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Kim Williams started Monday as the principal of South Charleston High School, after the Kanawha County school system declined to appeal a judge’s order putting her in the role.

Gabe King, whom Williams replaced at South Charleston, is moving back to Riverside High to be an assistant principal, district spokeswoman Briana Warner wrote in an email.

“They are both great administrators and we’re lucky to have them in our system,” Warner wrote. “We realize that the past two years have been difficult and we look forward to moving forward and working with them both to improve our schools.”

In 2018, the district passed over Williams to hire King, who had then only taught for three or four years, served one year as an assistant principal in Boone County, and served about a month as an assistant principal at Riverside. He was 29 at the time.

Williams, now 63 and in her 40th year in Kanawha public schools, had, at the time King was chosen, 14 years of experience as an assistant principal. Seven of those 14 years were specifically as an assistant principal at South Charleston High.

Williams filed an official grievance against the district in November 2018, just after the county Board of Education unanimously voted to give King the position. That grievance eventually became a lawsuit.

On Nov. 20 of this year, Kanawha Circuit Court Judge Duke Bloom ruled in Williams’ favor.

Bloom ruled that state law, state Board of Education policy and Kanawha’s own policy require hiring the “most qualified applicant” for administrator positions. He noted state law requires the “relative qualifications of the applicant” be “fairly judged.”

“It is clear that the ‘relative qualifications’ of King and [Williams] are so tilted in favor of [Williams] that the hiring of King in this case is the very definition of arbitrary and capricious,” Bloom wrote.

“The disparity in experience [both teaching and administrative] is massive,” he wrote. “The absence of any evidence as to the qualifications of King is remarkable.”

Last week, the board spent about an hour and a half in a private, “executive session” that members said they held regarding unspecified legal issues. Board member Ric Cavender said Tuesday they decided then not to appeal.

“It never should have gotten that far to begin with,” Cavender said. “I think that it’s pretty clear at this point that she should’ve been in the job.”

Fellow board member Ryan White said Superintendent Tom Williams (no relation to Kim Williams) asked for board members’ input during that closed session.

“I don’t think any of the board members had an appetite to appeal this decision,” White said.

Earlier this year, a state Public Employees Grievance Board judge ruled that King’s selection was, more likely than not, tainted by bias and discrimination and that the position had to be reopened for applicants.

But Kim Williams pushed further, appealing to the Kanawha Circuit Court to be given the job instead of having to apply again. Bloom agreed and ordered her instatement.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity here, I love this community, I love South Charleston High School,” Kim Williams said Tuesday. “I want to take the school to a different level educationally, academically. I want to always do the right thing for the right reason for every student. Every kid is important, and the goal is for every student who walks through the doors to graduate.”

Jeffrey G. Blaydes, Williams’ attorney, said she is “appreciative of the support that she has received from Kanawha County Schools in making this transition.”

Enter the matrix

King, the now-former South Charleston principal, was one of just two applicants for the recently open George Washington High principal position.

But the superintendent recommended the board hire the other applicant for that role: board member Jim Crawford’s son, who has been an assistant principal at George Washington for years.

The board, with the elder Crawford recusing himself, voted 4-0 to hire the younger Crawford Monday night. That hiring raised possible continuing issues with Kanawha’s hiring practices. Central to this is “the matrix.”

Kanawha’s hiring matrix score incorporates candidates’ interview performance plus how they fare on criteria that state law says must be considered when hiring school administrators. Those required criteria include, among other things, applicants’ amount of experience, past performance evaluations and degree level.

A large part of Kim Williams’ argument that she was the most qualified for the South Charleston position was that she scored a 144 on the matrix, the highest of the four applicants. King scored a 118.

But Kanawha’s policy allows the top four applicants — in the Williams case, that was all the applicants — to be sent to the superintendent to choose whom to recommend to the board to hire. That can open the hiring to more subjectivity.

Former superintendent Ron Duerring recommended King for the South Charleston job despite his lower matrix score.

Flash forward, and there were only two applicants for principal of George Washington, in the South Hills neighborhood.

On Monday, when the vote on hiring Crawford for the George Washington job came up, board member Ryan White said that due to Bloom’s ruling, “I personally do not think we have much latitude in this because he was No. 1 in the matrix.”

Board member Ric Cavender concurred, saying the ruling set precedent.

Board President Becky Jordon said she supported hiring Crawford for the role, but didn’t agree about the matrix forcing that.

“I really think Judge Bloom is one of the best judges, I respect him, but I don’t think that’s going to set precedence for everyone that’s No. 1 in matrix,” Jordon said after the meeting. “That means you’re going to have all senior people, no new blood, new ideas. And, you know, different personalities, different qualities about each person fit better in different feeder school areas, and that’s the superintendent to know that, and that’s why he gets the top four names.”

Matrix issues aside, Bloom’s order notes the chasm in experience between King and Kim Williams and the weak argument Kanawha marshaled for its choice.

Jordon said she did support Bloom’s order that Kim Williams, specifically, be instated as principal.

“We will continue doing as we’re doing but I just felt like this was a different situation, and I can see why Judge Bloom ruled the way he did, when you read the full depositions of ... some unprofessional comments by different people,” Jordon said.

Ryan White said that if the case had been appealed, “I think there would be a good chance we could win, but I don’t want to risk it on that set of facts.”

“And, like I said, I changed my mind as to who should be there,” he said.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.