Mayor Blames School Board Chair

Cecil writes: According to Cathy Harding’ s report in the most recent issue of C-Ville, Mayor Brown is blaming the head of the School Board for much of the sturm und drang related to recent decisions regarding the Charlottesville City Schools–more specifically, for the way recent decisions have been communicated to the public and the way public involvement has been managed. 02/16 Update: James Fernald at The Daily Progress weighs in with their version of the story today, which points out that Laura Purnell’s letters has gone entirely unaddressed. As City Councilor Blake Caravati points out, the letter was “breath-taking,” and, on the school system’s refusal to address it, he says that “you just can’t wish those things away.”

23 thoughts on “Mayor Blames School Board Chair”

  1. Good for Mayor Brown! One can only hope that "failure to communicate" is merely a euphemism for general failure to provide competent oversight of the school system. Wow – some refresing leadership in our city – from a relative newcomer. Both he and Blake Caravati deserve kudos for being willing to at least speak out; I’m sure they will incur the wrath of ‘the community’ for this, but at least some of our leaders are capable of some positive action.

  2. You know what I feel uncomfortable with in the C’ville story? They report Mayor David Brown’s criticism of School Board Chair Dede Smith’s leadership and say that, although the Mayor made his comments to C’ville, he hadn’t conveyed them to Ms. Smith "directly".

    Leaders don’t criticize people in their own community via the press or via third parties. The right thing to do would have been for the Mayor to have had a discussion with Ms. Smith first. Then, if, he felt a need to speak to the press, fine. Leaders need to be able to look people in the eye and speak truth.

    It’s easier to lob criticism through the press. (It’s even easier to lob criticism through a blog/website.) Part of the problem is that the press inevitably gets quotes wrong or misrepresents a point of view and the problem gets exacerbated, rather than solved. But, who said leadership was easy?

  3. That’s an excellent point. I can think of a lot of things to call this action, but leadership isn’t even on the list. This is quite the opposite, actually.

    Leadership ISN’T easy at all, and the "new" mayor deserves the benefit of a doubt, but only if a public apology is forthcoming quite soon. Doesn’t need to apologize for what he said, but for his method of conveying it.

    What happens next says a lot about his management style, to say the least.

  4. Well, I for one doubt that they have not had conversations of some type about this. I suspect they’ve discussed a great deal more than just this and touched on issues above and beyond the question of communication.

    I’m not sure what your stance on all this is (I think mine is fairly obvious from this thread and other posts), but I do not think the attention ought to focus on Mayor Brown’s method of delivery so much as the real issue at hand: the mess at CCPS central office!

    Just because Brown doesn’t have the best delivery doesn’t mean that Smith and Griffin get a free pass – he is not an officer reading them their Miranda rights.

  5. In my opinion, the Mayor is out of line and way off base. The Mayor and the City Council appointed the School Board to oversee the schools. If he has comments related to that, it should be done in the correct forum-a meeting between the Council and the Board.

    He is off base as to the real issue. He may believe the Chairperson of the School Board has some problems, but that position is elected by the Board. It is their problem to correct if needed.

    The main problem with the schools currently is administrative leadership. Much has been said about this in other posting on this "news" board. My concern is with the leadership of Dr. Griffin. As a longtime teacher in the City Schools (now retired), I believe Dr. Griffin is many, many times more ineffective than any administrator that I ever worked under. I was not there for Dr. Symons.

    From the many contacts I have, Dr. Griffin’s leadership style is terrible. She has been described as wacky, inconsiderate, ruthless, failing to even respond to citizens requests to discuss a problem, heavy-handed with persons serving under her. (Much more could be said) From what I read in Dr. Laura Purnell’s letter, it seemed to me to be a mirror image of what I have been told.

    If Dr. Griffin does not modify her leadership style, the craziness will only continue. She has to respect the competence and professionalism of the many administrators who ALSO serve the Charlottesville City Schools. She is just the CEO (so to speak), not the resident INTIMIDATOR.

