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APS Appoints Interim Williamsburg Principal, Hires Lawyer

by ARLnow.com February 9, 2011 at 9:14 am 4,536 43 Comments

Update at 11:10 a.m. on 2/10/11 — APS has clarified that the scope of the “legal services” provided by the outside legal counsel has yet to be determined.

The brouhaha over the resignation of Williamsburg Middle School principal Kathy Francis continues.

Arlington Public Schools announced last night that it had approved the hiring of an outside legal counsel to defend the school system against review allegations made by Francis, who sent a lengthy resignation letter to parents last week. In the letter, Francis accused superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy of “discrimination” and harassment.

APS also announced additional, temporary leadership changes at Williamsburg. Retired Wakefield High School principal Doris Jackson will work part-time as interim principal of the school, alongside Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services Meg Tuccillo.

Assistant Principal Dr. Eileen Wentzel will delay her move to another position in order to stay on at Williamsburg through the end of the school year, the school system said.

“I want to thank the Williamsburg staff for the work they have been doing with our children,” Dr. Murphy said in a statement. “I especially appreciate the leadership of this team, particularly during the past week. Finally, I am grateful for the added help of Ms. Tuccillo and Ms. Jackson.  I am confident that this team will work to ensure that the education and success of our students remain the primary focus for the school.”

The school will start the process of hiring a new principal “in the next several weeks.”

  • steve

    This will tear libs apart when its revealed the the incompetent teacher was someone of “diversity” and libs will not know what is more important, union jobs protecting the incompetent if they are people of diversity , or keeping a competent principal.

    • NArl

      I don’t really see why you are making this into a political argument. Are you just that bitter or something more sinister. Why did you have to put the word “diversity” in qutoes. Do you fear people who may look different than you, act different than you, think different than you. Its people like you that creat all the hate and anger that this country has had to deal with for the last two years. Please you really don’t need to share your hate.

    • david

      I think liberals care just as much as conservatives about making sure their children receive a quality education. Making this a political argument is just absurd.

      • steve

        Really, I suppose that’s why liberals were so furious with Michell Rhee in DC because she dared challenge the Unions and somewhat expected parents to do their jobs as parents, hence making liberals upset that she didn’t insist on the school/government being the parents for children with the otherwise HORRIFIC performance of students in DCPS due to the absolute shunning of education by the students/parents that attend DCPS?

        • mehoo

          Unions! Lib’ruls! Global warming is a hoax! Obama’s a secret Muslim born in Kenya!

          • steve

            Way to avoid any point I made. I bet libs like you love having permanent underclasses that shun education, it makes you feel like you are parenting them by having them completely reliant on the government.

          • local

            We’ll have to wait and see whether your predictions about this issue “tearing liberals apart” comes true. Until then, not much more to say.

          • Parent of 2

            Okay, Steve, we heard your prediction. Now are you going to answer my question: what’s your source of information about this teacher?

          • Arlingtonian

            I know the individual referenced in Ms. Francis’ letter. This individual is not a teacher and is definitely not a safety threat.

        • Bluemont John

          Hey, Steve! News flash: Michelle Rhee is a Democrat. Appointed to her prior post by a Democrat (Fenty). Many liberals (among others) thought she was great–including me.

    • Parent of 2

      Steve, where are you getting this information about “the incompetent teacher”?

    • mehoo

      Steve’s on the case again!

    • BoredHouseWife

      This comes to mind:

    • Arlingtonian

      Actually, there is not teachers’ union in Virginia, and it is against the law for teachers to unionize. So, your comment about teachers’ unions are not relevant. Also, please keep in mind that the two highest ranked state educational systems in the country are unionized while the two lowest are not. There is no correlation between the presence of a teachers’ union and how well students do or do not do in the classroom. Finally, I am a former APS employee who knows all the inviduals involved in this situation. The staff member who was transferred was not a teacher.

