Locked out


No one, even a career education official like Rebecca Perry, ever thought taking the job of Alexandria School Superintendant, would be easy.

But there she was, only days before finalizing next year’s $200 million fiscal budget, denigrated to what she called a really heated encounter with a longtime School Board adversary whos pushed long and hard for her departure.

She said some things to me that were very unpleasant, comments that were quite inappropriate, said Perry, the married mother of five children. You dont have to be a rocket scientist to realize the writing was on the wall for me to leave; my contract had not been renewed. Our attorneys were negotiating my departure on Wednesday when much to my surprise I learned that a locksmith was coming on Friday, and that I would not have the weekend to pack up.

To save her staff the indignity of seeing her come eye to eye with the locksmith, early Friday afternoon Perry packed up her personal effects and abruptly left the school system she had led for seven years, six months shy of completing her contract.  Well-wishers streaming into the central school system office near Mark Center filed past sobbing subordinates and instead of getting in a goodbye hug from Perry, were met by locksmiths at her door.

This is not AlexandriaThis is not how we treat people in this city, Vice Mayor Del Pepper said. This is not acceptable.

Mayor William D. Euille echoed the sentiment. Would I have handled it differently? Yes. The Alexandria way would certainly have allowed the Superintendant to have a more graceful exit.

Euille said he got first wind of Perrys imminent departure on Thursday during a brief phone conversation with Eberwein. She called me and said they had executed an agreement that Friday would be her last day. Until then, I had had only one meeting with Claire back in October and my assumption until that point was that Becky would stay on board to effect a smooth transition.

On Friday, Euille said he called Perry and wished her the best.  Perry told him she was relieved it was over, but that it had not been a pleasant outcome, Euille said.  Process is always a concern, he added. Would I do this to a city manager leaving me? No. Its not the way we treat people in this city. Things could have been done in a more amicable way.

By Saturday, the story raced across Alexandria school blogs that there had been a shouting match between Perry and her longtime opponent, School Board Chair Claire Eberwein. There was no shouting or screaming, Perry said. Shrieking, maybeClaire always shrieks.

Eberwein did not return several calls or e-mails for comment, so the Times could not discern her side of the story. 

Whatever constituents of the 10,000-student school system thought of Perry and feelings were almost always strong either way there were repeated sentiments expressed across the city that the School Boards process in dumping Perry last May and locking her out of her office last week was rushed and flawed. Perhaps even uncharacteristically impolite for a genteel, albeit fast-paced city like Alexandria.

Its terrible how they treated her, said Karen Hughes, the president and CEO of the Campagna Center.  The whole process seems to have been poorly executed.

For reporters covering the School system and the tempestuous, often unexplained actions towards Perrys contract by some members of the School Board in the last year, there was little notice other than a tersely-worded 5 p.m. press release on Friday, Jan. 18. The School Board issued the following statement:

“At the request of Superintendent Rebecca Perry, the Alexandria School Board has reached agreement with her to conclude her services to the school division prior to the expiration of her contract in June.  Ms. Perry’s last day serving as superintendent will be on January 18th, 2008.  The Board appreciates Ms. Perry’s service to ACPS.”

School Board members have been interviewing Bill Symons, PhD. and will be meeting to formalize his appointment as the interim superintendent next week, the statement said.  Symons has served as a superintendent for 18 years in four systems in three states, including North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. 

His last superintendency was in Charlottesville, where he served for almost six years before retiring in June, 2002.  Symons received his doctorate from Virginia Tech, his masters from the University of Virginia and his bachelors degree from Virginia Commonwealth University.
We understand that Mr. Symons is available to begin work this Thursday, Jan. 24, and we are discussing with him the role of interim superintendent, School Board Member Sheryl Gorsuch said.