    The Mayor should just do the Mayor’s work.

    The School Board should investigate the charges concerning the heavy-handedness and improper leadership of the Dr. Griffin. If they find that they have in fact hired a person who cannot lead this school system, then they must deal with that. If they find that they agree with her leadership style, then they should explain why they agree to the community.

    In closing, it seems that Dr. Griffin’s academic credentials are very good. It seems that her leadership abilities are very poor. Both good credentials and good leadership are required to manage the Charlottesville City Schools and effectively make improvements which are found to be needed.

  6. Yeah….they show "leadership" after they wet their finger and figure out which way the wind is blowing. THEY appointed this school board, many were surprised with some of the appointments. Instead of pulling out the rug of those they placed in office, they need to figure out why the consulting firm recommended Griffin, how to get a refund and a replacement.

    With David and Blake speaking out…3 months too late…C’ville will go back to having two schools…one for the inner circle and one for "the others". What a joke.


  7. Let Smith finish out her term with respect, dismiss Griffin, sue consulting firm that recommended her, and appoint Bobby Thompson acting Superintendent. Remember the former Principal at Johnson, and the current Principal at Buford both applied for the job and the consulting firm didn’t even ask them in for the second interview. It’s time to dig deeper ( another reason for an elected school board)…but put Mr. Thompson in the head seat for now. He loves the kids and can get the best out of all of them!

  8. Somebody has to do something. I have years of experience and am ready to leave. The last straw for me is that our chair will not stand up for the people she leads. How can anyone stand for someone attacking their workers, calling them racist. Many of our teachers are not cville natives so STOP holding them responsible for things that happened in a city that they did not live in. Teach them what has gone on, teach them how you feel if you believe you have been discriminated against- join them in sharing your vision of what can make things better. Things are not the same all over this country. This administration will lead to the destruction of race relations in this city if it doesn’t stop. I urge everyone, black and white to stand up and join together to stop the attacks on the teachers. I urge the Chair to stand up for her employees and for what is right. If it takes criticism from the mayor to do that, then the ends justifies the means.

  9. ‘If Dr. Griffing does not modify her leadership style’ suggests that she has it in her to do so. I don’t think she does. For months now she has had opportunities, she has received feedback, positive as well as negative, asking her, encouraging her, suggesting to her that she needs to familiarize herself with the entire community and attempt to understand the multitude of perspectives that make up our city school system. She has steadfastly behaved as if this were beneath her; she has consistently avoided accountability and attempted to lay blame, as this person posting says, in a "wacky, inconsiderate, ruthless" manner. Dr. Purnell’s letter does seem to confirm all of this, particularly her "bullying" style. We just don’t need this.

    Tonight’s school board meeting confirmed to me that if people do not demand a change, she will continue and be allowed to continue, to denigrate and rudely belittle the people who work for her. She is now going after certain members of the board and she is defensive, rude, and seems to delight in childish attempts to throw any questions that even slightly imply criticism of her methods back at the person asking the question.

    The school board is truly in an untenable position – damned if they do and damned if they don’t. But at this point, they need to step up to the plate. Ms. Smith has got to go as she is out there calling members of the community racists herself. She has clearly lost all perspective, does not present herself as accountable to the citizenry, and seems to be on a singleminded crusade. She is so certain that she alone knows how to close the achievement gap, she forgets that it cannot happen in the bitterly destructive and divisive climate that Dr. Griffin seems to thrive on.

    Finally, Dr. Griffin tonight chose to treat the board as if they were simple-minded, stubborn children by trotting out Harley Miles to go over and over the AYP figures as if the board and the community had never heard them before. Furthermore she suggests that she and she alone (and her overpaid staff who can’t find it in their time to align curriculum) have all the answers in some magic hat and that those board members who question her at all are going to get what’s coming to them. So next year when our school system is sunk even worse in the mire, she’s going to blame it all on the school board. Does anybody remember the "teflon president?" Ms. Smith again demonstrates her complete lack of leadership by simply agreeing without question.

