During his eight year tenure as superintendent of the Victor Valley Unified High School District Dr. Ron Williams was singled out for several individual honors. He was named superintendent of the year in 2019 by the California Association of African-American Superintendents and Administrators (CAAASA) in 2019. In 2017 he was recognized by the Association of California School Administrators in San Bernardino and the national School Superintendents Association also identified Williams as a finalist for a national superintendent of the year award.
Under Williams’ leadership the district reported an increase in student enrollment, new school facilities were built and it boasted of receiving several awards including a National Blue Ribbon Award, three California Distinguished School Awards, three California Pivotal Practice Awards and three California School Boards Association Golden Bell Awards.
But beneath the shadow of the highly accomplished superintendent and the district’s shiny veneer something was rotten in the classrooms and hallways of schools in the Victor Valley Union High School District (VVUHSD).
In late August the U. S. Dept of Education Office for Civil Rights determined VVUHSD practiced discrimination based on race in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by disciplining Black students more frequently and more harshly than white students.
The question is whether Williams was duped by his predecessor and the VVUHSD into being the last one responsible when the district’s structural and institutional foundation of discrimination cracked causing the edifice of disparate treatment to crumble? Was he a willing participant in blatant discrimination against students of his own race? Or, was there a problem with his olfactory system that impeded his ability to smell the pervasive stench of discrimination across the school district he shepherded?
In April 2019, when Black Voice News reported on Williams recognition by CAAASA, Williams was one of only 25 Black superintendents in the entire state of California. There was pride in his accomplishments.
Was it too much for members of the Black community, for his peers in CAAASA, for residents of Victor Valley and San Bernardino County, for residents of the inland region, the state of California, those who fought for him and others to have opportunities to hold such a prestigious position, or for the ancestors to have expected him to be righteous? To lead with honor, integrity and justice? To, at a minimum, honor and uphold the law.
In reality, members of the Black community expect no more from our Black leaders than we do any leader–to serve with integrity to push through barriers of structural and institutional racism so that everyone, regardless of race, creed or color is treated fairly. The Black community only expects of Black leaders what we expect of other leaders. If Williams’ tried and failed in his efforts to prevent such racist treatment of Black students entrusted to his care, then kudos to him. But, if he was trying to do what was right and was being sabotaged, why didn’t he administer discipline, reach out for assistance, and blow the whistle?
Williams retired this summer after serving 10 years with the VVUHSD, including eight years as superintendent. Williams’ predecessor, Elvin Momon conveniently retired in 2014. Interestingly, the same year (2014) the Office for Civil Rights opened the investigation into VVUHSD.
After eight years and just previous to the release of the OCR report Williams announced his own plans to step down and conveniently, his predecessor, Elvin Momon, was solicited by the VVUHSD board in June to return and help guide the district through the transition.
Although a new superintendent Carl J. Coles was recently appointed to replace Williams and his tenure began September 1, for some reason, Momon will remain through the end of the year to purportedly continue helping with the transition.
So, Momon will be on board for an additional three months even though Coles is an experienced superintendent who, before his appointment to the VVUHSD, spent 15 years with the Bonita Unified School District in San Dimas where he was the assistant superintendent of human resources before serving four years as superintendent.
I readily admit I am not an educator and have no idea what is required of administrators however it seems a stretch that someone with as much experience as Coles would need a three month transition period with Momon.
Regarding the civil rights violations I think it important to recall Federal Education officials began the civil rights investigation in 2014 “after seeing higher rates of suspensions, expulsions and other punishments in Victor Valley compared to other districts in California” after noting Black students were punished more frequently and severely than white students. This occurred right around the time Momon retired.
Many of the violations occurred due to the VVUHSD participation in the county’s “CleanSweep” program facilitated by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. The disciplinary program impacting several schools across the county was suspended September 1 and is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. However, that was not the only issue. The district also over-disciplined Black students for minor infractions like being too loud, inappropriate behavior, dress code violations and truancy.
Stepping into his new role, Cole expressed, “every student has hopes, dreams, and aspirations. That gives us 11,000 reasons to fulfill a commitment, to prepare them for whatever they choose to do post-high school. I can’t wait to join my new colleagues in fulfilling that commitment each day.”
But will the VVUHSD ever deliver on this promise to all its students? The OCR also discovered even when white students were disciplined, their punishments were far less severe than those administered to Black students.
Meanwhile, Momon has acknowledged the district’s disciplinary practices were unfair to Black students and claimed there was a lack of oversight and a lack of accountability in the district “before the Office of Civil Rights completed its investigation”. What is he actually saying here? Is he washing his hands clean and saying in so many words the failures occurred on Williams’ watch? Perhaps his most galling quote is “You can’t treat our kids in a disparate way. It has to be equal.” Really, Momon? How much of this occurred on your watch? How many kids were mistreated on your watch?
Something appears seriously wrong in the Victory Valley High School Unified School District beyond the findings of the Office of Civil Rights.
Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keep it real.