PRACTICE WHAT YOU TEACH

DELIA ARMSTRONG-BUSBY HAS DEVOTED HER LIFE TO LEARNING. BUT THIS LAST LESSON CAME HARD.A MATTER OF PRINCIPAL DELIA ARMSTRONG-BUSBY IS SMART. SHE'S TOUGH. AND SHE'S OUTTA THERE.

Two years later, School District 11 was looking for a new dean of girls to replace the woman who was moving up to the slot of assistant principal for Dougherty High School, the jewel of the district's high schools. Superintendent George Carnie hired Delia to fill the opening.

The move antagonized much of the Dougherty faculty. Affirmative Action programs were just kicking in, and although they were intended to right years of discriminatory hiring practices, they were also causing a lot of resentment among whites.

Delia knew she was in for trouble when she saw a memorandum written by principal Chuck Gaul noting that she had "been placed" at Dougherty by the already unpopular superintendent. It did nothing to calm her fears when Carnie asked her to come to his office for a talk.

"Delia, having you go to Dougherty will be like Jackie Robinson breaking into the major leagues," he warned. "If they kick you, you can't kick back. If they fight you, you can't fight back."

When she arrived at Dougherty, Delia discovered that not only wouldn't Gaul give her keys to the school, but he had not allocated an office for her use, either. The dean of boys had both keys and an office, but the room Delia should have had was still occupied by the woman who was assuming the assistant principal's duties.

To her credit, the woman, Doris Caine, saw what was transpiring and gave up her office, moving her belongings into what was basically a supply closet. Without saying a word, she handed Delia a set of keys to the building.

It was one of the few kind gestures shown the new dean of girls. Otherwise, life at Dougherty was like Delia's college days all over again: She wasn't invited to social events nor included in casual conversations. Her friends tended to be teachers she'd known at other schools.

The ostracism hurt, but she did her best to ignore the slights and kept her mind on her work. Schools were changing in Colorado Springs. There was now a drug problem, even at Dougherty, where most students came from upper-middle-class families. Delia started a drug-intervention program, which caused some resentment from faculty members who didn't like the notoriety.

Delia reserved most of her free time for her husband and son. Aaron heard the same lectures about education and taking responsibility that his mother had grown up hearing. From early childhood, he knew that his grandparents had set aside money for his college education. His mother made sure he was signed up for an innovative program that taught children how to use computers, a rare opportunity at that time.

In 1980 Delia was elected president of the Colorado Springs Black Educators Association. The group was often locked in a struggle with the all-white, mostly male Colorado Springs Board of Education. The association's main gripe was that black teachers weren't treated equitably. The district tended to hire blacks to teach at schools with the largest black-student populations--and keep them there. These schools tended to lack resources and were considered a dead end.

In the late Seventies Deborah Williams, a young black teacher, had sued the district over the mobility issue and lost. The decision was appealed, overturned and appealed again. In 1981, as the case re-entered the legal process, Delia was contacted by an investigator for the Department of Justice who wanted to know whether, in Delia's opinion as president of the association, the department should enter the fray.

Delia's answer was yes, and she gave it knowing that it would further antagonize the administration. The result of that lawsuit was a mediated agreement that opened the door for black-teacher mobility. It would also open a door for Delia, who was appointed assistant principal of Mitchell High School in 1982 over Daryl Higman, a longtime geometry teacher and department chair at Wasson High School.

In June 1985 district administrators were about to announce their selection for the new principal of Mitchell High School. In accordance with the old-boy system that simply determined whose "turn" it was to be promoted, they had decided on Higman, then the acting principal of Wasson High School.

But in a surprise move, the Colorado Springs Board of Education rejected the administration's candidate. When Delia asked to be considered, district superintendent Arvel Ricketts refused to forward her name. So she went and spoke to the board president herself.

The board decided to appoint Delia as principal over the vigorous protests of the district administrators and some Mitchell staffers who argued that she wasn't qualified, and that "the NAACP got her the job."

But Delia felt she was qualified. She had been at the school several years and knew its problems. She had some ideas about how to fix them, too.

Some of Mitchell's younger teachers were excited by the prospect of change. But others, many of whom had been there for thirty years or more, made it known that they resented her appointment. The retiring principal, Lou Mikkelson, had come up through the ranks: first as teacher and coach, then dean of boys, assistant principal and finally principal. He was one of them, and Mitchell's faculty had a reputation as one of the most pro-union in the district.

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