After a summer of searching, the Charlottesville School Board found its next superintendent 115 miles away in Dinwiddie County.
Royal A. Gurley, Jr., assistant superintendent for academic services in Dinwiddie County, was named as Charlottesville’s superintendent at the beginning of Thursday’s School Board meeting. Gurley will start the job Oct. 4 with a four-year contract. His starting salary will be $180,762.
Acting Superintendent Jim Henderson has been leading the division since Rosa Atkins retired after 15 years in the job.
Gurley, 40, said he was excited to start working in Charlottesville and that the community’s values attracted him to the job posting, especially the focus on equity and creating new pathways for students.
“It’s an amazing place,” he said during a press conference Thursday outside Charlottesville High School. “There’s a lot of great work that’s been happening here, and I’ve felt strongly that when I saw this search and what the community was looking for, that a lot of my values were aligned closely to the things that the community was looking for.”
That includes a focus on equity and creating new pathways for students.
“I believe that most of the equity work starts with looking at policies, because policy, that’s what drives our work,” he said.
That means ensuring that policies don’t create barriers and that students have equal access to programs such as Advanced Placement courses.
“For me, these things are all essential in terms of moving our students forward and filling that equity gap for our students,” he said.
The Charlottesville community said it wanted a superintendent who is visible to the public, a strong leader and transparent, according to a profile created as part of the search process.
Gurley, a Virginia State University graduate and Sussex County native, is the division’s 14th permanent superintendent. He’s also the first Black man to serve in the role as well as the first gay man. He’s planning to move to Charlottesville with his husband and their two-year-old labradoodle, Cooper.
The School Board is requiring Gurley to live within city limits by July 1, 2022 and for the rest of the contract, according to the contract signed Thursday. Atkins was not required to live in the city.
The city school division will provide Gurley $10,000 to assist with the purchase of a home in Charlottesville that closes by the deadline and reimburse him for relocation expenses, up to $3,000, per the contract.
School Board chairwoman Lisa Larson-Torres said Gurley was picked from a field of great candidates and checked many of the community’s boxes. The board started reviewing applications in early August and then conducted a series of interviews with the finalists — the names of whom were never made public.
“We are so pleased to welcome Dr. Gurley,” Larson-Torres said in a news release. “The Board is united in our support. In a pool of very strong candidates, we felt his interpersonal skills, his division-level administrative experience, and his deep commitment to equity reflected the community feedback we heard. Thanks to everyone who lifted their voice in a survey, a focus group, or by serving on the committee.”
Larson-Torres said the board received 40 to 60 applicants. The Illinois-based firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates helped to evaluate and rank those applicants.
“I commend our entire board for the amount of hours of work, and we couldn’t have done this without the search firm,” she said.
What stood out to Larson-Torres and the board about Gurley was his efforts to bring different perspectives and voices into discussions, she said.
“It’s been so important that if and when changes or decisions were being made that everybody understands the why, and just his passion and commitment to making sure everybody understands the why was so powerful,” she said.
Board member James Bryant said he was excited for Gurley’s tenure.
“As a retired educator, I’ve seen a lot of principals and a lot of superintendents,” he said, adding that Gurley would help the division continue to move forward.
Gurley has been the assistant superintendent for academic services in Dinwiddie County since 2017. As the assistant superintendent for academic services, Gurley said that he was the division’s equity lead and worked with the public to address their concerns in addition to focusing on instruction.
In Dinwiddie, he helped to support efforts to increase the number of students reading on grade level by third grade, according to the division’s news release. He also organized an equity task force to evaluate school policies and curriculum.
Dinwiddie is a similarly-sized school division as Charlottesville with about 4,209 students enrolled in the 2020-21 school year. Charlottesville had The division has seven schools to Charlottesville’s nine schools.
Gurley worked for Dinwiddie schools since 2011 after a five-year stint in Chesterfield County Public Schools. He started his career as a special education teacher in Surry County in 2002. He was also a member of the armed forces, according to the city schools division’s news release.
Gurley takes over the school system in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said keeping students and staff members safe will be his immediate top priority.
A decision about funding the planned reconfiguration of Buford Middle and Walker Upper Elementary schools is expected in October as well.
He also wants to start getting to know the community and schools. That includes attending school events. Gurley noted that the division’s calendar of events for October is busy and that families can expect to see him in the seats of a fine arts performance or in stands at home football games rooting for the CHS Black Knights.
“You are going to see me out and about,” he said, adding that he’s approachable. “… I don’t always sit at the same place when I’m at the football games. I like to be among our families because they have questions.”