Faculty Appointment Counters Ammons’ Mission



    Florida A&M president James Ammons took giant a step back in his effort to instill integrity at the university in his recent handling of Ronald Holmes.                                                                                                          The former superintendent of the FAMU Developmental Research School (DRS), resigned on June 30 after his contract expired. Instead of getting rid of Holmes, Ammons rewarded him with a position in the university’s College of Education, according to a university press release. While trumpeting Holmes’ accomplishments, such as increasing enrollment and designing a program to recruit and retain high achievers, the statement omitted any mention of the minimal academic gains he made while pocketing a hefty $110,000 salary.                                                                                                                                                                                                            That reads like a bad joke. Ammons is sending the message that the “old” FAMU is alive and well. Holmes’ tenure made a mockery of the university’s motto, “Excellence with caring,” considering that his hiring was clearly borne of shameless cronyism and nepotism that has haunted the institution decades before its current students were even thought of.                                                                                                                                                                 Holmes was appointed superintendent of the long-troubled DRS in 2008, after the school received an “F” from the Florida Department of Education based on its students’ performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test during the year before. Since the FDOE implemented the grading system in 1999, the highest grade DRS earned was a “C.”                                                                                                                                               In 2007, a mere 36 percent of the school’s students passed the exam. That is, only 134 of 370 students at DRS were able to read, write or perform math operations on grade level. It is worth noting that the majority of DRS students are African-American, who, on the whole, perform poorly on the FCAT.                            Ammons should have considered that fact before approving the Board of Trustees’ ill-advised recommendation of Holmes.                                                                                                                                                                                    The BOT’s initial search came down to three applicants, of whom, Holmes was the least qualified. For those who are unaware, he is the sibling of Jeb Bush-era appointed trustee, R.B. Holmes. When in 2008 the St. Petersburg Times questioned him about his brother’s qualifications, the older Holmes responded, as any good big brother would, “he’s a tremendous young man when it comes to academics.”                                                                  During  his interview for the superintendent’s job, Holmes, who received his  bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from FAMU, “could not recall the title of his doctoral dissertation,” according to Thomas Jackson, former dean of the COE in a St. Petersburg Times editorial in 2008.                                                                           Prior to his job at DRS, Holmes was an assistant principal at Banneker High School in College Park, Ga., where he earned a reputation for improving student performance. However, while the students at Banneker made gains during his tenure, they still performed below the state and national average on standardized tests, according to the school’s accountability reports, which can be accessed on the Georgia Department of Education’s website.                                                                                              Furthermore, as an assistant principal, Holmes had no experience in being solely responsible for a school’s performance.                                                                                                                                                                          When Ammons took office in July 2007, he promised his supporters that was one his  top priorities was to improve DRS. He may have spoken too soon, considering he had a full slate of issues to tackle at the university level before he could devote attention to the problems at DRS.                                                                                                                                                              In retrospect, it appears that Holmes’ appointment may have been quick remedy for the waning leadership at DRS until more pressing issues were resolved. However, that decision came at a great cost to DRS students.                                                                                                                                                                                     This notion maybe hard to fathom for Ammons’ supporters, but even when he was provost, DRS performed poorly compared to other state university lab schools  and other Leon County  schools with similar demographics. Ammons or anyone else who had the power to intervene should have realized that something has always been terribly wrong with how DRS functions.                                                                                                                               While he gets credit for improving FAMU, three years into his presidency, Ammons may be guilty of back-sliding. Making Holmes a faculty member in the COE after his failed tenure at DRS reeks of old time, FAMU politics. Ammons can be excused for hiring Holmes the first time. After all, he had just returned and was still trying to figure just how much trouble FAMU was in. But his faculty appointment is inexcusable.                                                  This PR blunder can only be made right if Holmes and his trustee brother are disallowed from continuing to use FAMU and its patrons as a meal ticket. Removing Ronald Holmes is a simple fix for Ammons—it’s only a matter of issuing him walking papers.                                                                                                    But giving the younger Holmes the boot may diminish support from the older Holmes and could stand in the way of Ammons’ plan to steer FAMU in the right direction. It is up to Ammons and FAMU’s politically-savvy supporters to ensure that those who serve the university have its best interest in mind.