  • NArl

    Ms Jackson is a great person and was one of the best principals in the county. She will truely get Williamsburg Middle School back on track from all the drama that was caused by the exit of Ms. Francis. I am also happy to see Dr. Wentzel will also come back as a asst. principal. With the strong leadership of ms Jackson I am sure that the teachers, students and parents will all be happy with the results.

  • cody

    Steve,you are an idiot!

  • disappointed

    It was odd to me that at the PTA meeting last night that no mention was made of Ms. Jackson’s assignment. They did introduce Ms. Tuccillo, who spoke for a bit and whose address was very reassuring. We were basically told that she would be the principal for the rest of the year. I have no idea why they mentioned nothing about Mrs. Jackson.

    The school board members and superintendent were defensive and unyielding. That was very disappointing. Abby Raphael claimed repeatedly that they had no knowledge of the issues with Ms. Francis before receiving her letter, but continued to reiterate her “full confidence” in Dr. Murphy.

  • Lumiere

    Speculation is just that for all of us.

    1) None of us know any specifics, nor SHOULD we. Ms. Francis showed incredibly poor judgment by starting this entire drama in the first place and APS (fortunately or unfortunately) is doing the right thing. HR decisions and moves are ENTIRELY confidential and should never be released, even more so in a heated drama zone where they’ll only make the situation worse.

    2) There is very little in Dr. Murphy’s background that suggests he does things like this. His last position was highlighted by bringing accountability to FCPS and I would bet there are quite a few Arlington principals who are unhappy as I am sure he is removing some of their fiefdom.

  • Murphy’s Law

    The board should be hiring an outside entity to investigate the principal’s allegations against the superintendent in an impartial manner, not an outside lawyer to defend APS in litigation. The board is battening down the hatches instead of getting some fresh air.

    • Parent of 2

      This was a topic that came up in parents’ questions at last night’s meeting. Libby Garvey reported that the law firm they hire will be investigating the allegations. Parents were stressing that they wanted the scope of the investigation to include the issue of poor management, not just discrimination. In other words — even if the legal definition of discrimination is not met, the Board should get information about Dr. Murphy’s management of staff and whether or not there is an environment of retaliation. We’ll see if it happens.

      (I had to leave before the Q & A was done, so I might have missed additional information.)

      • Lou

        I thought the principal filed some sort of discrimination complaint with someone (EEOC, state equivalent? I have no idea). That is the investigation that should matter the most. A law firm that is paid by the county to investigate claims and allegations is not going to pass the smell test.

        • Parent of 2

          The defense against the EEOC claim will be handled separately, apparently. I understand those cases can take a long time. The questions about Dr. Murphy’s management need to be addressed now, or at least as quickly as possible. Law firms are routinely hired to investigate these sorts of allegations. They will be reporting to the School Board, not to the Superintendent, and they are ethically bound to get the facts out for the Board. I’m sure some will say, since the lawyers will be paid for by the Board, that their report will be biased. An outside law firm will certainly be less biased that a report from within APS, and someone has to do it. There are unfortunately no Magic Impartial Investigating Leprechauns out there providing this sort of service for free.

          • jrs

            No Leprechauns, maybe, but an auditor would be more independent than a law firm. Lawyers are ethically bound to serve the needs of their clients, and the client is whoever pays the bills. Government auditing standards require auditors to report their findings with no exception for cases where the findings are detrimental to the client. Since the outstanding concerns are about process and fairness, not legal compliance, an outside audit firm is more appropriate.

          • JeffM

            Your points are well taken and in the context of an outside law firm reporting to the School Board, not APS, to help the board examine the facts behind the leadership failure regarding WMS, it could prove highly salutary. What is NOT needed is an independent review board with an overreaching charter and some sort of binding arbitrating authority over APS and the School Board.

