A grievance board judge has ordered the Kanawha County school system to reopen the South Charleston High principal position for applicants, saying the selection of current Principal Gabe King was, more likely than not, tainted by bias and discrimination.
“Disturbing” and “specious” was how the order described the reasons that school central office leaders gave for picking King over current South Charleston High Assistant Principal Kim Williams. She filed the grievance.
Williams, despite the order largely agreeing with her claims, has nonetheless asked Kanawha Circuit Court Judge Duke Bloom to simply give her the position — without having to again apply to the school system’s allegedly bad actors.
Board President Ryan White said the school system will also appeal.
Landon Brown, the administrative law judge that handled Williams’ grievance, raised concerns with the following leaders:
- Outgoing Superintendent Ron Duerring, who ultimately recommended the Kanawha Board of Education hire King;
- Upcoming superintendent Tom Williams, who had King as a student and let him know about the opening;
- Upcoming deputy superintendent Mark Milam, portions of whose testimony Brown called “devoid of trustworthiness;”
- School board member Jim Crawford, who allegedly said he couldn’t support Kim Williams because she’s a lesbian; and,
- The school board in general, for seemingly “rubber-stamping” the hire.
Crawford, who’s running for reelection in Tuesday’s primary, didn’t respond to calls Tuesday. He didn’t testify at the grievance hearings to say whether he said what was alleged.
Kim Williams, despite nearly four decades of experience in the school system, was twice passed over for the principal position.
The second time, the job was given to King.
Kim Williams, 62, had been working in the county school system longer than the then-29-year-old King had been alive, according to the order.
King had been assistant principal of Boone County’s Scott High for just a year, before serving as assistant principal of Kanawha’s Riverside High for about 30 days, Brown wrote. Kim Williams had been an assistant principal for about 14 years.
Duerring, who’s retiring this month, testified that he wanted a “new set of eyes,” Brown wrote. Duerring noted that math scores had suffered under the school’s then-leadership.
Current Deputy Superintendent Tom Williams, who will become superintendent on July 1, had King as a student when he was a principal and served on a doctoral degree committee for King, Brown wrote.
Upon learning that only two people, Kim Williams and South Charleston High’s other assistant principal, had applied for the principal position, Tom Williams asked for the position to be re-advertised, Brown wrote.
Tom Williams then told King about the opening, Brown wrote. Tom Williams didn’t respond to requests for comment, but the school system’s spokeswoman provided a statement on the system’s behalf.
“We are committed to providing a fair process to any employee who raises concerns through a grievance,” the statement said. “As this grievance is still ongoing, we have no comment at this time.”
Crawford allegedly told a fellow board member, Tracy White, that he didn’t support Kim Williams for the position because she’s a lesbian, according to the filing.
Brown wrote that board member Ric Cavender, who’s also running for reelection, testified that he heard about the comment and was angry and concerned about it and brought it to board President Ryan White’s attention. Cavender said Tuesday he heard about it from Tracy White, after the board’s unanimous vote to hire King.
Ryan White took no action, “asserting that he did not believe that it had an impact on the recommendation to hire King,” Brown wrote.
Andrew Schneider, executive director for the LGBT rights group Fairness West Virginia, released a statement saying “unfortunately this year, a handful of lawmakers admitted they don’t believe discrimination happens in our state. This case proves them wrong.”
Schneider noted that, unlike school employees, whom the grievance process protects from sexual orientation discrimination, private employees still haven’t been given such protections in West Virginia.
Even if Crawford did make the lesbian comment, voters this Tuesday could only replace him with one of two challengers, Emily Lanham or Barry Holstein.
Those challengers, unlike Crawford, have given strong statements against giving transgender students access to the bathrooms that match their gender identity.
Brown wrote that the school system violated its own hiring policy by failing to convene a proper selection committee to rank candidates. It broke the policy by leaving off a representative of the school’s faculty senate, which supported Kim Williams, Brown wrote.
Nonetheless, Brown wrote that Kim Williams beat the other three applicants by a wide margin in the interviews (she got an 86, King was No. 3 at 66) and in the overall score (she got 144, King was No. 3 at 118).
Two of the three school officials who interviewed the applicants — the human resources director and Sissonville High’s principal — recommended hiring Kim Williams, Brown wrote.
But the third interviewer was Milam, who’s currently assistant superintendent over the county’s high schools and will become deputy superintendent July 1. He declined comment for this article because the issue was a personnel decision.
He also scored Kim Williams the highest, but was silent when his two colleagues recommended her, Brown wrote.
Kanawha’s policy allows the top four applicants — in this case, that was all the applicants — to be sent to Duerring for him to choose whom to recommend to the board. The board then votes to hire or not.
Milam met one-on-one with Duerring, and Milam recommended King despite not knowing whether King had ever taught in Kanawha and despite King only working under Milam’s supervision for 30 days, Brown wrote.
Kim Williams filed this grievance in November 2018, the month the board hired King. After three hearings in 2019, Brown finally gave his order in late April, according to the order itself.
The state Public Employees Grievance Board didn’t post that order online until Friday.
A couple of board members, including Cavender, testified that they weren’t provided the rankings of the candidates before they voted. Cavender said he wasn’t even provided the names of the other applicants.
While the judge said this seemed like rubber-stamping, Cavender noted that board members are often cautioned not to involve themselves in individual hiring decisions.
Regardless, Cavender said, “there’s obviously bits of information that were not provided when they needed to be provided to me.”