So what if I’m white? I went to Shepard Middle School, too. I knew the very same Principal Julia Fairley that everyone else knew. I saw her handle most of the same situations that every other student there saw, and I know I saw her a lot more than many kids’ parents did. And what’s more, I saw her for three years in a row.
I remember a lot of things about Mrs. Fairley. I remember her as a highly educated woman. I remember the way she would try to converse with French students, to help them work on the second language they were learning. She spoke French almost as well as our French teacher. I remember the way she would get up in front of the school with total confidence, ignoring jeers and insults, and speak to middle school kids as if she were talking to her family or a group of peers. Middle schoolers can be vicious, and all teachers and administrators take their share of flak for attempting to educate. I remember Mrs. Fairley taking more flak than was due her.
In all the things I saw at Shepard, never once did I see Mrs. Fairley treat two people differently for the same offense, or allow the administration to go easy on someone because of their race. One time, in sixth grade, a friend and I co-conspired in some serious mischief and got caught red-handed trying to lock some fellow students in a closet (as a joke, of course). Well, we got taken to the office, and we both got some serious punishment. My friend was black, and he didn’t get any easier or harder punishment than I did. We got a lesson in racial equality over those next three days, sitting in a room side by side, not talking or having any fun.
So I was stunned when I heard the charge from a group called “Concerned Black Citizens” that Mrs. Fairley (who is black) discriminates against black people. I was stunned again last week when a parent from the group along with school board member Jackie Wagstaff, who supports the group, had to be removed from the school for trespassing. I remember Mrs. Fairley trying to help educate all different kinds of people, including young black kids. I went there every school day for three years, and I never saw any evidence of racism.
So what if I’m white? I call ’em as I see ’em, and I saw a black principal who treated black and white students the same. I saw a bright, hard-working woman who wanted to help kids. Most people wouldn’t ask for more. But for some reason, some people are asking that she be fired. Speaking not as black or white, but as a former Shepard Middle School student, that would be a terrible loss. And that kind of loss I don’t think we can afford in public schools.