NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Some students wept from the podium at Wednesday night’s school board meeting as they made the pitch to save the jobs of four beloved principals.
“Throughout the school year, Ms. Cooke made the minds of the young people want to change and do better to make themselves better,” one student said of her principal at Ruffner Academy Middle School, Sallie Cooke.
The district has reassigned, or demoted, four people, including Cooke. A fifth principal at Jacox Elementary School resigned, according to the Norfolk Public Schools.
Rodney Jordan, who serves as school board chairman, says the board voted to reassign and adjust the salaries of the principals on June 7. Jordan says their salaries will likely be lower than the $92,000 to $98,000 they earn now.
Jordan says the board voted after a recommendation from Superintendent Dr. Melinda Boone.
“We are at a critical place in our division,” said Jordan. “The community has said to us they want us to make sure that all of our children are excelling. We hire a superintendent to make those decisions and recommendations. She’s the expert.”
In addition to Ruffner and Jacox, there will also be new leadership at Southside STEM Academy at Campostella, James Monroe Elementary School and St. Helena Elementary School.
A majority of the students, parents and colleagues who spoke expressed their support for Cooke.
“She is here for students and has shown growth with limited resources,” said one woman, who identified herself as a Ruffner employee.
Another teacher at the school, Jamie Meeks, told the board that Cooke should be given more than two years to turn the low-performing school around.
“The only thing consistent with the denied accreditation status that Ruffner has been in for seven, eight years is the inconsistency in administration,” said Meeks. “If we demote Ms. Cooke, in two more years we are going to be in the same place looking for a new administrator.”
All of the schools affected are in low-income areas of the city and got denied accreditation last year.
Khalilah LeGrand, a spokeswoman for the district, released the following statement and said the district can not discuss why the principals were relived from their duties.
As Norfolk Public Schools (NPS) moves forward with its district turnaround efforts, the choices that may result will not always be to everyone’s liking. The decision to move, demote or terminate an employee is never done lightly. Parents, teachers, staff, and community members should know that careful thought and consideration to what’s in the best interest of our students and the district as a whole is always at the core of all decisions being made. Should any actions resulting in a change of status of a contracted NPS employee be taken, they will be entitled to due process. When any determinations on staff changes are made they are based on a myriad of factors. These decisions are difficult to make and are certainly not personal, nor an indictment on any individual’s character or commitment to NPS. We are legally prohibited from commenting on any specific personnel matters.”
The school board has also decided to eliminate 50 other positions after a lengthy budget battle. Those jobs include two elementary math specialists, eight music and art teachers and six guidance counselors.