Racism, the School Board, and Griffin

In today’s Progress, James Fernald provides an update on last night’s school board meeting, at which Superintendent Scottie Griffin resigned from her position.

After reading the piece, I’m inclined to agree with others who have said that things are going to get worse before they get better. There is great potential for this to get uglier than it has so far. The first red flag is that the 5-2 vote to accept Griffin’s resignation was almost, but not require, along racial lines — the two dissenting votes were cast by Muriel Wiggins and Bill Igbani, two of the three blackschool board members. Accurately or not, this provides the public impression that votes were cast for reasons of race. Igbani said, after the meeting, that he intends to leave the school board before too long — again, a red flag.

After the announcement came, Rev. R.A. Johnson — a strident supporter of Griffin and a harsh critic of those who have questioned Griffin’s qualifications and methods — declared: “Don’t think you can hire somebody black and that’s going to satisfy us.” This calls attention to the bind that the school board is in: if the next superintendent is black, there will be accusations of tokenism; if s/he is white, there will be further accusations of racism.

In the meantime, Dr. Griffin remains the superintendent until June 30, and it’s sure to be an uncomfortable two months.

In this week’s Hook, Courteney Stuart has further revelations about Griffin’s background, including that she’s held seven positions in the past decade, and left four of them midway through the school year, which is quite uncommon. It turns out that the school board knew nothing about her resume or her two legal cases, because they — rather appallingly — counted on the recruiting firm to take care of that. According to the board’s attorney, they may consider taking legal action against the search firm.

All of that may be beside the point, though — if her resignation is perceived to have been forced because of her race, the facts are unlikely to persuade those who see nothing more than institutional racism.

It’s not surprising that Igbani plans on leaving the school board. What’s surprising is that they’re not all planning on quitting.

24 Responses to “Racism, the School Board, and Griffin”


  • I’m going to agree with Waldo, I think the entire school board should resign. They bear equal responsiblity for the problems brought about by this situation. Perhaps city council should urge their appointed school board to step aside, so that the issues brought up could, continued to be addressed by new faces, free of the stains from this current fiasco.

    I have seen elected school boards in other cities, and because they were elected, it didn’t in my opinion seem that they were any *more* responsive to their constituancy than an appointed school board. In fact they seemed more unable or unwilling to make dramatic changes because like any politician they were considering that next election. Now having said that, I’m willing to entertain the idea that maybe.. perhaps.. Charlottesville is, or can be, different, and perhaps it really is time for an “elected” school board. At the very least it’s something else to consider as well.

  • Waldo, just one point for now: Dr. Igbani is not quitting under protest. He is simply referring to the fact that his term on the school board is expiring.

  • For insightful comments on the school board’s responsibility in this situation, see the editorial by Tribune editor, Anges Cross-White, submitted in another cvillenews post. Well worth reading..and she speaks to the context of race, as well.
    Here’s the link : http://www.cvillenews.com/2005/04/21/scottie-griffin-resigns/#comment-13169

  • I’m going to agree with Waldo, I think the entire school board should resign.

    Just to be clear, I didn’t mean to imply that they should all resign, though I see that it looks like that. :) (I’m also not opposing the idea, either — I just haven’t thought it through.) What I mean is that they’re all in a really tight spot, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, independently, every one of them resigned or, in the case of Bill Igbani (thank you, Violet), let their term expire.

  • Having just finished reading that link, I agree with much of what the editor said with regards to race (and the school board). However since I’m not african-american, I believe I would be labled racist for making similar observations, though they would be no less true.

    Issues of educational disparity are almost always socio-economic in nature, and those issues are usually numerous. Regardless of race, the emphasis in the importance of education starts first in the home. When you have a single, or both, parents struggling in low or ‘subsistance’ wage jobs it’s often difficult, to deliver that message. When a child does not succeed in school, it should not solely be considered the failure of the educational system, but instead a joint failure of both the system and the childs parents. There is only so much government can, or should, do to correct a problem.

