I guess I ought to congratulate you on your election as president of the Board of Education. But if it's all right with you, I think I'll wait a while. You're making some rather strange noises these days and, frankly, you've got me a little worried.
You know, of course, that I supported your election to the school board. (I know the check was small, but the spirit was there.) I had liked your record of quiet, effective leadership as president of the Anacostia Community School board. I saw you as strong, committed and smart.
Maybe you still are all these things. But some of us, including some who warmly supported your school board candidacy, are disappointed in you, Gene.
My own disappointment began, I suppose, with your opposition to the proposal by then-Superintendent Reed of an academically rigorous "model" high school -- or, rather, with your explanation of your opposition.
Some other board members among the majority who rejected the proposal made, I thought, a little more sense than you. Barbara Lett Simmons, for instance, voted with the opposing majority but, as she explained it, only because she was convinced it would cost extra money at a time when the school system was trying to find ways to cut costs.
Your opposition, though, was based on your view that the proposal was "elitist" while you were determined to "take care of the masses."
As you know from your Anacostia service, there aren't any "masses." There are boys and girls of widely varying academic ability and interest.
Some of the brightest of these boys and girls are under intense pressure not to work hard, not to achieve. That's the way it is in some of our schools.
You know that, too; we've talked about it from time to time. For these youngsters particularly, it is important to provide an atmosphere that encourages and nurtures their interest in academic achievement. I suspect you know that, and that your opposition to the academic high school (whose establishment you now, curiously, support) was more political than academic; calculated to protect the Ballou Math and Science High School -- located, not coincidentally -- on your Anacostia turf and, perhaps, to establish you as a man of the people in the event you should make a run for political office.
But let that be. There is, after all, no unanimity of opinion in the community on the academic high school.
If there is one question on which there is a community consensus, it is the question of the commitment and the effectiveness of Vincent Reed, almost unanimously credited with turning the school system away from its plunge toward disaster.
And now you are saying that Reed, who names you as one of the reasons for his early retirement, is just a guy named Joe, that his departure "will not be a loss" for the children of this city.
"The fact that Reed is gone will not have a disastrous effect on the school system for one minute," you told a group of Washington Post reporters and editors last week. Indeed, you were bold to say that Reed's departure "will not be a loss; in fact, it will be a gain."
A suggestion, Gene: ask the next 100 people you meet on the street whether Reed or Kinlow has been the more positive influence on the city's public schools. You and I both know what the answer will be.
You have an explanation for that, of course. Reed's chief contribution, you have said, is "the fact that people believed in him, that as long as he was at the head, the school system would move forward."
That, my friend, is a hell of a contribution, although you dismiss it as nothing but slick PR. Do you suppose that it is to anyone's advantage that so many of us now doubt whether the system will continue to move forward?
One more thing: your colleague Frank Smith Jr. has suggested that the school board postpone the naming of a new superintendent until after the November elections. There's no rush, he explains, since you've got an excellent acting superintendent in James Guines. More to the point, the board's handling of the Reed affair could well be an important issue in the fall elections. If the voters decide to elect a new board, why saddle your successors with a superintendent of your choosing?
Think about what Frank Smith is saying to you. And think, too, about maybe taking a small vacation. A change of scene can work wonders in clearing the mind.
Give up the effort to convince us that getting rid of Reed was a public service. I'm not proposing that you spend the next 10 months apologizing; only that you shut up about it.
Reed's image is intact. Start working on your own, not by talking nonsense but doing what you can to improve the schools our children attend.
How about it, Gene?