    The fact is we are in crisis – in every possible way. We are not making adequate academic progress in our schools and at a time when we most need to be planning effective strategies for our future we are stuck with someone who cannot, will not, and should not be in charge of our school system. Talented teachers and administrators will leave, not because of sour grapes, and not even because they don’t like Open Court or other new initiatives, because frankly they can adjust to a lot of things, but because they are treated like the lowest of the low, because they are told that their opinions have no value, because their contributions are consistsently not only belittled, but not even heard. They are hearing this from their superintendent, the person who is supposed to be leading them, to be inspiring them, to be a role model for them. And the school board, by its refusal to rectify this horrible, destructive situation is sending the same message. This is the group that we entrust with oversight of the situation and go to when things don’t seem to be going right. I saw some life tonight, but the school board has to unite on this. Things are not only not going right; they are a disaster. The school board appears unable to do anything at a time when we desperately need their leadership. We don’t have to be stuck with Dr. Griffin and we can turn things around in our city schools with inspired, inspiring leadership and we need to find that leadership quickly. We cannot let Dr. Griffin convince us that even if we don’t like her style she’s the only one who can change things, because clearly things are getting worse, not better.

    Some school board members are trying and I applaud their efforts, but I hope it is not too little, too late. And frankly until Ms. Smith acknowledges the crisis of confidence and has the decency to resign or step down, I believe we are at an impasse. Everyone knows what needs to be done, but no one wants to be the one to do it. Sadly Ms. Smith seems to have no idea that the underachieving children that she states are her "passion" are suffering the most from this current trainwreck that she has largely engineered.

  10. According to the DP, the new positions being cut overwhelmingly impact the preschool program. This is not a new strategy, as Symons was expert at it. It is a program, not a school, and has no PTO to speak for it. The children who participate are overwhelmingly the poorest in our community and their tenure with the program is mostly a single year so their parents have no time to organize an effective voice.

    As noted elsewhere, for years Symons increased the size of Central Office and for the last two years of his superintendency was mostly AWOL. And yet there weren’t school board meetings where hundreds of parents turned out to protest his budget proposals. If you think that race and gender don’t play a role in the free ride Symons got in comparison to the constant criticism that Griffin has received, you’re sadly naive.

    The isms of our lives come to us as unearned benefits. Our grandfathers took things from others: their ability to vote, work, live, prosper, be educated, and generally enjoy the earned benefits of their labors. We pale people inherit the benefits of those thefts. Simply saying "But I didn’t do those things" does not relieve us of the absolute moral imperative to return the goods, both material and non-material, that were confiscated. It takes fairly constant vigilance to identify inherited, purloined things and a profound sense of justice to volunteer to return them to their rightful owners. Rick Turner is more like Malcolm X than Dr. King, so we are comfortable marginalizing his comments and disavowing any ownership in today’s perpetuation of yesterdays thievery. "The teachers don’t even come from here, why should they have to…" Why? Because we inherit what we inherit and if it was stolen from someone else, whoever has it now has to give it back.

    This budget presentation was conducted differently from past budget presentations — it wasn’t negotiated behind closed doors with staff veto power and everybody being happy with it at first public blush. The conversations about what values it represents happened in the public forum and changes have been made. Why does a change in methodology come with cries of "Failure of Leadership" and demands for resignations and firings?

    Ron Hutchinson was much loved. He came up through the Charlottesville City Schools and devoted his career to them. He was highly collaborative. After our first failed attempt to hire a new superintendent, he gave us two years of quiet status quo before trying again. Suggestions here that we rid oursevles of Dr. Griffin and elevate another insider would serve only to continue the status quo. We need big changes and we’ve vociferously rejected the little ones we’ve been offered thus far. We citizens are destructively, ridiculously, childishly demanding and we are unfortunately getting what we deserve.

