Superintendent Selection Troubles

Things aren’t going well with selecting the new superintendent for the city school system. On May 1st, it was announced that there were three candidates for the position, and that an announcement would likely be made by May 6th. The candidates were: Jean Murray, Albemarle’s assistant superintendent for instruction; James Pughsley, deputy superintendent for Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Schools in North Carolina; and Kriner Cash, superintendent for Martha’s Vineyards Public Schools. Cash, the board’s top pick, rejected the school board‘s offer on Thursday. Pughsley, the second choice, is likely being offered a promotion to be the superintendent of his North Carolina district. It’s hoped that he’ll make a decision soon. If he rejects the Charlottesville offer, that leaves Albemarle’s own Jean Murray. Kate Andrews has the story in today’s Progress.

19 Responses to “Superintendent Selection Troubles”


  • Does anyone else think the way this has been handled reflects very poorly on the Charlottesville School Board? Announcing the first choice before the offer has been officially extended and accepted seemed premature, and now they are doing the same thing all over again. If I were Jean Murray, I would be deeply offended and so no on principle (if the second choice candidate doesn’t accept either, which seems quite possible). How are the staff and parents of the city schools supposed to have faith in a new superintendent if everyone knows he or she wasn’t first choice?

    I wonder if all this nonsense will change people’s minds about having an elected, not appointed, school board in the future.

  • Anonymous writes: “Does anyone else think the way this has been handled reflects very poorly on the Charlottesville School Board?

    Yes, it does reflect poorly. As a candidate for such a position, you learn much about your prospective employer by observering how they conduct themselves during the hiring process.

    And am I recalling correctly that the eventual first choice was initially “invited” to apply by some School Board member, with whom the candidate had affinity (was it family, or just friendship?)?

  • Let’s not jump on the school board too fast, here. It seems to me that you can have an open selection process in which decisions are not kept secret from the public. Citizens seem to want these sort of decisions to be made in a public fashion.

    The downside is that, once first choices are made public, that, automatically, seems to degrade the value of the runners-up, in the public view. Egos are bruised and recruiting becomes more difficult.

    I’m afraid that we can’t have our cake and eat it, too. When professional administrators are applying for these jobs, it’s a delicate tightrope walk. They don’t know where the job offer will come from, if any will be coming at all. They don’t want to jeopardize their current position. They’ve got legitimate family and career needs to balance, when there’s more than one offer.

    But, let’s not think that there’s only one “right” person for this job. Tp NFL draft choices don’t always turn out to be the best ones (remember Heath Shuler?).

    I don’t think this is “nonsense”. We’ve got a group of people working hard to find a leader in the glare of the public spotlight. Whatever you think about elected vs. appointed school boards, I don’t know how that would make this situation any better.

  • harry writes: “I’m afraid that we can’t have our cake and eat it, too.

    But certainly we — meaning our community’s representatives on the School Board — could keep our number three candidate aware of progress in the process. As is, (and as I read the DP article) she’s learning about her status in the search not directly from her prospective employer but instead from the newspapers, like the rest of us.

    Common decency demands better, and that’s certainly not hard to accomplish (i.e., one local phone call!) or too much to expect. Furthermore, the School Board (and the community it represents) benefits from keeping the number three aware of developments in their hiring process, as it demonstrates a basic level of professionalism characteristic of the work environment to which they are recruiting talented folks. It is in OUR interest that the Board behaves as professionally as they can, in order to recruit the best candidate possible.

    What if Ms. Number Three now thinks so little of the City schools adminstration that that she declines whatever offer might now be extended?

  • A story in this morning’s Charlotte Observer quotes Charlottesville’s school board chairman as saying that “he (Pughsley) will not be our superintendent.” The story indicates that Pughsley is a shoo-in for the Charlotte job, which pays significantly more than would be available in Charlottesville. The only question seems to be whether he’ll be named to the permanent position right away or if they’ll make him interim superintendent.

    I reckon somebody ought to send flowers to Jean Murray, huh?

  • If I remember correctly, the eventual first choice was told of the opportunity by a “Charlottesville School official”, it was never stated that it was a school board member.

    The fact of the matter is Kriner Cash was (and is) a great choice of superintendent, and we would’ve been extremely lucky to have him. In my opinion, Mr. Pughsley was using this opportunity to secure the Charlotte-Mecklenburg job – local press in the days after the finalist announcement talked about how much his ‘stock’ had risen since being named as a finalist for someone else’s superintendency. If I were Ms. Murray, I’m not sure I’d want this job any more either, but then I was mystified when she was announced as a finalist, so that could be my own bias in play.

    I hate to say this, because it’s the last thing our school system needs, but it may be time to ask Ron Hutchinson to be interim superintendent and re-start the hiring process.

