Jamaican remains calm in midst of horrific Florida school killings

Sunday Observer writer

Sunday, February 18, 2018

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AMID the chaos at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last week, Robert Runcie maintained the calmness that his office as superintendent of Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) required.

Seventeen students and staff were murdered during school hours by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, a troubled former student. As hordes of law enforcement and media converged on the scene, the reserved Runcie called for stringent action to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy.

“Our students are asking for gun control. We are doing everything we can to make sure we're supporting our community,” he told the Miami Herald. “When we have students within our care in the district, we provide the services we can provide them. This is bigger than the school system, we need a communitywide approach.”

Runcie, who is in his mid-50s, is Jamaican. Originally from Trelawny, he was appointed superintendent in 2011. The BCPS is the sixth-largest school district in the United States, with over 270,000 students in 337 schools and approximately 30,000 employees.

The massacre at Marjory Stoneman High School is the latest school shooting in the US. It is the biggest challenge the lanky Runcie has faced since accepting the BCPS assignment.

He said the rise of mental illness among students in the US is cause for concern.

“Mental health issues in this country are growing, and they're a big challenge,” he said in the Miami Herald interview. “And they're something that is certainly going to need to be addressed within our school systems, as well as in the broader society — to ensure that these kind of tragedies do not continue.”

Robert Runcie moved to Florida after working for several years in the Chicago education system. Since his appointment, 16 BCPS high schools have been ranked among the best in the country by the US News and World Report.

His stocks have risen considerably in seven years.

When Runcie was given a US$28,000 raise by the school board last year, it was widely supported, even by some of his opponents in the Broward Teachers Union.

“Possibly a year ago I would stand here and disagree. Standing here now, I don't disagree,” said Anna Fusco, union president. “Mr Runcie has made great strides in helping out our Broward County Public Schools. I think his leadership has really bloomed since he started here seven years ago,” BTU president, Anna Fusco, told the Sun Sentinel newspaper.

The BCPS credits a number of bold initiatives by Runcie for those “great strides”.

They include “increasing the district's investment in music and art programmes, the redesign of underperforming schools, expanded vocational and technical centres — where students earn over 6,000 industry certifications annually — introduced K-8 school models, and established the district's first military academy.

Most of Robert Runcie's life has been spent in the US. He emigrated in the 1970s and settled with his family in New York, where he attended Franklin D Roosevelt High School in Poughkeepsie.

He graduated from Harvard University and holds an MBA from Northwestern University in Illinois. Before securing the BCPS job, he held several leadership positions with the Chicago Public Schools.

Runcie's younger brother, James Runcie was, until last May, the Chief Operating Officer of the US Department of Education Federal Student Aid.




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