  11. Dr. Symons and Ron Hutchinson were NOT much loved. They just had better interpersonal skills and didn’t threaten and coerce people. I am tired of Rick Turner using this school system as his personal band wagon. Let’s talk about facts at our meetings that pertain to helping kids. I and many other "white parents" (which has become a dirty word, is this racism maybe? how many times has he told us we are the new KKK) choose to live in the City. We want diversity for our kids. I work with the community that Rick Turner claims to represent. They frankly, nor I have ever seen him "in the neighborhood". He only shows his face when the media is about. We ALL need to take responsibility for our schools and kids. Quit the blame and flame throwing. We are getting nowhere with that. Thanks to Peggy Van Yahres, Mayor Brown, and Blake Caravati for having the courage to stand up for truth in this insanity. We need to back them up and also call Casteen to reel in the racist Turner.

  12. I have no clue as to whether or not Dede Smith deserves rebuke; in all likeliehood Mayor Brown’s assertions are correct. Still, I was dismayed that Brown decided to air his views in the press, without having discussions with the accused in private.

    This whole school board/Griffin fiasco has exposed the fact that we have a lot of children in our city government (although, to be fair, most people could have figured that out already). I had been under the impression that Brown was one of the few grownups involved in this. Apparently, though, he has decided NOT to stay above the fray but to get down in the dirt with the rest of the crowd. Anyone can throw mud (or stones, or hand grenades), but it takes more skill to manage one of these situations tactfully and effectively–the kind of skill most people would expect of the mayor. Instead, Brown lowers himself to the level of the rest of City Council–the temperamental, overly sensitive Kevin Lynch and the comical, lazy, but media-savvy Schilling, along with the race-baiting Turner and the (apparently) incompetent Griffin.

    It certainly appears that David Brown is another Charlottesville politician with too much education and not enough sense.

  13. Look, once again, the lengthy discussion of race only serves to obscure and sidestep the real issues.

    There are any number of us who ARE colorblind and would support a super of any race/gender/orientation IF that person was doing something good for the schools.

    Once again, you undercut yourself – you begin with a fairly stinging indictment of the POLICY changes proposed by this superintendant. You then follow up with this gooey liberal-guilt about stolen heritage which completely sidesteps the real issues of today – how, in practical terms, we will begin to repair the damage you cite. The policy being advocated by this superintendent HURTS the victims of past racism by denying them the kinds of services that will best help create a level playing field for students.

    It is intellectually dishonest and a classic case of cognitive dissonance to keep responding to every criticism by crying racism and therefore attempting to nullify all aspects of the criticisms, rather than engaging the merits of the debate. This amounts to ignoring the real problems and then complaining when they don’t go away. Did it ever occur to you that there MIGHT be some folks who would critize Griffin for her actions, even if she were white?

    Ron Hutchinson was beloved NOT because he was the local boy done good, but because he was a COMPETENT educator who LISTENED to the professionals in the system and DID appropriate things to support them in their efforts to serve ALL the children in the system.

    Symons was not attacked in the way Griffin is (although quite a few people were critical of his priorities and absentee behavior), largely because he didn’t terrorize the staff. Even if his ‘leadership’ was uninspiring, people who did have an idea of what to do were able to do so without fear of this kind of reprisal. He did not create a dysfunctional witch-trial work environment.

    Keep it up with this super, and we WILL get what we deserve – a completely broken and dysfunctional system. Once the schools lose the faith of the public, there will be no getting them back. Do we really want:

    – a DC school system?

    – a Prince George’s school system?

    Griffin is a protege of Iris Metts in Prince George’s county – take a good look at what she learned from there, and you will see that this is an unsurprising repeat performance. Either the board did not look beyond her very brief New Orleans tenure, or they willfully ignored the track record. One can easily search the web and find plenty of information about the exact same situation unfolding in Prince George’s a few years ago. Griffin has NEVER been a super before – just an assistant or associate – and a look at where she learned the art of leadership is quite revealing.

