A Brief History of C’ville Superintendents

Because I have terrible time management skills and, currently, writer’s block on my class-assigned paper topic, I want to lay out the history of Charlotteville superintendents for the past few years, since I found a little back reading to help get a sense of how we got where we are today.

  • 10/19/2001: Bill Symons, superintendent since 1996, announces his intention to retire in June of 2002.
  • 05/01/2002: The school board announces that they have three finalists to replace Symons, whose retirement is 60 days away. Those are Jean Murray, Albemarle’s assistant superintendent for instruction; James Bughsley, deputy superintendent for Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Schools in North Carolina; and Kriner Cash, superintendent for Martha’s Vineyards Public Schools. Two of the three candidates are black, which is noteworthy because there is pressure on the board to appoint a black superintendent. A decision is due in five days.
  • 05/25/2002: Cash, the board’s stated #1 pick, declines the offer.
  • 05/29/2002: Pughsley, the board’s stated #2 pick, accepts the job of superintendent in Charlotte, NC. Murray, the board’s last choice, withdraws her application. Now there are no candidates.
  • 06/14/2002: Murray leaves her job to become superintendent of the Stafford County school system.
  • 06/27/2002: City Council refuses reappointment for all three school board members whose terms are ending, appointing Peggy Van Yahres, Michael Heard, and Bill Igbani. This clean sweep was said to be a result of the board’s bungling of the superintendent hiring process.
  • 08/19/2002: Ron Hutchenson, who had been named as a stand-in until the board could name a superintendent, is hired on a two-year basis, giving the board some breathing room to hire a new superintendent.
  • 05/27/2004: Dr. Scottie Griffin is named superintendent.

I have now read and written the word “superintendent” so many times that it’s lost all meaning to me.

8 thoughts on “A Brief History of C’ville Superintendents”

  1. Waldo,

    Thank you for this brief history of our schools’ superintendents and school boards. An important fact to add is that Arletta Dimberg was the Assistant and/or Deputy Superintendent during the reigns of all of the superintendents you named, as well as several before that (Cibarelli, Shannon, McGehan). Ardee was the constant. Ardee’s intelligence, vision, dedication, skill and heart held this school division together and helped create our wonderful AP programs (for which out-of-district students line up to be a part of), our heralded and first rate fine arts programs, and numerous intervention programs such as Book Buddies. For all of her substantial accomplishments in her more than three decades in the Charlottesville City Schools, Ardee was not given a gold watch; she was given the boot last summer in a rude and humiliating way. Her disappearance was never explained to the staff of the Charlottesville City Schools. Ardee did the work of four or five people, and soon it became obvious that many balls were being dropped in Central Office. Many of us are still reeling from the loss of such a valuable and respected member of our school division.

  2. The lesson that I’m starting to come away with here is “promote from within.” Cultivating our own talent seems a better approach than hiring outsiders in so many ways. The tradeoff will inevitably be, at first, that we’re going to have to hire people who don’t have experience being a superintendent. But everybody’s got to start somewhere — so let’s have our people start here, now, and set up a process by which we can train replacements.

    I’ve never run a school system. I’ve never served on a school board. But this seems obvious, particularly in the face of the last few years’ hiring process.

  3. Promote from within is nice — if you’re already going in the right direction. If profound change is needed, you’ve gotta hire from outside. Ron Hutchenson was a lovely, quiet two years of status quo. NCLB is a nightmare, but a nightmare we have got to navigate and our local school board has no authority to overturn it. The only thing we can do is turn down the Title I money — but we can’t afford that.
    Chicago schools are in a huge jam these days: next school year twenty-some of their schools are looking at having to fire their entire staffs as a consequence of NCLB. Talk about losing your institutional memory then.

  4. I disagree strongly about Ron Hutchinson – although he as hired as a ‘caretaker’ he made significant efforts to make targeted reform in several places. In particular, he focused on:

    – replacing an incompetent administrator at Buford, and brining in someone who could provide real reform leadership directly targeting the issues of lower achieving students. The previous principal at Buford was a ‘microcosm’ version of Griffin division wide, and set their math dept. reeling.

    – working directly with Clark and Jackson-Via to bring up scores.

    He did not engage in flashy reform, or buzz-word-of-the-day ‘programs’ which places like Curry churn out endlessly. In very large measure, he focused on good governance and a sound working knowledge of the specifics of our system as the way to achieve the AYP goals. Under his term, several schools made the required progress and did well. If not for his leadership approach, we’d be in much worse shape than we are today.

    Ardee Dimberg does have a long and distinguished track record with a number of fantastic achievements to her credit. She also had a well-established bureaucratic echo chamber/layer surrounding her, comprised of “Curriculum Coordinators”, mostly teachers who wanted out of the classroom, and a place to park until retirement, who in many cases did very little ‘real work’ – there are/were exceptions. This was not unlike the layer Griffin was attempting to construct with associate/deputy supers.

    Ardee was also the acting superintendant for over a year while the search resulting in Bill Symons was under way; in that round, she stepped up to the top while Ron Hutchinson played understudy. Those two administrators balanced each other extremely well and deserve credit for much/most of the good stuff coming out of central office for the past 5-7 years. Bill Symons was an absentee ‘executive’ who did not involve himself at all, providing ‘oversight’ instead. During his tenure, Dimberg and Hutchinson made most of the operating decisions, and generated most of the ideas and initiatives.

    In my opinion, promotion from within is an excellent approach; a known entity who has lengthy experience at the central office (associate/assistant/deputy/whatever- superintendant level) is a very good choice. In the tradeoff between having someone who doesn’t know/understand the system vs. someone without super-level experience, we’re far better off with the latter handicap.

