Story, board dispute closed meeting
On the eve of a scheduled court hearing involving a member of the Suffolk School Board’s dispute with the rest of the board about open-meetings laws, another issue with it came up during its July 9 meeting.
After coming out of a closed meeting to discuss Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III’s performance evaluation, members took a required vote to certify it. During that vote, the member suing the other members of the board, Sherri Story, voted no.
None of the exchange that followed is on the video of the meeting posted on the division’s YouTube page, as it ends with the board moving into its second closed meeting of the evening.
“And the reason why I’m voting no, which I have a right to do,” Story said, “is because the last 10 minutes turned into an evaluation of me from the superintendent.”
Board member Tyron Riddick then asked for a point of order.
“And that was not – ,” Riddick said before Story continued.
“No, there is no point of order,” Story said. “… So therefore, it was not on the agenda to evaluate my performance as a School Board member. This was your evaluation.”
Riddick continued asking for a point of order, and Story kept talking.
“So I am voting no, because that was not in the certification of the closed meeting,” Story said.
Riddick then asked once more for a point of order.
“Madam chair, I ask that we move forward with the vote per Robert’s Rules of Order,” Riddick said. “After a motion has been made and properly seconded, and the roll is called, all discussion other than a yes or no vote has to cease. And I’m asking that we abide by that policy, not only when it’s convenient for us as board members, but systematically.”
Story replied that it’s not true based on the Freedom of Information Act.
“That’s not true of FOIA, it’s not true. It’s just not true. It’s not true,” Story said as Riddick continued to speak and ask for a point of order, her voice rising, addressing her remarks to board attorney Wendall Waller. “Mr. Waller, anyone for a FOIA vote for closed (meeting) may say why they are voting no.”
Waller confirmed what Story said.
“Whenever there is a no vote on a FOIA closed meeting certification, the person who votes no must state their opposition to the certification,” Walker said, “and it must be included in the minutes of the meeting.”
Riddick said at that point that “if we’re going to put out one side of the story, then the whole story needs to be told, because our superintendent was just greatly disrespected by board member Story to jump up – “
“So now we do have a point of order,” Story said, “because this doesn’t have anything to do with your vote, and you’ve already voted. And by the way, our superintendent got a fabulous evaluation, very high, and he was evaluated very well by everybody, but, that did happen in the closed meeting, and I did have a right to say that. Now let’s move on, and I voted no.”
Riddick had not yet voted at that point.
After he did vote, the vote continued with board vice chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck and board chairwoman Phyllis Byrum, like the other members except Story, voted yes.
Sherri Story will have her day in Suffolk Circuit Court at 9:30 a.m. July 13 regarding her civil lawsuit she filed against the rest of the Suffolk School Board for alleged violations of the state’s open-meetings laws.
However, the attorney representing the Suffolk School Board, Ann Sullivan, asked the court on July 7 for a continuance in the case and renewed its motion for a bill of particulars — a detailing of the charges against it.
Prior to the closed meeting, the board held a vote on the superintendent’s revised evaluation tool. Brooks-Buck said a revision was needed because there was no testing done this year, and the seventh standard in the normal evaluation is based on assessment. Instead, it used six of the seven standards to evaluate the superintendent.
“This board chose to use the assessment scores gleaned from the (Standards of Learning) test as a measure of the superintendent’s appointment,” Brooks-Buck said. “As we developed this tool in 2014, and as we took the training for developing the tool, each board was trained by the Virginia School Boards Association, and we could determine the standards that we were going to choose, the selection of items that we were going to choose, and the standard by which we were going to measure our superintendent’s performance.”
Brooks-Buck said the board’s assessment on the seventh standard is based on the division’s performance on those tests, but because those tests did not take place, the evaluation tool was modified.
Story said teachers were evaluated on all seven standards, and they had tests other than the SOLs. She said under Standard 7, there is a lot of test data that the board could use for the evaluation, and added that if teachers had to use Standard 7, so should everyone. Story said it would hurt teacher morale to not hold the superintendent to the same standard.
“There is still a lot of test data we could use for that evaluation,” Story said, suggesting that Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate scores could be among those used. “I think, for me, it’s more to give a baseline start as a comparison to look for next year. Maybe we won’t have SOLs next year. So we’re never going to use any baseline for any achievement? That I just don’t understand.”
Riddick said using the seventh standard wouldn’t be fair to Gordon since he did not start until October, and he headed the division under normal operations until the coronavirus pandemic hit in March.
“That’s not consistent enough, in my opinion,” Riddick said. “Our teachers, for most of them, have been here since September. Dr. Gordon didn’t have that same luxury.”
Brooks-Buck said not just any test can be used as a measure to evaluate the superintendent, and there has to be consistency in how test data is used as a way to evaluate a superintendent.
Following that vote, in which Story was the lone member not to support the revised evaluation measure, the board received public comments from one person before voting unanimously to go into a closed meeting to evaluate Gordon.
After the vote to certify the second closed meeting, the board voted unanimously to approve a 1-percent cost of living increase for both Gordon and Waller, and also unanimously approved the superintendent’s performance evaluation.
Board member comments
During the board member comment portion of the meeting, Riddick thanked Gordon for coming to Suffolk Public Schools.
“I apologize for the conditions that you have to work under,” Riddick said. “I wish you didn’t have to work under these estranged conditions.”
Riddick addressed comments he made at the board’s June 11 meeting about Story and derogatory comments he said she made when she was teaching him at King’s Fork High School, and said his character was being scrutinized on Facebook as a result of it.
“The level of disrespect and the hostile work environment that we are all working under is absurd,” Riddick said.
Riddick said no one should have to come to work and expect racism, bigotry or bullying from their boss and co-worker.
“What I just witnessed less than 10 minutes ago from Board Member Story jumping in the superintendent’s face, it’s beyond me,” Riddick said. “I’m tired of it. So now, speaking on behalf of Tyron D. Riddick, resident of the city of Suffolk, I’m asking Suffolk taxpayers, I need your help, because we can’t focus on moving our division forward 100 percent when we have to keep, day-in and day-out, dealing with this. What’s next? What you saw tonight, a couple of minutes ago, was not even the tip of the iceberg of what we’re going through behind closed doors, so I’ll stop there, because there is pending litigation we expect to be resolved Monday.”
Story did not respond to Riddick’s comments at the end of the meeting, and Gordon did not respond to either’s comments during the meeting.
Byrum, in her closing remarks, said the board needs a couple of things — God and prayer.
“And we need to think before we open our mouths,” Byrum said.