WILKES-BARRE — An often divided school board came to absolute consensus Thursday when its members appointed the first black individual to serve as one of their colleagues.
By unanimous vote, eight members of the Wilkes-Barre Area School Board chose the Rev. Shawn Walker to fill a vacancy created last month when they ousted Robert Corcoran, who accepted a job in Germany and now lives there.
Seven men applied to fill Corcoran’s seat, but Walker’s was the only name presented for a vote. After Dino Galella nominated Walker and Lynn Evans seconded the motion, the board voted to close nominations and each member voiced “Shawn Walker” as their choice.
“To be unanimously nominated is humbling, to say the least,” Walker said after the meeting. “All I did was present myself to this board, the qualifications I felt I brought to the table in order to help better this board and fight for the education of our children. The rest was in their hands and I’m excited and glad to be a part of this board.”
Board President John Quinn said Walker, his parents and grandparents all attended Meyers High School, and he has been very involved in the community, most notably, of late, co-founding and working with the Building Bridges initiative — a community effort to identify and resolve problems and reduce youth violence — that was spawned last year after the shooting death of 14-year-old Tyler Winstead.
“He has the right personality,” said Quinn. “And I don’t want to make a big deal out of him being the first African-American (on the board), but I think that’s significant with the demographics in the district.”
According to the state Department of Education, in 2011-12 (the latest available data), Wilkes-Barre Area had a total enrollment of 7,037. Of those, 1,272, or 18 percent, were “black or African American.” Another 1,415, or 20 percent, were Hispanic.
Walker has spoken out at school board meetings over the years, urging greater diversity in the teaching staff to better reflect student demographics.
“He’s been a team builder, he’s been involved with all different kind of groups … I saw him work with people, he’s good,” Quinn said. “I think people are going to like him. If we could get a consensus out of this board, he’s got to be something.”
Quinn said he was “shocked” that the vote was unanimous.
Although Walker’s tenure on the board will be short (Corcoran’s term would expire in December), his role could carry a lot of weight. The board frequently has been split on significant votes in the past few months, with Corcoran’s being the decisive swing vote.
“There are a lot of major issues that are on the horizon and I think that makes this seat very, very important and necessary to be filled,” said Walker. “So I need to study and learn a lot more about those issues, but can’t wait to jump in with both feet.”
Still, he doesn’t feel pressured to side with any certain faction of board members.
“I think the same amount of pressure, honestly, should be applied to every board member because every board member’s vote counts just the same,” he said. “We need to be a good steward of our taxpayer dollars, yes, but also to be a good steward over our children. So that’s what I aim to do, and we all should be aiming to do the same.”
Walker recently resigned as district sales manager with W.W. Grainger Inc., a distribution company, to devote more time to pastoring First Baptist Church in Wilkes-Barre. He previously had been an account manager and corporate sales program manager with the company.
Walker applied for the post because he has a passion for working to help youths, and he felt he could make an impact in one area as a board member. But he said he won’t run for election because he wants to devote more time to “making an impact” in the community, especially in the Building Bridges initiative.
Times Leader Staff Writer Mark Guydish contributed to this report.