  • Hmmmm if you were there you would have heard Mrs. Wiggins say that she was voting no to the resignation with one of her reasons being she wanted to know where all the people who are so adament now were when the schools originally were proven to be “failing”.

    Hopefully, they will disclose to the taxpayers whether she was bought out or not.

    If we had gone with who the African Americans on the board wanted originally then we wouldn’t be in this situation.

    Hopefully, we will do more interviewing of districts that the new superintendent will come from and use the google………

  • How about everyone who has written in becomes the search committee!!!!

  • Along the same line as another post regarding a black man dropping out of the running for principle of Burnley Moran. Well aparently the principle of Agnor Hurt will also be leaving her post. She is rumored to have said that she couldnt fit into this community. I will look up some news sources to verify this but it came from very reliable sources.

  • It’s important for posters to know that though the Tribune has a long and storied history in this community, it is not widely read by African-Americans and is considered a very conservative leaning publication.

  • is considered a very conservative leaning publication

    Now there’s an understatement. :) While it is a “black publication,” I think it would be a mistake to look at this editorial (or, really, many others from the Tribune) as representative of the majority opinion of African-Americans in Charlottesville.

    On a different topic, I remain opposed to an elected school board, despite this debacle. I was undecided about the matter for at least a year or two but, upon reflection, that it would result in a less representative school board. As we know from City Council (and, frankly, all of electoral politics), it’s the wealthy who can more easily afford the cost of campaigning, and the wealthier candidates who are more likely to win. If there’s any representation that we need more of on the school board, it’s the lower end of the economic spectrum. That won’t come through having an elected school board — that will come through greater public interest in and input about the application process.

  • Quoting Waldo: “…It’s the wealthier candidates who are more likely to win.”

    In my experience that’s true of all elected positions.

    As I’ve said in my previous post, in my experience elected school boards are no more effective than this appointed one has been, and because they are elected they have probably been even more handcuffed by political concerns than an appointed school board would be. I’d urge any who’ve had strong feelings (on either side) about the handling of this situation to see that there are new faces filling any open seats on the city council during the next election.

    What is clear to me is that both sides want the same thing which is a stellar education for the children in the charlottsville school system, that they’ve been sidetracked from that by all of this, well that’s dissappointing.

  • Quoting Waldo: “…It’s the wealthier candidates who are more likely to win.”

    In my experience that’s true of all elected positions.

    Absolutely. Particularly in U.S. House races — the candidate with the most cash in the campaign account wins. If s/he has personal wealth to pump into the campaign, so much the better.

  • It’s absolute BS that the school board wouldn’t have known about Griffin’s resume after she was hired, if not in one of the closed meeting interviews they had BEFORE hiring her. Articles in several publications and radio made mention of her numerous jobs in building level administration, DC charter schools, and in central office administration. The school board makes the damn hiring choice, not the search firm. The search firm could, theoretically, give the baord what they want if they wanted a black superintendent regardless of credentials I suppose. I can’t imagine that in a closed meeting with each one of the finalists that the subject of their backgrounds and qualifications wouldn’t have come up. And, as with any job, wouldn’t they have gotten references from these past employers????

    While I agree with some of Waldo’s comment on elected school boards, I think the main difference between elected and appointed boards is accountablity. I really don’t believe that (until this year) the Charlottesville school board was really held acountable. I’m sometimes appalled to hear the rationale for educational decisions coming out of some of the board members’s mouths, just because they’re misinformed. While the annual League of Wome Voters forum (I think that’s who sponsors it) for the applicants is interesting, there isn’t enough time to understand who really understands/cares about the education system and who’s just applying for resume padding. With Albemarle’s for example, their board members seem relatively well-informed. Maybe they won their elections through their wealth as Waldo alleges, but they’re just as committed to eliminating the county’s achievement gap as Charlottesville is.

    I’m interested to see who applies for school board this year. I hope that whoever does will be able to look past this sensationalized mistake and focus on the education issues at heart in the system.

  • I really don’t believe that (until this year) the Charlottesville school board was really held acountable.