    C’ville is probably too small a system to attract top-level talent with experience at the superintendant level anyway; as I recall from previous searches, top candidates have frequently selected other, larger (more $$ and more glory) systems. We are far better off snagging some rising talent – an assistant/deputy moving up into ‘the big chair’ for the first time.

    Right now, it’s not clear that the current CO has the appropriate talent to promote from within:

    Dr. Thompson is a competent leader who exercises good judgement in surrounding himself with competent subordinates. He would be of the Symons mold, but not as absentee. Personally, I think there are talented people to support him in that role, in the system.

    Dr. Dimberg could be brought back, but I suspect she’s a lighting rod, and not a good choice for calming tensions. A good review of her previous year as acting super would provide some background. She’s probably more valuable as an assistant back in charge of curriculum. Probably best if she just retires at this point, though.

    Dr. Heard is a bright and strong administrator, but from what I gather, does not have a lot of experience with a broad range of duties a super would be required to address. He is a valuable asset as a recruiter, though, and given the perception that the city is racist in it’s hiring policies, he is probably the right man in the right job already.

    Dr. Purnell: who knows, her handling of her unhappiness was instrumental in cluing the public in about Griffin, and therefore useful, but it calls into question her political tactical maturity. Not ready for the big seat.

    Dr. Ivory: supposedly popular among CO and the schools; I guess we’ll see how she and Thompson handle things. From what I understand, she was part of Griffin’s circle of sycophants, though – and that’s a taint that I view as disqualifying. At the very least, the kind of detailed background search lacking with Griffin would need to be conducted.

    In general, I don’t think Ivory or Purnell should be viewed as promoting from within; they are both outsiders without a lengthy experience in our system.

    Harley Miles: his role is important, but he ought to be subordinated to either operations, if his role is primarily technological and testing logistics, or to curriculum if the testing role is seen more in terms of identifying areas where the curriculum needs tailoring.

    Actually, I’d say we already have plenty/too many CO administrators. I’d say pick one of the existing people (Dr. Thompson seems the best bet) and re-organize the others. I’d go for Thompson on top, Ivory and Purnell handling curriculum/instruction, and Heard out recruiting personnel and helping Thompson with operations. Let’s use the admin salary money we save to pick up a couple of teachers – reading specialists to work in the most ‘at risk’ elementary schools.

  5. cvilleliberatarian

    I’m pretty sure that Robert Thompson, Ivory and Dimberg do not have Ph.d.s although I may be wrong about that.

    I think, for those that were at the school board meeting Thursday, special note should be made of the comments made by the teacher from Buford. Her explanation of how things have successfully changed for the better at Buford under T. Flynn’s leadership was a real eye opener. I’ve met few people who dislike him (black and white) and he’s working on his Ph.d. in Administration (Superintendent). Now Flynn is someone who could listen, pull everyone together, and do a fabulous job of turning Charlottesville City Schools around.

  6. Blogger – I think you’re right; I didn’t check. I don’t honestly think it makes any difference whatsoever. I think the wide gap between the academic credentialling of educators in the education field and the things that make for successful administrators and teachers is one of the big problems with public education in this country. There are, of course, a lot of exceptions; special education and literacy specialists (reading specialists, english education) are notable among them. In areas like math and science, we’d do far better to worry about academic credentials in subject area rather than in general education courses. Just my opinion, not popular I’m sure.

    BTW – Flynn was a Hutchinson hire – and is a perfect example of my point about the kinds of things that having a competent administrator (who worries more about that than ‘grand plans’) can do for the system and the challenges it faces. Pat Daniels, who preceeded Flynn, was a real nightmare and an exemplar of what happens with cronyism. IIRC, she was a buddy of Symons – they’d met at a conference – and he brought her in when she was run out of a superintendency. I wouldn’t swear it was a superintendency – it might have just been a principalship.

  7. cville_lib, your opinion might not be popular among ed-school educators, but i happen to agree with you–in my admittedly limited experience with people carrying ed school credentials, i’ve not been overly impressed with their command of their subject matter. all those methods courses that they take to get the bachelor’s degree seem to get in the way of making them really deeply and well-versed in their subject matter. a straight math major knows math–a math ed major doesn’t really know math in the same way. one could argue that the straight math major might know math but might have no clue how to teach math, and i would grant that point. but it seems the ed-school approach simply sacrifices the depth of knowledge in the subject matter to give the students methods/ed theory courses–i’d rather see some system whereby you get the straight math degree first and THEN get the methods/ed theory later.

    i don’t like it when i feel like i understand a subject better than my kids’ elementary school teachers do. and i’m not degreed in any of those subjects.

  8. Most of you have it exactly right!
    Dr. Cibarelli was the last “hands on” super in the city. He was out and about and knew what was going on in the schools and cared about the south side schools. It took guts for him to shuffle nearly 30 teachers at CHS, Walker and Buford Middle in an attempt to make the schools equal.
    This attempt did not work, hence the current “pairing of the middle schools”.
    Ardee Dimberg was an advocate for the northside/quest parent. She had little time for the south side students or their parents. She was an excellent PR man for selling the schools to the parents that were shopping public vs. private. “She could talk the talk to those that mattered!”
    How many south side parents went to bat for her when she was dismissed?

    Bobby Thompson would be the BEST person for the job! He knows the students, the parents and the teachers. But would he move to the city to take the job???? Bill Symon was an absentee renter his last year…his permenant resident was at Hilton Head, SC. I’d vote for a superintendent that lives at Lake Monticello over a clueless face that buys a house in the city limits.
    Did you know that both Tim Flynn and Ben Sayaski applied for the superintendents job and were not even granted an interview? Tim has been perfect for Buford and Ben did a wonder job at Johnson School and now is at work at UVA.
    You reap what you sow, and I’m afraid that’s what is happening in the city schools right now.

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