NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The last day of school at Ruffner Academy Middle School included a protest to save the principal’s job. It was a full-blown protest after school ended, and 10 On Your Side was in the thick of things as it played out with a half-mile walk to the office holding the people who made the final decisions to replace Principal Sallie Cooke.
As the school buses left Ruffner Academy for the last time this school year, the protesters came out of the school. They carried signs urging their principal return in the fall. Then more people came out with more signs, and more and more flooded out of the school. In the end, more than 50 had gathered across the street, and soon they would be on the march.
Parent Tracie Bias is really upset that Cooke is apparently out as principal.
“We were told she was removed for SOL scores and staff morale,” Bias said. “Staff morale? Would you look at all these people here? This is staff out here. Parents are out here, and they are still coming. Cooke has been at this school, and has created a real family atmosphere for these kids.”
Cooke wouldn’t talk about her departure, and refused to return our phone calls, but her supporters sure spoke for her. They made signs, and orchestra teacher Andrew Dack had glitter all over his face.
“I’m going to keep that glitter on my face for Ms. Cooke,” he said to laughter from all gathered.
It certainly showed his dedication to the cause.
“It is so important because education is important to us,” Dack said.
Teacher Helen Pryor has worked at Ruffner for 10 years.
“This is the best principal we have ever had for teachers, for students, parents and the community. She knows our neighborhood, she knows our children, and we want to keep her, and they need to listen to us. This is what we want,” Pryor said with absolute conviction.
The group started walking down Tidewater Drive chanting positive things about Cooke. They then turned onto City Hall Avenue, turning into the Norfolk School Administration building. It was a half mile walk up and a half mile walk back.
Student Cheyanne Bias said, “She always calls us her kids. She encourages us to do more…to be our best.”
Dack summed it up this way: “The city is investing money into building malls and shopping centers and repairing the Scope, but they don’t see the value of putting the value into schools because investment is not an immediate return. It comes back much, much later.”
Low SOL scores are the rumor as to why Cooke is out, but preliminary numbers show spiked improvement in math. One sign read “Math has gone up 2016. It was 40 percent, in 2017, 73 percent.”
Police were on hand just in case, but the protesters were only interested in making sure the school administration knew they were here. Organizers went in the building, and were quickly told by the school spokesperson they had to go outside.
“You have to leave the building,” the Senior Director of Communication and Media Relations Khalilah LeGrand said.
Afterwards, LeGrand came out and was gracious with her time speaking to the protesters.
“We are aware of this. We don’t know where or when Ms. Cooke will be placed. Those decisions are still being made by the Superintendent [Dr. Melinda Boone] and the Norfolk School Board.”
10 On Your Side asked, “Can you tell us why she was replaced?”
“I am not at liberty to discuss personnel matters,” LeGrand responded.
But what about that sign concerning the improvements in SOL scores 73 percent in math?
LeGrand quickly said, “Those are preliminary numbers, and they post those official numbers at the end of summer.”
That raised another question: Was Cooke reassigned based on unofficial SOL numbers, which could go up or down?
It’s not clear what’s going to happen to Cooke. She wouldn’t do an interview, but she sure has a lot of support.