Just weeks before finalizing next year’s fiscal budget, Alexandria Schools Superintendent Rebecca Perry packed up her personal effects and abruptly left the school system Friday.
At 5 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 18, the Alexandria 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.
He will begin work on Thursday, January 24th.
The Perry era ends
In a controversial vote, Alexandria School Board members voted 5-4 on May 18, 2007 in a special session not to renew Perry’s contract when it ends this June.
“She’s achieved a record of many important accomplishments and the entire community can take pride in these accomplishments,” Board Chairman Arthur E. Peabody, Jr., who voted for Perry’s ouster, said at the time. “But for me, we will benefit from new ideas, strengthening the curriculum and a fresh perspective for the students.”
The board has been obligated to notify Perry by Dec. 31 of their decision, but in a May 9 private meeting with Perry, Peabody and Vice Chair Blanche D. Maness reportedly told the schools superintendant that some members were pushing for her to leave. Word soon filtered out that five of the nine members did not want her to stay, which was not enough votes to protect her job. “Ms. Perry is not being fired. She’s not being terminated. This was a personnel decision,” Peabody added at the time.
Voting against the motion not to renew Perry’s contract were members Sheryl Gorsuch, Charles Wilson, Eileen Cassidy Rivera and Ronnie Campbell. Most spoke glowingly of Perry’s achievements during her six year term, and were critical of the fast-track process exercised by the board. “I’m deeply troubled by the rushed nature of this vote,” Rivera said at the time. “We have yet to fully deliberate this issue. I certainly will not be able to answer the question tomorrow in my child’s carpool line, ‘why did this happen?”
Rivera said that a performance standard should have been developed to quanitify the superintendent’s progress. “I have to say I’ve never heard of putting a good superintendant to work without a performance matrix,” she said. “This is a practice not becoming of Alexandria.”
Gorsuch agreed. “I regret that we are not providing for adequate public input,” she said. “I don’t believe a change in leadership is needed at this time. [Perry] has demonstrated results on every student achievement level and she’s built a strong team which works well together.”
Campbell said she began working with Perry in 2001 as a PTA leader and at the time marveled at the team she had assembled. “We have not always agreed, but I feel she has always been open and honest with me,” she said. Cambell added, “The priorities of this board should be re-evaluated.”
$50,000 in search costs
The costs of finding a new superintendant were estimated at $50,000, and some members said they had been fearful that the circumstances surrounding Perry’s ouster might be damaging to the search.
The superintendant manages 18 schools with an operating budget of $182 million and a capital improvement budget of $97 million. Some 10,057 students are enrolled from 88 different countries, and speak 69 native languages. Aftrican Americans and Hispanics comprise about 69% of the student population, and 52% of students are eligible for free or reduced meals.
Assistant Superintendant John Porter, a 38-year veteran of the school system, lauded Perry for improvements to the quality of public education in Alexandria. He cited the increase in SAT scores, the jump in number of fully state-accredited schools from two to 14, the number of schools meeting state requirements for Adequate Yearly Progress, improvements in the minority achievement gap and the dramatic turnaround of the once-failing Maury Elementary School.
“It’s been a very positive, upward trend during Becky’s tenure,” said Porter, who’s worked under seven superintendants. “She’s really brought into focus areas where we needed support and direction.”
Member Charles Wilson said he had been “vigorously opposed” to changing course. “My concern is transparency,” he said. “Too much comment can be helpful.”
Dissenting members were thin on reasons why they chose not to renew Perry’s contract. oard members Maness, Folkerts and Claire M. Eberwein refrained completely from commenting on Perry or their reasons for not renewing her contract. Afterwards, Eberwein had simply called it a “personnel matter.”
Perry said at the time, “My contract’s up in a year and it’s been a wonderful community to work in… “Leaders sometimes have to make tough decisions, and at times my decisions were not the most popular ones. But I can’t help but be proud of the wonderful achievements I’ve made here.”
When Perry arrived from the superintendent’s job in Mecklenberg County in 2001, only two of Alexandria’s 16 schools were accredited. “Now, seven years later, only two of the 16 are not accredited,” she said. “I’m very proud of that accomplishment.”
Perry has said she has been leaning towards retirement after leaving office.