    I’d thought that, until July 2002, when Council booted everybody from the board — or, at least, those three members whose terms were up.

  • If their terms were up.. how can you call it, “Booting”?

  • Martindavis- you add an interesting perspective. My question to you is how can you support Griffin only because she is black but not support the Tribune whichj is written by African Americans. This may seem like a typical racist question but I really am trying to understand how those that support Griffin even in the light of all the evidence can then denounce another group of blacks that seem to accept the evidence.

    An elected school board is not necessarilyh the answer. Representation is the answer. We have an opportunity to break new ground. There should be a teacher rep, and a rep from each neighborhood or school- that is voted on by each school. So 6 elementary schools, Walker, Buford and C’ville. OR some rep. for staff on the board. This is an opportunity to make positive change for the future. There needs to be some sort of rep for the staff theat can enlighten board memebres as to what actually goes on in the schools- something we missed this year.

  • If their terms were up.. how can you call it, “Booting”?

    If somebody’s term is up in office, they run for reelection, and the voters elect somebody else, you’d call that “booting” them from office, too. Same deal.

    how can you support Griffin only because she is black

    It strikes me as rather unlikely that many people consciously supports Griffin solely on the basis of her race, much like it strikes me as rather unlikely that many people consciously oppose Griffin solely on the basis of her race.

  • I posted this under another post that started. For those who have been following this discussion, I thought I would post it here in case you are not following those earlier posts:

    Although I think many of you thoroughly enjoyed Shelby Steele’s article, it really won’t go far in influencing the average African-American. It’s no secret that Steele is a staunch conservative that is anti affirmative action. That fact alone will discredit him terribly in the eyes of black folks. Dr. Cornel West, renowned scholar and author of “Race Matters,” debated Steele on his concept of the individual, excerpts are below:

    “If we reach the point where the very notion of being a citizen is simply a matter of manipulation of individual interests and group interests and there is no overwhelming notion of the common good of public interest, we are already headed for war. I’m not that pessimistic. I’m a person of hope. Clarence Thomas in many ways has said the same things that you are saying. He has a picture of Malcolm X in his office. Why? Because he fundamentally believes that most white folks will never change and therefore all black folks can do is fall back on their own resources because the very notion of being tied together for the common good is a joke. And that is a certain kind of conservative implication because it no longer believes in the possibility of mutual respect between cultures, no matter what color they are, it’s not what people believe but what really happens on the ground.”

    TeachCville, I have NEVER stated that I suppport Griffin solely because she is black, NEVER. While I understand how people may draw that conclusion about Griffin’s supporters, largely because of the media slant that has taken place and largely because they have not engaged her supporters, it is a miscalculation to think her supporters are that shallow. I don’t think it’s a racist question, I’m always glad to be able answer questions like this because it will help you begin to better understand black folks. First, I never stated that I didn’t support the Tribune. I was merely pointing out what I know to be a fact. You can survey this yourself. Ask 20 black people you know what they think about the Tribune. I don’t agree with much of the content of the Tribune but I support Ms. White’s right to publish. Better yet, ask a trusted black person you know to conduct the survey and report back to you. Second, the Tribune is written mostly by whites, and even if it were written by all blacks, that would be ignorant of me to support it because of that reason. Some dope dealers are black and I don’t support them because they are.

    Let me say this. If a white superintendent came to town and was qualified and committed to closing the achievement gap he would have the full support of those who support Griffin. If when he came he saw a need to redirect funds, establish initiatives that were aggressively attacking the gap, and many in this community attacked him, many black folks would come to his defense citing racism because the opposers are not just opposing him, they are denying the children that they say care about the benefit of what the black community believes is good for those children. In that vein, it has never been about Griffin the individual, and protecting the individual, it has always been about the position, its symbolic relevance, and how white folks would respond to a shift in the reallocation of resources and implementation of accountably within the district, which many experts will tell you has to be aligned to solve this problem. It’s interesting that one of the candidates that turned this district down the last go round, Pughsley, who took the job in Charlotte, NC, resigned the same day as Griffin effective June 30th, citing some of the same concerns that I have regarding this issue and that is what happens when a minority or a female reallocate funds, move to instill accountability, and cannot benefit from board support because of a vocal constiuency that is respected more than their minority one, largely because of their social ties, cultural ties, and wealth, the result is racism, sexism, and classism.

