Sunday, May 05, 2002

Great role model for Princeton schools

Darby is district's first African-American superintendent

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        EVENDALE — When Don Darby was named Princeton City School District superintendent, he became the district's first African-American leader and only the third black superintendent in Hamilton County history.

Don Darby poses at Glendale Elementary with students Rayshood Herron, Sam Hopkins, Sanjna Puthran and Alexis Love.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
        “It did hit me a little bit when I went to the winter BASA (Buckeye Association of School Administrators) meeting,” Mr. Darby said. “Out of 612 school districts, 450 were represented. No one there looked like me.”

        At Princeton, however, that's not an issue. The district's enrollment of 6,210 is 49 percent black and 44 percent white. The district also has the Tristate's largest Hispanic school population.

        “If there's a role model that the community can look to as an African-American leader, it's Don Darby,” said George Keyser, president of the Princeton Board of Education.

        When he was officially hired last Monday , only two African-Americans had preceded him as a school superintendent in Hamilton County: Lee Etta Powell, Cincinnati Public Schools, 1986-91, and Willis Hollo way of Lincoln Heights School, 1962-70. Lincoln Heights district merged with Princeton in 1970.

        Gina Moore of Woodlawn, a former student of the long-time Princeton educator and parent of two Princeton students, said Mr. Darby's race is secondary to his track record.

        “Princeton offers a good educational experience for children, and I believe Mr. Darby will enhance that. The fact he's African-American is a good thing, but it's not the most important thing,” said Mrs. Moore, who is African-American. “The most important thing is he's qualified, he's experienced and he knows Princeton.”

        After 28 years with the Princeton district, a bad back forced Mr. Darby to take long-term disability retirement in 1998 — with a five-year window to return. He was gone three years when his doctor gave him the green light to go back to work.

        When then-Superintendent Dennis Peterson took a job in Minnesota last summer, the Lincoln Heights native seemed a logical choice to temporarily run the district.

        Mr. Darby of Springdale was named interim superintendent July 1, while the district began a national search. He made it clear to the school board that he was not a candidate for superintendent.

        “I was not willing to make a long-term commitment,” he said. “I didn't want my presence as a candidate to dissuade someone out there who was willing to make a commitment from applying.”

        But when things ran so efficiently, the board took notice.

        “After three or four months, everybody kind of looked at each other and said, "Why are we searching?' ” Mr. Keyser said. “He's bringing back the "Pride in Princeton.' Morale is up since he's been in. I think part of that is bringing back an old colleague, but it's also him, himself.”

        Mr. Darby has a proven track record with Princeton as teacher, assistant principal and assistant superintendent for administration. “He tells it like it is,” Mr. Keyser said. “There are no hidden agendas. He's out for what's best for Princeton and what's best for the kids.”

        Mr. Darby has hardly missed a beat since signing a contract, knowing full well the job he has ahead of him.

        “Without a doubt, my main priority is student achievement,” Mr. Darby said. “That is why we're here. It has to be our main priority, and as a subset of that, closing the achievement gap. A lot of it has to do with effective classroom instruction and consistently applying curriculum across the district, but it's also about intervention,” Mr. Darby said.

        Those who work with him believe he's up to the challenge.

        Aaron Mackey, assistant superintendent, was hired as a Princeton teacher in 1970, the same year as Mr. Darby. Now, both are part of the administrative team.

        “He's a teacher's teacher,” Mr. Mackey said. “He's for everybody — custodians, secretaries, any support staff. He knows what it's like to be in the trenches.”

        What's more, he said, Mr. Darby is a consensus-builder who solves problems by getting folks in the room who have expertise to make the best decision.

        “If he's ever going to err, it's going to be on the side of the kids,” Mr. Mackey said.

        His presence will be a big boost for African-American students who will see someone like them in the district's top job.

        “They've got their role model,” Mr. Mackey said. “What's even better is he doesn't see color. Kids of all backgrounds look up to him, and it's not because he's tall.”

        Kathryn Burns Sanders, a speech pathologist with the district, described Mr. Darby as a down-to-earth person who hasn't changed as he moved up the ladder.

        “He understands what it's like to be a peon ... He makes you so comfortable.”

        Tyrone Olverson was a Princeton High School (PHS) student in the mid-1980s when Mr. Darby was assistant principal.

        “You didn't want to go to see him. He was tough love, but when you saw him in the hallway, he always had some words of encouragement for you,” said Mr. Olverson, now an assistant principal at PHS.

        “He's a breath of fresh air. He brings back the human element of someone who understands the community and the culture of the community.”


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