Legal time: Schools slate special confabs

The Charlottesville City School Board must have some important legal matters to consider. The Board revealed earlier this week it will soon conduct two closed sessions to discuss personnel matters– both meetings at the law offices of McGuire, Woods.

The first closed meeting is slated for Friday, March 25 at 8:30am, the second for just five days later, Wednesday, March 30 at 8:30am. In between that pair of powwows is yet another high-level closed meeting– this one of the Board's disciplinary hearing committee– Tuesday, March 29, at Charlottesville Schools' Central Administration Office on Dairy Road.

It was unclear at press time whether the spate of special meetings has anything to do with the ongoing turmoil over the direction of the school system.

"It involves personnel matters, and those are strictly confidential as a matter of code," says McGuire, Woods attorney Craig Wood. [In the print edition of this story, we mis-stated the attorney's last name. It has been corrected in this online edition.]

In July, the Board hired superintendent Scottie Griffin. The veteran school administrator came to Charlottesville with a doctorate in education from Western Michigan State University and more than three decades of education experience, most recently with the New Orleans school district, where she served for less than six months before accepting the Charlottesville job.

Here, Griffin unleashed an ambitious program of curricular overhaul. Among her goals were closing the achievement gap between minority and other students and making sure schools perform well on the state's Standards of Learning, or SOLs.

However, many of Griffin's proposals angered some parents and teachers who criticized her plans to eliminate teaching and counseling positions and hire high-ranking administrators. Some citizens also took issue with what they considered to be Griffin's high-handed leadership style.

In numerous contentious hearings, some patterns emerged. Parents would complain about Griffin's actions, and her supporters– including UVA's M. Rick Turner, dean of the office of African-American affairs– would accuse Griffin's detractors of racism. Griffin is black.

The tension escalated last month after a letter by a top deputy was leaked to the community. In the February 3 letter allegedly written to Griffin by Assistant Superintendent Laura Purnell, Griffin was accused of being "punitive," "verbally abusive," and "bullying." The upcoming meetings have only exacerbated the landslide of rumors, with many parents wondering whether they concern merely a low-level employee situation or whether bigger issues are brewing.

The town is no stranger to buying out a superintendent who challenged the board. In 1996, Dorothea Shannon received $67,360 to resign quietly. According to media accounts, Griffin holds a four-year contract that pays her $140,000 a year.

Teachers and parents at a February Board meeting