The Alexandria School Board has scheduled a closed session tonight to discuss the future of Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry and may vote in public session afterward on whether to renew her contract, according to sources close to the board.
Perry's contract, once due to expire in June 2006, was shortened by a year, to June 2005, after her arrest and conviction for drunken driving last spring. The incident sparked an ongoing controversy in which board members and parents have clashed over whether to keep Perry on the job.
Closed sessions are standard procedure for discussing personnel matters.
In April, Gwendolyn H. Lewis was the only board member to vote against Perry's remaining as head of the 11,000-student school district, and she later opposed a plan to shorten Perry's contract by a year but still grant her a scheduled pay increase.
Lewis said yesterday that she has not had enough time to evaluate Perry's performance since then and that it was too early to rule out considering others for the job. "I feel as though we need to do a search" for candidates, she said, "and the superintendent at that time would be evaluated along with the other applicants."
Several other board members expressed support for Perry, who said she is eager to continue in the job and looks forward to overseeing the construction of a new T.C. Williams High School. Perry noted that on her watch, the number of fully accredited schools in Alexandria, based on results on state Standards of Learning exams, has risen from two to 12; two schools have started programs to distribute laptop computers to students; and the district has opened three parent resource centers.
Board Chairman Mark O. Wilkoff praised Perry's performance and called her a "real change agent" for the schools. Citing her work on creating alternative calendars for schools, bringing math specialists to schools and preparing for the reconstruction of T.C. Williams High School, he said "there's been a tremendous amount of support for what Rebecca Perry has done for the school system."
Vice Chairman Mollie Danforth called Perry "a real can-do superintendent." "She listens to the board and to where we want to go, and she takes us in that direction," Danforth said.
Charles H. Wilson, another board member, said that although he hadn't made up his mind, he was reluctant to remove the superintendent in the middle of the high school construction project.
"My feeling is that what is in the best interest of the students is not delaying their school building while they're sitting on the athletic field in trailers because we're trying to make a moral point," he said. "People who say she ought to be fired need to explain to me first: Would it be worth the lack of continuity at the time we need it most?"
Wilson said that based on what he had heard, public opinion was about 70 percent in favor of keeping Perry and 30 percent against. "But the 30 percent that says no, they make more noise than the rest," he said. "Should we give the grease to the squeaky wheel?"
On the other side of the issue is Jim Boissonault, a parent at Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy, who opposes Perry and circulated a petition to oust Melissa W. Luby, the School Board member who was in the car with Perry when she was stopped by police.
"They never should have kept her," he said of Perry. "She is not doing the stellar job everyone is talking about."
But Wilkoff said it was time to put the incident in the past. "We're all human. We all make mistakes. And more importantly, we have to forgive each other for our mistakes, and we have to move on," he said, adding, "I need to make a decision based on what's best for the students of Alexandria."