  14. Chatter, I do not know your knowledge history of Ron Hutchinson, but I knew him and served under him when he was Asst. Principal and Principal of CHS. I knew of his work and served with him during the rest of his time in the Charlottesville City Schools, with the exception of his last few years in Central Administration. Ron was a true educator and an outstanding educator. He may not have solved some of the problems you would have him to solve, but please, go to any school division of your choice and show me that they have succeded any better. Concerning the racial divide in academic scores, which has been noted by others as a major problem, I have news for them-that is a problem in 90% of the Nation’s school system.

    My vote is entirely positive for Ron Hutchenson. No doubt about that man.

  15. Posts to date indicate:

    DeDe is a disaster.

    Griffin is incompetent.

    Rick Turner is an idiot.

    The Board is a disaster.

    The mayor is no leader.

    DeDe is no leader.

    Griffin is a hatemonger.

    City Council have no leadership qualities except sometimes but not in this case.

    The screening agency is incompetent.

    The only people who can correct this mess are no longer here or are not in power.

    The board, Griffin, mayor, council, many teachers, screeners, Turner and assorted hangers-on , are without justification to exist on this planet.

    The parents are unreasonable and racist.

    Everyone who disagrees with Turner is a racist.

    Anyone who agrees with Turner is a racist.

    Charlottesville is an All American City.

    Charlottesville is NOT an All American City.

    Fifty percent of the people who post have an axe of some degree of dullness.

    Twenty percent of we posters believe we have the solution.

    Eighty percent believe there is no solution.

    Wake me in 2008 which is my guess for approximate year of recovery from whatever one may wish to term this mess.

  16. You know the worst part- a bunch of white kids walked out of the school board meeting pissed. I will not accep or believe that the black community0 if it is monolithic can support someone who promotes such hate toward the preople who are attempting to do good. DO NOT FORGOT THE THE WHITE CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND NUNS IN SELMA ALABAMA WHO FOUGHT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS. THERE ARE THOSE WHO BELIEVE THAT ALL CAN SUCCEED- DO NOT ALIENATE THOSE YOUNG PEOPLE WHO CAN BE OUR FUTURE FOR THE SINS OF OTHER PEOPLES FATHERS. Crying unfounded racism because of incompetence can do nothing but create a future of the repetition of history GOD FORBID,

  17. Just heard on WINA that Rick Turner is calling for the resignation of Mayor Brown for what he said about School Board Chair DeDe Smith. This coming from a man who said at the Tues. School Board Meeting the Cville Whites were the new KKK and this was a modern day lynching. The Mayor spoke on facts, Turner is a flame thrower. He makes bombastic remarks while we are all supposed to sit and listen quietly to his ranting and raving. Then, when a young teacher gets up to read a letter and addresses how the racist remarks aren’t true, Griffin nudges DeDe Smith who quickly admonishes the teacher to address only the board, not the audience. WE ARE LIVING IN BIZARRO WORLD>

  18. Is there really any chance at all that Griffin will remain in her current job? If not, what will it cost to oust her? Finally, how did this community, with all its bureaucracy and committees and fact-finding projects, end up with such a nightmare of a school superintendent? It strains reason to believe that due diligence would not have raised some red flags.

  19. The school board relied on a paid consultant to provide superintendent candidates. Evidently they did not check references (at least not very thoroughly) or scrutinize Dr. Griffin’s resume; a quick look raises some obvious red flags. She has held nine jobs in the past ten years. We were told that Dr. Griffin was a "proven collaborative leader." Nothing could be farther from the truth. It’s her way or the highway, and while you’re walking down the highway she will file suit against you. She has been punitive and filled with animosity toward her staff from day one.

  20. If we get an elected school board out of all this, MAYBE it will have all been worth it………..

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