softened by African artifacts on the table and desk, and diplomas and awards on the wall, including a photograph of Floyd with Nancy Reagan at a banquet honoring the success of an antidrug program.
Floyd steps into the position one week after an explosive meeting at which he was elected. That night, one member of the local NAACP branch likened the board's decision to hold the election at the end of the meeting -- when the people most concerned would have gone home -- to "klan activities."
Roscoe Nix, NAACP president, said later that board member James Cronin had stirred suspicions about the board's intentions when he called several black leaders earlier in the week to ask them who the most acceptable white candidate was. Cronin said he was concerned that having one black on the board might hurt the chances of the black candidates who have been campaigning for the November school board election.
Although the board moved up the selection process, many black leaders at the meeting said the board action was "suspicious" and that board members had underestimated the strong emotions attached to having a black appointed to the seat.
Floyd, who was out of town at the time of the meeting, agreed with that assessment. "I think there were some mistakes in communications," he said. "White people who are authority figures and in a power position and don't have the experience of being double-crossed and sold-out, don't have reservations about things that seem -- and I stress the word 'seem' -- to be shaky. People became skeptical and the rest kind of played itself out.