A man in a bow tie poses smiling for a portrait.
Charlottesville City Schools Superintendent Royal Gurley. Credit: Courtesy of Charlottesville City Schools

Charlottesville City Schools has named its new superintendent.

Royal A. Gurley will take the helm Oct. 4.

“There’s a lot of great work happening here,” Gurley told a group of reporters Thursday afternoon. “I just felt strongly when I saw this search … that a lot of my values were aligned closely to the things that the community was looking for.”

What the community was looking for — according to surveys conducted by the search firm hired by the school board — was a strong yet approachable leader who is a good communicator, capable of budgeting, experienced in instruction and possessing “an unwavering commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Gurley’s previous position was assistant superintendent for academic services at the Dinwiddie County Public Schools, located about two hours south of Charlottesville. There, he also organized an equity task force that reviewed school policies and curriculum for cultural relevance and inclusivity, according to a City Schools news release.

I believe that most of the equity work starts with looking at policy first,” Gurley said. “Because policy, that’s what drives our work. So, making sure that we’re not creating any barriers for our students. But also when we talk about equity, what are we doing to move the needle for our students? Are we providing our students with opportunities they need in order to be successful?”

In the short term, Gurely said much of his focus will be on keeping students and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s about our children first,” he said, “but then it’s also about our staff — making sure they have the resources that they need. Making sure that we are implementing mitigation strategies to keep students safe.”

He added that he intends to be transparent about what those mitigation strategies are and why they are in place. He also intends to share realtime information about COVID cases and the other data that the division will use to make decisions on those strategies.

Beyond maintaining a safe learning environment, Gurley acknowledged that the division faces another COVID-related challenge: Catching children up who fell behind during distance learning last year.

We need to be “making sure that we tier our instruction so that we can get our students exactly what they need,” Gurley said. “Some students may need more reading support, whereas others … may need support in mathematics. So as the superintendent I just want to make sure I ensure that the resources, the instructional resources, are available for our teachers and for our students so that we can meet our students exactly where they are.”

The school board began its search for a new superintendent in May after former Superintendent Rosa Atkins announced she was leaving the district for a leadership role with the Virginia Department of Education. Atkins had served as superintendent for 15 years.

Gurley was selected from a pool of roughly 50 candidates.

“We had so many good candidates that we were able to consider,” said school board chair Lisa Larson-Torres. “It was no easy decision, but we’re just so excited about the work Dr. Gurley has done. His history of equity, his history of bringing all perspectives and voices and opinions to the table to work through. It was just how he spoke to it being so important that, if and when decisions were being made, that everybody understands the why.”

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