      • Murphy’s Law

        Thanks for the additional info. The board’s news release says that the (unnamed) lawyer was hired “to provide legal services to the School Board regarding the allegations made by the Williamsburg Middle School Principal,” which could mean that the lawyer will defend APS in litigation, or will investigate the allegations from a neutral perspective, or will attempt to do both. If the lawyer is supposed to wear both hats (independent investigator AND defense counsel), it won’t work.

  • JeffM

    The speculation and gossip should cease–it’s a waste of energy, can wrongly and grievously harm someone’s professional reputation, and also undermine the considerable power that WMS parents already have to address this challenge.

    For those who are angry at the school leadership, please keep in mind that Dr. Murphy and the School Board are not simply under a spotlight right now, they are under a microscope, and the truth behind the failure of leadership at WMS will ultimately emerge. The HR details will never be revealed, nor should they for both moral and legal reasons. What is paramount for WMS parents and Arlington residents is how APS and the School Board address this challenge going forward.

    No independent investigation is necessary–the School Board will either meet this challenge in a forthright and salutary way or it will fail the test of leadership. Either way, Arlington voters will have the final word at the ballot box. Every School Board member is aware of that essential truth. No elected Arlington leader can safely risk a failure of duty in this matter, especially when their most affected constituents are located in the 22207 zip code, perhaps the most politically astute and active area of Arlington. Time will tell.

    It is evident that APS is going the extra mile to ensure strong leadership for the middle school for the balance of the school year and every WMS parent and Arlington resident find reassurance in that.

    The task for WMS parents now is to work constructively with the PTA to keep the school moving forward in a positive direction, while carefully watching the actions of APS and the School Board. The task of APS and the School Board is to fully and honestly examine the failure of leadership that led to the abrupt resignation by the WMS principal. The parents and students of WMS and the residents of Arlington County deserve nothing less.

  • lol @ willaimsburg having as much drama betwixt the teacvhrs as they do the kids.

  • Concerned Mom

    I think that the School Board (namely Abby Raphael, Libby Garvey and Sally Baird) have shown that they aren’t interested in playing fair and are showning nothing but disregard for APS voter concerns. Abby is up for re-election but unless someone steps up to run against her, she will even have less regard. She will be voted in by defalt. I hope that won’t happen. The requirements for running for the Arlington County School Board in the upcoming elections can be found by googling “Arlington Democrats.” March 1 is the deadline for declaring candidacy on the Democratic ticket. Lets face it, whoever wins the Democratic Caucus in Arlington, is the School Board victor in the general elections. Let us give Arlingtonians a choice in leadership. Abby Raphael, currently APS School board vice-chair, is slated to be the next chair of Arlington County’s School board if she is elected. Please encourage your local school leaders, or smart neighbors to consider a run. It’s the best way to hold the school board accountable.
    http://www.arlingtondemocrats.org/ht/a/GetDocumentAction/i/1330324

    • cranky.crankypants

      not to foment an insurrection, but there may well be others out there who are interested in running and serving. If the establishment is backing a candidate that is serving poorly, it is pretty easy to organize primary voters. ATS did it a few years back. You can, too.

    • curiousvoter

      That document gives the required procedures for candidacy. Can anyone point me to the requirements for serving? Obviously you need to be an Arlington citizen, but what else? Are there requirements in terms of length of residency, age, occupation, etc? Would I be correct that no one who works for the Arlington schools is eligible? How about other school districts?

  • Concerned Mom

    One other thought, if parents and Arlingtonians want this to be a fair process, I think that Ms. Francis and the School Board should be made to agree to who that “impartial” third party would be. The School Board isn’t exactly rushing to get to the truth.

  • Arlwhenever

    It’s important to know the identity of the oustide counsel and how selected.

  • MomOfTeens

    I thought Ms. Francis stated she was not going to sue. Why is Arlington hiring counsel? Not that I’m surprised, it’s what the Arlington School Board and County Board LOVE to do. “By all means, let’s take this to court, no matter how much it costs the taxpayers!” And they seem to always lose! I had 2 kids go through Arlington Traditional School; during that time, the School Board kept hiring counsel who convinced them they would be able to keep their unconstitutional admission policies in place. This ended in the School Board being basically slapped down by the Judge – twice. This will end just as badly for all.

