Longform

PRACTICE WHAT YOU TEACH

Page 4 of 6

On her first day at Holmes, Delia thought she'd died and gone to teaching heaven. The kids had supplies and new books, and they were eager to learn. No hoods wandered in off the streets to roam the hallways and threaten the students. Delia would laugh when she heard a teacher complain about "bad kids" when the offending behavior was nothing worse than mouthing off. These people didn't know bad...not yet.

The principal was Lyle Beaudin. He could be strict and didn't tolerate teachers whose main goal seemed to be getting the kids to like them. "Our job is to give kids a good education, whether they like you or not," he'd lecture at faculty meetings.

Nor would he accept some teachers' arguments that certain kids were just meant to fall by the wayside. "Try harder," he'd say. A child who failed was a failure for the whole school.

On the other hand, Beaudin was supportive of teachers who gave it their best shot. He befriended Delia, the only black in the school and one of the few in the district. When an opportunity opened up, he made her a part-time counselor--a traditional step toward becoming a school administrator. And when he was out of town, he often chose Delia to fill in for him.

After six years at Holmes, and with Beaudin's blessing and support, Delia became the full-time counselor at Washington Irving Junior High School, only the second black hired for such a position in the district.

Delia loved teaching, but she gave it up because she believed that as an administrator she would have more influence on the quality of education. She hoped to become a principal, one able to ensure that opportunities for a better future existed for every child.

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.

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Steve Jackson