Griffin Attempts to Fire Purnell

The ongoing saga of Superintendent Scottie Griffin just got uglier. You’ll recall Assistant Superintended Laura Purnell blew the whistle on Griffin in a lengthy letter to the school board last month. Now Griffin is attempting to give Purnell the boot by eliminating her position in June, and has asked the school board to do so during their Thursday meeting, the Progress reports. In Purnell’s letter, she acknowledged that in becoming a whistleblower, she knew that she was risking her job, but felt that it was more important that she say something than that she keep her job safe. Nearly all of the officials that the Progress interviewed said that Purnell should be protected from being fired. The decision rests with the school board, not Griffin.

The letter in question, by the way, seems to have been validated: the Progress, for the first time, quotes from the letter, and attributes it to being authored by Purnell, rather than allegedly by Purnell. It’s also noteworthy that James Fernald is not the only reporter that received credit for this: veteran political analyst Bob Gibson has been brought in, a sign that this story is getting bigger and more politically sensitive.

I expect that things are only going to get worse from here. Should the overall issue of Griffin vs. some parents be reframed as Griffin vs. Purnell, the assistant superintendent may find herself painted as a liar or a racist. Some teachers, many of whom are preparing to sign their contracts for next year, may see the result of Thursday’s meeting as a sign of whether or not they should continue to teach in the Charlottesville school system. If the board doesn’t fire Purnell, Griffin may break her public silence and stop speaking through surrogates, which would certainly take things up a notch.

One thought on “Griffin Attempts to Fire Purnell”

  1. It’s interesting to discover that Purnell’s status is not final, yet. The observation that the proverbial poo is about to hit the fan was the feedback from two former school board chairs…I would say that speaks volumes about the political isolation of the current board leadership – some of the newer members are not part of that cabal. It is difficult to see how any solution other than a buyout, perhaps of both Purnell and Griffin, is going to succeed. By that, I mean any solution which leaves both or either of them in place. It is difficult to see how a positive work culture and environment can be rebuilt around two people who have become so polarizing.

    This must be resolved quickly, though: the time for renewing contracts is here, and the biggest threat posed by Griffin from the get-go has been the threat of “breaking” the institution.

    Institutions rely on ‘institutional memory’ of ‘how things work’ in order to be successful; strong institutions perpetuate themselves this way. In some sense, I’m sure that’s what the previous discussion regarding institutional racism gets at: we do things a certain way because we always have. Sometimes this is good: there are positive pieces of wisdom handed down (kind of like ‘old wives’ tales’) and sometimes not-so-good things, like bigotry.

    Without doing a detailed analysis of the careers of a large number of students, I don’t think we can answer that question about the school system definitively. I will say this: other than vague (ie, lacking details) ad-hominem attacks on those opposed to Dr. Griffin, no specific allegations of racist behavior, particularly with respect to students, have been made.

    The number one cause of broken institutions is a high turnover rate. You need worker bees and managers who remember the results of various experiments and approaches, or you’re doomed to repeat past mistakes. Highly paid consultants cannot provide you with institutional memory. A lot of folks talk about Ron Hutchinson being a ‘nice guy,’ but it was precisely his tremendous accumulated knowledge of the school system and the Charlottesville community it serves that made him very successful. He was able, with a minimum of controversy, to begin to implement a number of significant changes with regard to the gap and AYP.

    As far as I’m concerned, the ‘Acheivement Gap’ is not the result of institutional racism at the schools. I don’t believe there are people from inside the system who have publicly come forward and blamed the gap on institutional racism. And, before anyone starts crying that the whole system is composed of racist whites, please note that there are quite a few politically active and involved african americans inside the system. Most of the critiques of the current system have come from folks outside, who, regardless of their motives, have not demonstrated in their solutions a clear understanding of the real nature of the problems facing the schools.

    The Dimberg manouever was a very clear shot across the bow, by which Dr. Griffin (Dr. Hatchet) very publicly let everyone in the system and the community know how she operated and how business would be done. Any new executive is certainly entitled to assert their control over a system. However, this does not appear to have been a calculated and strategic single blow, but the first of many assaults on any opposition, including Griffin’s own hires.

    Thank goodness that the Charlottesville community’s institutional memory, in the form of previous schoolboard leadership, has started to step forward and assert itself. The point about Bob Gibson’s involvement (as a senior reporter) being an indicator of the seriousness with which the Progress is handling this material is well made: they would not be bringing in their experienced heavy guns unless they anticipated the possibility of a very nasty fight, involving legal actions. To all these community comments, I for one say “Hear, Hear!”, followed by, “Live by the sword, die by the sword” and finally (hopefully), “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”

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