  • Anonymous writes: “If I were Ms. Murray, I’m not sure I’d want this job any more either, but then I was mystified when she was announced as a finalist, so that could be my own bias in play.

    Care to tell us why you were mystified, and how your own bias might be relevant?

    I’m curious.

    (I’ll agree with you that if the selection committee thinks Ms. Number Three shouldn’t be hired, then they should indeed put Hutchinson — a very fine fellow, in my experience — in the interim role . . . assuming, of course, that he didn’t submit an application for the job, in which case the temp. appointment would be huge slap in the face.)

  • Doesn’t Number Three already work for the school system? If so, she is probably already aware of how it operates (and how C’ville) operates. This can be a bad or good thing. But I’ll assume it’s a good thing because otherwise, why would she apply for the position?

    Also, keep in mind that although officially she is hearing things from the Daily Progress, she is probably hearing SOMETHING from SOMEONE officially or unofficially — assuming gossip flows through the School Board like it does in so many other offices. She just has to be discreet and act like this is all news to her.

    The latest on the tv news (an oxymoron) was that they offered it to Pughsley (?) and were hoping that he will accept it despite a $100,000 difference in salary and a huge difference in the number of students/schools from Charlottesville. But this is from the NBC news, so probably by now, school is already out….

  • Number Three works for Albemarle County, not Charlottesville City.

    I am unclear why the hiring process has to be as open as it is. This is not a professional sports team draft. The people’s representatives (weren’t there several panels which met with the three candidates?) had input before offers were made. Why all the news before an offer is made and accepted?

  • I’ve had several friends who worked in the Albemarle County school system, some of them in central office, and none have really had great things to say about her. The few times I met her, I remained unimpressed. The fact that, during an interview, she said she was ready to be a Dr. Castner or Dr. Symons is really what clinched my opinion of her. Symons has not impressed me one little bit – he spends more time out of state than he does in it. People I knew on the panels who interviewed the three finalists said she was definitely not in the same class as the other two finalists.

    I guess she had the ‘local’ edge. While it would be nice to have someone who already understood the community, I’m far more interested in a candidate that understands the issues the way Cash seemed to understand them.

  • Anonymous writes: “I’ve had several friends who worked in the Albemarle County school system, some of them in central office, and none have really had great things to say about her. The few times I met her, I remained unimpressed. The fact that, during an interview, she said she was ready to be a Dr. Castner or Dr. Symons is really what clinched my opinion of her. Symons has not impressed me one little bit – he spends more time out of state than he does in it. People I knew on the panels who interviewed the three finalists said she was definitely not in the same class as the other two finalists.

    I guess she had the ‘local’ edge. While it would be nice to have someone who already understood the community, I’m far more interested in a candidate that understands the issues the way Cash seemed to understand them.

    Thanks for your response, Anonymous.

    I’m curious what you think “the issues” are. Perhaps this accounts for your unhappiness with Symons (and perhaps the chronic absenteeism you argue him to have had played a part in his failure to tackle these “issues”?).

    And pehaps you (or others) didn’t hear Murray talk about these “issues”, which furthers low estimation of her suitability for the job?

    I’ll quickly add that the selection committee which hired Symons was very enthusiastic about him because of the way he seemed to understand the issues highlighted at the time. These were, if I remember correctly: racial disparity in academic achievement and very high (unsustainable, really) costs-per-pupil.

  • One thing Cash said that really caught my eye was, “Poverty is the number one variable that hinders educational attainment in this country, and that goes beyond just people of color. It’s children of all colors. If they’re poor, they have not as much opportunity.” (http://www.pbs.org/thinktank/transcript125.html)

    I don’t all dispute that there is a large racial disparity in academic achievement, but in many cases poverty is an added, overwhelming factor. I’m not sure how to go about mitigating that, but I was impressed that he saw it as an important issue.

    As a teacher, I am often at a loss as to how to motivate a student to do well in class when he/she goes home to a situation I cannot begin to imagine. It doesn’t mean I stop trying and doing my best, but sometimes no matter how hard I try, I can’t get through to that kid.

    I wasn’t living in Charlottesville at the time Symons was hired, so I’ll defer to your memory on that score.

    I appreciate your questions, they give me an opportunity to really think about my opinions. Hopefully in the near future, I’ll get my password and I’ll be anonymous no more. :)

  • You can be an anonymous user and still type your name.

