Should this man lead a school system?
The president of the Detroit Board of Education is a man named Otis Mathis III. His biography says:
He was raised in Southwest Detroit and still lives there with his wife, with whom he has six children.
He is a “Vietnam-era veteran.”
He earned a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice from Wayne State University.
He served as Wayne County Commissioner.
He was a substitute teacher for Detroit Public Schools.
He was executive director of the Detroit Veterans Center.
He was elected president of the school board by his colleagues in January by a 10-1 vote.
It doesn’t tell you that he was a whiz at math in school, or that he had a reading disability identified in fourth grade that placed him in special education, or that he still has a problem expressing thoughts in writing.
Mathis has become the focus of a controversy that began with a column in the Detroit News by writer Laura Berman, who questioned whether Mathis is fit to lead the school board of the 90,000-student system because of his problems with written expression.
The system is one of the most severely troubled in the country; fewer than 25 percent of high school freshmen go on to graduate.
Here's an email that Mathis recently sent to friends and supporters, cited by Berman:
If you saw Sunday’s Free Press that shown Robert Bobb the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools, move Mark Twain to Boynton which have three times the number seats then students and was one of the reason’s he gave for closing school to many empty seats.
Here’s another email he wrote last August, also cited by Berman:
Do DPS control the Foundation or outside group? If an outside group control the foundation, then what is DPS Board row with selection of is director? Our we mixing DPS and None DPS row’s, and who is the watch dog?
Berman notes that Mathis’ writing troubles were so severe that his bachelor’s degree was held up for more than a decade because he repeatedly failed an English proficiency exam at Wayne State.
She asks whether he is fit to lead the school board. The column prompted a lot of media attention, including some from overseas.
In an interview Wednesday, Mathis said he is receiving calls from as far away as Japan about the column, which he termed a “cheap shot.”
He didn’t name his disability, but said it was clear that people who had such troubles in school were capable of strong leadership, and that he was well-positioned to lead the school board in part because he has a deep understanding of Detroit.
"Of course I am capable of doing the job well," he said.
Berman ends her column saying that “because of his struggles and perseverance, Mathis describes himself as a role model. But is he?”
What do you think?
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| March 11, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories: Writing | Tags: detroit public schools
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