  • APS Admin

    Dr. Murphy is a bully who manipulates and intimidates his administrators on a daily basis. He has run a number of quality administrators out of the district already because they chose not to stay and put up with his abuse. Like any bully, he puts on a face of innocence for the public, but he is in reality a cruel, vindictive, insecure man with the conscience of a 6th grade school yard bully.

    Dr. Murphy has aligned himself with Dr. Elizabeth Hobbs, who herself has a long track record of victimizing personnel and leaving a trail of ruined careers in her wake. Other administrators close to him are avoiding him at all costs and trying to survive in the hopes he will not last long. Many others will be leaving this year as a result of his ruthless mistreatment.

    This is why Kathy Francis needed to publicly state her reasons for leaving. We who are serving within APS are grateful that she has called this to the public’s attention. While the APS investigation will be a farce, the EEOC investigation is going to blow this wide open.

    • Lumiere

      No offense to APS Admin directly…

      I totally agree about Dr. Hobbs having some seriously outdated and backward policies about HR. BUT I also have a bone to pick about “running quality administrators out of the district.” I know of quite a few administrators that should have been run out of the district long ago for the way they treated their staff and school. At least one of them ran me and a full 1/3 of her staff out of the district 3 years running. Some turnover is to be expected, but 3 years straight of 30+% turnover speaks to the administration of the school not the quality of the staff.

      • Arlington Admin

        I totally agree – I am not trying to defend administrators underneath Murphy in general. But if you look carefully at the central office and building admins who have left since Murphy’s arrival, they are shockingly high-caliber people for the most part. Rather than focusing on the pockets of problems in APS, I hope the discussion will continue to focus on Murphy and the need to get him out ASAP.

  • Observer

    What’s obvious about this discussion is that the focus has moved from a personnel matter to a critique of organizational health of the schools system. What seems evident is that the superintendent has distanced himself from his workforce. No matter where you go in the school system the rank and file are angered. Right or wrong, they feel that, You can’t engage a teacher or administrator today who privately has a positive comment about their leader. He has lost their support. So you have to ask what is his goal? Transform the school system? You have to ask ‘so what was broken?’ and why alienate your people. And most importantly “is the School Board that distanced from the school workforce that they can’t or won’t realize there is a problem.

    The Superintendent has tied his future to the elected board. A gamble. At day’s end they appear to be his only support and they will turn with the wind of electronic media.

    • DSH

      I agree with all Observer had to say.

      My wife and I attended the PTA meeting last night and were appalled by the disconnect exhibited by the Superintendent. He seems to have a complete lack of understanding of the overwhelming displeasure with his leadership ability. (Frankly, the School Board members also exhibited this behavior in healthy measure…)

      Not only was Dr. Murphy quite inarticulate in his responses to most questions posed by the parents; he showed, in his prepared statement, a total lack of the necessary speaking skills needed to function as a good administrator. The School Board needs to take a very careful look at this man and decide if they truly feel Dr. Murphy is worthy of putting their own political capital in jeopardy.

      Aside from the general obfuscating that we have come to expect from this group of individuals, I was dismayed to hear all the talk about “Strategic Plans, “Taking the school to next level”, etc… Quite frankly, as an educator myself, I would be deeply offended by this kind of talk. We’ve already had two of our children go through Williamsburg Middle School and next year our third child will attend the school. I can say from personal experience that the Principal, staff and teachers are and were exceptional! There is absolutely no need for “strategic” or “next level” mumbo jumbo here. Our Superintendent should have been positively thrilled by what he saw at Williamsburg and furthermore should have given Ms. Francis the support that she and her staff deserved. Dr. Murphy, with his very limited teaching experience (no core curriculum – only Phys-Ed), could and should have learned volumes from a person with such skill that Kathy Francis exhibits. His behavior shows the kind of deep-seated insecurity this man is fraught with.