    Kevin Cox

  • The real scandal in this whole messed-up Superintendent selection process is that the Charlottesville schools had an amazing candidate apply for the position and he wasn’t even selected as one of the finalists. I’m talking about Dr. Irving Jones, principal of Monticello High School, one the most dynamic educators I have ever seen and recent recipient of Principal of the Year award for the entire state of Virginia. Dr. Jones would have been a God-send for the Charlottesville schools: focused, visionary, inspiring, an excellent leader who knows our community well, and a genuinely good and decent man. Plus, as an accomplished and well-respected African-American he is a great role model and example for African-American youth (who make up 1/2 of the Cville school population). In other words, he would have done wonders for the City school system. But he didn’t make the cut because he lacks superintendent/central administration-type experience. In other words, he was determined to be insufficiently bureaucratic. Well, guess what folks? THE LAST THING OUR SCHOOL SYSTEM NEEDS IS MORE PEOPLE WHO THINK LIKE BUREAUCRATS. We need visionary leaders who are going to shake things up. Our School Board wants to think that everything’s pretty hunky-dorey with our schools. They’ve got their heads in the sand. Our schools are failing our children, particularly our African-American children. And we are failing our schools AND our children by failing to give Dr. Jones a shot at the job. Central administration know-how is pretty easy to come by. Good leadership is not.

  • If he’s as great as you say, what accounts for the enormous turn-over in teachers at Monticello High School? I have not been impressed by his leadership.

  • FYI:

    Jones’s abbreviated résumé is here.

    And here, below, is a description of his PhD dissertation:

    Case studies of students transitioning from an alternative school back into high school. Jones, Irving Cornelius, Sr.;, EdD. VIRGINIA POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE AND STATE UNIVERSITY, 1999. 98 pp. Advisor: Parson, Steve

  • Anonymous writes: “One thing Cash said that really caught my eye was, “Poverty is the number one variable that hinders educational attainment in this country, and that goes beyond just people of color. It’s children of all colors. If they’re poor, they have not as much opportunity.

    I don’t all dispute that there is a large racial disparity in academic achievement, but in many cases poverty is an added, overwhelming factor. I’m not sure how to go about mitigating that, but I was impressed that he saw it as an important issue.

    Cash’s quote is a good one, but I wonder how he (or anyone of similar views) would translate this insight into higher academic achievement. I doubt that a superintendent has any power to improve the household income of the school district’s students.

    I believe (but I hope others reading here will correct me if I’m wrong) that when Symons was hired, one of his stated goals was to improve minority academic achievement. He, too, recognized the educational challenges poor, black children (in particular) brought to school and which got in the way of their education. One of Symon’s projects was to establish a sort of community tutoring/counseling center at Westhaven. I don’t think it was ever established, because money was so very tight — and indeed, economizing was his primary task.

    And Symon’s appeared, from the outset, to seek to unshackle teachers and principals from bureaucratic interference — which has been one of the complaints about the current administration forwarded in the comment below (see “the Real Scandal’).

    One final comment on Cash’s remarks about the salience of poverty/race in educational achievement. Black immigrants from the West Indies and Africa who suffer the same sort racism and begin their American lives in poverty akin to that of African-Americans attain records of academic and economic achievement comparable to non-minority populations. Why is that?

    Anonymous writes: “As a teacher, I am often at a loss as to how to motivate a student to do well in class when he/she goes home to a situation I cannot begin to imagine. It doesn’t mean I stop trying and doing my best, but sometimes no matter how hard I try, I can’t get through to that kid.

    I know this professional (and emotionally-felt) frustration. While we can have “free-” (i.e., community-bought)-breakfast and –lunch for kids who can’t fill their bellies at home because their guardian/s is/are too disorganized, poor, and/or downright disinterested in care of their child/ren, there is simply no way anyone in the school environment can fill the void left by physical/psychological insecurity felt at home, poor health and nutrition, and poor parenting; there is no way in the world that a teacher and his/her colleagues can offset in 8 hours a day for 180 days a year (i.e., some 16 percent of the year) that which is created in the majority of the students’ time (some 84 percent) – which is indeed lived outside the control of interested teachers and other school folks. It is supremely frustrating to have a professional (and personal, emotional) investment in one of your students and then find that his/her guardian(s) can’t be bothered to take or return a phone call, sign a needed form so that the student can receive extra assistance . . . and then when you make the extraordinary effort to make a home-visit to get the needed signature, s/he can only complain that school is not attending to the needs of the child.

    My word of advice is this: you’re a teacher, not a miracle worker. And if you hold yourself to the impossible standard of the latter, you’ll be won’t be able to be effective as the former.

    Anonymous writes: “I appreciate your questions, they give me an opportunity to really think about my opinions.

    And I appreciate your posts here.

  • I can’t believe that Dr. Jones didn’t at least make the final round. He’s been very impressive every time I’ve seen him in action. He’s just what our community needs.

  • Obviously many people disagree with you. Dr. Jones is now a finalist for the National Principal of the Year Award. They don’t give these kinds of recognitions for nothin’.

    see http://k12.albemarle.org/Monticello/departments/admin/Ijones_award.htm

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