Top Seat or Hot Seat?

Diverse City
By SHAY STEWART-BOULEY  |  July 18, 2012

It must be challenging to come into a top spot for something in Maine, even in Portland, when you're not a Mainer. After all, the term for non-native people in Maine is "from away." I think being a person of color only makes it more challenging.

Case in point: Portland has a new school superintendent coming on board in August and, even though the new fella hasn't even started yet, it seems that some people are already betting on how long it will be before Emmanuel Caulk leaves his new position. And yes, as you've probably already guessed from my intro, Caulk, who beat out more than 150 other candidates and most recently served in Philadelphia as an assistant regional superintendent, happens to be black.

Eyebrows may be raised already that he will not stay long given that Portland not so long ago got its first-ever black police chief, James Craig, who served an awfully short tenure of roughly two years after arriving here from Los Angeles, moving on to serve in Cincinnati.

Why might people think Caulk is also on the path to leave already? Well, in large part, it's about race.

In my decade in Maine, I've observed that people often express disbelief that anyone of color would want to live in Maine. I get it often from people myself. There seems to be an underlying feeling among many that people of color come here to take and not to give back. That we are either here to use public services that supposedly aren't as readily available elsewhere or that we use Maine as a stepping stool to bigger and better opportunities. Or that we simply got lost somehow and haven't realized yet we'd be happier somewhere that doesn't have snow.

When you get that kind of attitude from people, it doesn't encourage you to stick around. Also, there is always a danger for people of color in predominantly white spaces such as Maine, in that you are not exactly free to be yourself, and this is a stressor that drives some people of color away. In many cases, your actions are the actions by which your entire ethnic group will be judged and if you do misstep, the next person of your ethnic group that comes along may have to deal with your ghost.

No pressure, right?

From what I've read, Caulk seems to have been the best-qualified candidate and in the state's largest and most diverse school district, having someone of color at the helm is useful. It's not critical, mind you, but it does bring something special, as Caulk will theoretically bring not only his stellar track record but also a sensitivity to managing difference in a changing school district that, among other issues, has to deal with a large and growing number of immigrant students.

I'd rather that people focus on that potential rather than on whether he'll stick around. It would go a long way toward making him want to stay.

I mean, why does anyone move to Maine? It's a personal decision, and sometimes it's a decision that turns out to be short-term. This isn't just the whitest state but also has one of the most elderly populations. Maine's youngest and brightest often leave the state. So, we need to be thankful when well-educated and committed professionals are willing to settle down in this state, for however long.

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  Topics: The Editorial Page , Education, Racial Issues, school superintendent
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