  • I posted this under another post that started. For those who have been following this discussion, I thought I would post it here in case you are not following those earlier posts:

    Although I think many of you thoroughly enjoyed Shelby Steele’s article, it really won’t go far in influencing the average African-American. It’s no secret that Steele is a staunch conservative that is anti affirmative action. That fact alone will discredit him terribly in the eyes of black folks. Dr. Cornel West, renowned scholar and author of “Race Matters,” debated Steele on his concept of the individual, excerpts are below:

    “If we reach the point where the very notion of being a citizen is simply a matter of manipulation of individual interests and group interests and there is no overwhelming notion of the common good of public interest, we are already headed for war. I’m not that pessimistic. I’m a person of hope. Clarence Thomas in many ways has said the same things that you are saying. He has a picture of Malcolm X in his office. Why? Because he fundamentally believes that most white folks will never change and therefore all black folks can do is fall back on their own resources because the very notion of being tied together for the common good is a joke. And that is a certain kind of conservative implication because it no longer believes in the possibility of mutual respect between cultures, no matter what color they are, it’s not what people believe but what really happens on the ground.”

    TeachCville, I have NEVER stated that I suppport Griffin solely because she is black, NEVER. While I understand how people may draw that conclusion about Griffin’s supporters, largely because of the media slant that has taken place and largely because they have not engaged her supporters, it is a miscalculation to think her supporters are that shallow. I don’t think it’s a racist question, I’m always glad to be able answer questions like this because it will help you begin to better understand black folks. First, I never stated that I didn’t support the Tribune. I was merely pointing out what I know to be a fact. You can survey this yourself. Ask 20 black people you know what they think about the Tribune. I don’t agree with much of the content of the Tribune but I support Ms. White’s right to publish. Better yet, ask a trusted black person you know to conduct the survey and report back to you. Second, the Tribune is written mostly by whites, and even if it were written by all blacks, that would be ignorant of me to support it because of that reason. Some dope dealers are black and I don’t support them because they are.

    Let me say this. If a white superintendent came to town and was qualified and committed to closing the achievement gap he would have the full support of those who support Griffin. If when he came he saw a need to redirect funds, establish initiatives that were aggressively attacking the gap, and many in this community attacked him, many black folks would come to his defense citing racism because the opposers are not just opposing him, they are denying the children that they say care about the benefit of what the black community believes is good for those children. In that vein, it has never been about Griffin the individual, and protecting the individual, it has always been about the position, its symbolic relevance, and how white folks would respond to a shift in the reallocation of resources and implementation of accountably within the district, which many experts will tell you has to be aligned to solve this problem. It’s interesting that one of the candidates that turned this district down the last go round, Pughsley, who took the job in Charlotte, NC, resigned the same day as Griffin effective June 30th, citing some of the same concerns that I have regarding this issue and that is what happens when a minority or a female reallocate funds, move to instill accountability, and cannot benefit from board support because of a vocal constiuency that is respected more than their minority one, largely because of their social ties, cultural ties, and wealth, the result is racism, sexism, and classism.

  • I wanted our new superintendent to be successful. I wanted to support her; upon first impression she seemed warm and caring. But from day one, stories began to surface about Dr. Griffin’s abuse of power and lack of respect for employees. She yelled at people in Central Office and seemed angry most of the time. She didn’t listen. She didn’t have time to meet with people or to read reports that people had spent months developing. When another school division employee brought up the subject of our AP programs in a meeting, she said she “didn’t have time for that nonsense.” She completely disregarded our PALS reading program that is used by every school division in the state (except two.) She had made up her mind that we were a TERRIBLE school division. She conveyed that to many in the community. She threated legal action against anyone she thought was challenging her, even if it was as simple as asking a question. She treated the principals and coordinators as if they were bad children, without the respect that they deserved. How are we, as school division employees, supposed to respond to that? We felt demoralized ; we were being punished.

