Ready For Battle

DISD hired Clarence Glover to defuse a racial crisis. But is he tough enough for the job?

"I hate bigotry. I hate racism. I hate sexism. I hate classism. When I confront people with those ideas, I am ready for battle."mmm So says Clarence Glover, the new man at the Dallas Independent School District, hired six months ago to craft a more understanding racial climate for Dallas schools during the district's grand-mal seizure of racial turmoil. His hiring came fast on the heels of the publicizing, last September, of secretly made tapes of school-board member Dan Peavy's telephone conversations--in which Peavy slurred black and gay board members.

Peavy eventually resigned, but the beat went on: A few months later, a DISD teacher, Deen Williamson, told a classroom filled with black children that they should return to Africa. Williamson's firing didn't end the white-hot spate of racial conflict within DISD, either.

Brush fires became a full-blown blaze with the opening of Townview Magnet School last August. The school had promised to be a high-tech school of the future, but it became a racially charged flash point instead when parents of students who'd been labeled gifted complained that their children's curriculum had been watered down to accommodate less-adept students. Black parents responded angrily to attempts to tamper with Townview--and brought their protests to the school board. Chanting demonstrators shut down one board meeting, complaining that black board members were being left out of the decision-making process.

During the time between the Deen Williamson scandal and the Townview debacle, Glover was named the district's first special assistant to the superintendent for intercultural relations. All the brouhaha suited his colorful--and controversial--history well, since he had long ago carved out for himself a profile as a dedicated reconciler whose ideas nonetheless raise eyebrows. In particular, he has been associated with a school of thought that declares all whites to be racists, whether or not they embrace racism. Perhaps most unfortunately, he was known during the early '90s as a "melanist"--that is, an advocate of the properties of melanin. This brown pigment--according to its fans--makes African-Americans better dancers and enables some to move objects with their minds.

If his ideas have seemed cockeyed in the past, Glover now stands to become a very important man, because he comes aboard as a peacemaker during an extremely tense period in DISD history. His hiring, however, cost the district essentially nothing: $139,281 was taken from a windfall lawsuit settlement to create what will eventually be a five-person department concerned entirely with the reconciliation of racial issues among a multicolored population that long ago ceased to be black and white. Glover's salary, as head of that department, is $62,000.

If you listen to the grumbling among some board members, nothing is also exactly what DISD has received so far in return. In particular, they cite Glover's conspicuous absence from the continuing controversy at Townview. Although Glover has sat in on school-board meetings and met with concerned students at Townview, he hasn't been dousing the district's blazing fire.

"People would think Clarence would be a person who could have or would have been deeply involved with Townview," says former DISD board president Sandy Kress. "As it turns out, Pettis Norman played a role in bringing people together," he adds, referring to the businessman and former Dallas Cowboy. "Pettis just had the desire and jumped into it."

New board president Bill Keever concurs: "I can't tell you that Glover has played a large role in any of Townview's debates."

Although other board members give Glover's short tenure higher marks, it's doubtful that any true measure of his performance can be taken during this time of political turmoil.

"I think he's very capable," says board member Kathlyn Gilliam. "He knows what he's doing. I don't know of anybody that the school district could have done any better with."

But fellow board member Kathleen Leos says, "It is hard to get a good read on him." Opinions about Glover might seem "a little vague" right now, she adds, because board members are trying to allay the racial tensions among themselves.

Racial politics isn't the only reason why it's difficult to assess Glover's performance so far. Only six months ago, he strode into the complicated system of egos, personal histories, and sometimes overlapping responsibilities that make up any school district. Although Superintendent Chad Woolery has refused comment on Glover, not even responding to written questions, his right-hand man, Special Assistant to the Superintendent Robby Collins, points out that Glover is only a member of a team who cannot write his own job description, or flit about to the projects and skirmishes of his choice. "He's not an independent operator," Collins says. "If you are asking if he can get out on his own, the answer is no."

Glover sees his assimilation into the school-district administration--or lack of it--in a different light. He likens it thus far to walking in a mine field where "things could blow up on me." He says that Woolery and others have kept him invisible, busying him with smaller wars than Townview. He has been dispatched to several schools to mediate less-publicized complaints, including a situation at O.M. Roberts Elementary in which black parents were complaining about discrimination from a Hispanic principal. He has also--he claims--offered to serve as point man on the district's major racial problems, like Townview, but has been rebuffed.

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