      I hope the board will take immediate action and remove Dr. Murphy before he has a chance to take any of our other fine schools “to the next level” in Arlington County – they should cut their losses and move on. And, when Kathy Francis’s name is cleared they should beg her to come back to WMS.

      Our children deserve much better from our elected School Board.

      • Undereducated

        Dear Ms. Garvey, I attended the PTA meeting, and I was appalled by your apparent lack of understanding of the concerns of the Williamsburg community and by the arrogance of the APS Board members and Administrators; all we got for our time was stonewalling and whitewashing. You and Mr. Murphy just don’t seem to get it. The damage done to APS by mismanagement of WMS’s personnel issues will be long-lived. Claims of discrimination, reprisal, and hostile work environment are not trivial issues. They must be thoroughly and fairly investigated to determine the veracity of the claims. The Board’s taking money out of the classroom to hire a defense team is not what I heard the community asking for; the community asked for an audit, not a defense, of the management and administration of APS. As a taxpayer, I want to know, for better or worse, what is going on behind closed doors by the School System’s Public Servants whose salaries are paid with my taxes. I would hope the SB would want that too.

        But more to the point, there is a rot in the school system and it needs to be swiftly and aggressively treated. Only then will we be able to begin the healing process and move forward. Without treatment by the School Board, I look for a long painful decline in the quality and health of the APS System. Along with other parents and educators, I believe our children deserve better from the SB and administrators of the APS System. Sincerely, A Concerned Parent, Taxpayer, and Voter.

  • JeffM

    Sadly, there is a greater tragedy occurring in the WMS community that goes beyond the abrupt resignation of the principal. Many WMS parents and area residents are recklessly sounding off in public forums with blistering attacks, speculation, and gossip. This includes slanderous speculation as to the identity of the WMS staff member who supposedly is a safety threat.

    The community’s better angels have been eclipsed by the demons of fear and blame. No matter how this saga ends, there is a grievous wound on the human values and spirit that bind us together.

    I have waited for an Arlington leader, elected or otherwise, to rise up to this challenge, thoughtfully address our legitimate fears and concerns, and help unite us for solutions. This is our Tuscan moment. How does Arlington measure up? The answer is obvious. The community—its leaders and its residents—are failing the test of leadership. Who is responsible? Look in the mirror and many of you will find the terrible answer.

    I have urged Arlington residents to act constructively and respectfully on this matter. It’s a plea that appears to have fallen on deaf ears. For those who are committed to pursuing a path of unbridled anger and vengeance, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. And Arlington will suffer the terrible consequences for years to come. We can and must do better.

    • RDS

      Tuscan moment? Like a cornetto and cappuccino?

  • APSnumberone

    JeffM is right. Let’s step back and let the investigations by the Board and the EEOC take place and make their findings. The school is in good hands with experienced administrators at the helm. It is a good thing, however, for the Board to be aware that the voting public is paying attention and expects fair treatment for all.

  • UNHAPPYAPSEMP

    This whole thing with Kathy Francis putting the Super and his Minion on blast is fantastic. I’ve worked here for 10+ years and have witnessed and have experienced the wrath of Hobbs. APS Admin’s post is accurate, Murphy is a bully and so is Hobbs. The sad thing is that, many good employees from the top down have either resigned, retired, been forced to resign all because of the treatment they’ve received from Hobbs and now Murphy. Francis’ resignation and bitterness is not an isolated incident,in fact, this type of treatment has been going on for quite some time. When it comes to harassment or discrimination, current employees better keep their mouths shut, otherwise there will be retaliation, especially from Hobbs. I hope the EEOC does a thorough investigation and the Board finally does their job, by getting Hobbs OUT!

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