    We all want to address the issue of low student achievement. Many of us have devoted the majority of our lives to help all children; why else would we choose to teach in C’ville? We have high-achieving students bound for good colleges who need to be challenged. We also have students who come from homes where the parent(s) are not present, for whatever reasons. I could tell you stories that would break your heart. Within the past month, one of my students told me that his mother did not come home at all the previous night because she had a new boyfriend. He was distraught. Do we really think that passing the SOL tests is a priority for this kid today? Many of these kids are in survival mode; their basic needs of food, clothing and safety often go unmet. Ask the school nurses in the city schools; many of our kids come to school unbathed and unfed on a daily basis.

    I had hoped that Scottie Griffin would reach out to parents of the children we need to help the most. I thought she might visit the communities to encourage more parental involvement in the schools; she might come to football games and become a part of Charlottesville life. A good leader would have appealed to all segments of our diverse population and made an effort to bring us together to solve the achievement gap. Instead, Dr. Griffin rarely if ever visited the schools or communities, and was completely divisive. Rather than standing on her abilities, Dr. Griffin claimed she was a victim of racism. How sad and incredibly counterproductive.

    I wish that the people who stand up at every school board meeting to berate the board would spend just 10 percent of that energy volunteering in the schools. Offer to drive kids to after-school activities, to read with them, to help them with homework, visit them in their homes and HELP rather than criticize and blame. Substitute teach for a day, and get a taste of the challenges we face. Talk with a broad spectrum of teachers and principals and get the real story.

  • CCSTeacher – I agree with you. I work with at risk kids in the CCS system. If the people who show such passion at these meetings in bullying and berating others put that energy with the kids I work with, a huge difference would be made. We actually have asked a few of the folks to come out and help us. It is interesting that they only show up at places where they can get a sound byte. The media and multitudes aren’t there to hear their diatribes where we work, so they say they are too busy or just don’t show up. Many of these same people say they represent the Black Community, but the African Americans we work with roll their eyes and say, just ask them if they live in the city and have kids in the school system. Ask them if they even know kids in the system. They also tell me to look at the Af. Am. City leaders who aren’t at these meetings. They are making a statement by not being there. These same people never had to work with Dr. Griffin. To hear the Board Chair say Dr. Griffin always talked about kids is a shock to me. We have had to fight to keep the issue on our kids this year and not new furniture in Central Office. Let’s forget our own agendas here. I hope we can ALL now focus on what is important which is the Kids and the INDIVIDUALIZED ATTENTION they need. I also could tell you stories of neglect………..and not just by parents………..Social Services is a joke in this town. At a recent meeting a social worker asked a kid, “how can we better serve you better” and the kid simply said, “answer your telephone”. Our kids need ALL of us, black and white alike. RELATIONSHIPS is what it’s all about people, not testing.

  • Rumor has it Dr. Griffin got her last wish. Dr. Purnell, who was the whistleblower and the ONLY one to stand up to Dr. G’s bullying, was demoted yesterday and given a huge pay cut. (an attempt to get Dr. P. to quit without firing her? and a lesson to CCS employees to shutup about injust treatment by the CCS system or pay for it?) Started hearing this was going to happen Mon. night. Anybody know anything?

  • Well, there may be some truth to the demotion, although it’s a fact that there is a freeze on all Instruction Materials. Rumor has it that the money for instructional materials is being used to pay off Griffin and too boot, she’s getting a huge payoff in the neighborhood of $600,000 (I doubt it’s that high)

    So, if Dr. P. got demoted, part of that money may be for Griffin’s payoff.
    Regardless, the other rumor is that Griffin is suing Dr. P. for deflamantion of character!!!!!

    Where is the justice in all of this?

  • I don’t see any justice, just depression.

    Today’s Progress states the School Board said this proposal to demote Purnell was Ivory and Thompson’s idea. They just approved it.

    This story gets more and more bizarre!!!

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