Charlottesville, Its Public Schools and UVa – Part Two – Black Students

by James C. Sherlock

What drew me to this story is the fact that Black students in Charlottesville City Schools (CCS) have suffered to a degree unequaled elsewhere in the Commonwealth.

Keeping in mind the domination of Charlottesville and its schools by the University of Virginia and its School of Education and Human Development discussed in Part One, we will move ahead from there.

CCS is a school system designed unusually with six schools for Pre-K-4, one for grades 5 and 6, another for 7 and 8, and a single high school with a couple of alternative programs.

Map of elementary school boundaries courtesy of Charlottesville City Schools.  Author’s annotations in overlays reflect Virginia School Quality data


The map above shows that the Pre-K-4 school boundaries roughly follow the city’s neighborhoods.

Now look at the elementary school performance and attendance annotations.

The biggest anomaly is that the gap between White and Black academic performance in CCS is an ocean. Worse than Richmond both in absolute performance by the Black students and relative to White students.

I can find nowhere in the Commonwealth, including other college towns (and I looked), in which White and Black public-school students exist in academic disparity to the extent they do in Charlottesville.

The Charlottesville High School riots reflect that gulf.  Buford Middle is worse.

CCS has managed to fail those Black children in a relatively balanced student demographic of 42% White, 29% Black, 14% Hispanic, 5% Asian and 10% multiple races.

The teachers have far more advanced degrees, most from UVa’s ed school, than the average school division.

It just doesn’t work.

CCS does not enforce truancy laws. Possibly because they think inequitable outcomes would result. Instead they have well-meant but demonstrably failed multi-part strategies to encourage attendance.

There is no effective order and discipline in some of the schools. Same mind set.

So a lot of Black kids have no chance to learn. And the intermittent presence of some makes it harder for teachers to teach.

Those are the inequitable outcomes of unworkable attendance and discipline strategies.

But that is not nearly all they are doing that does not work.

The systems CCS has in place to prevent that very outcome offer a catalog of virtually every equity program that the nation’s schools of education have produced.

Yet that whole effort has failed spectacularly.

All of the outward-facing indicators of a school division that centers equity are there in CCS in both the leadership and policies.

  • The division has qualified people in charge. Black professionals are well represented in that leadership. The teachers have higher than usual educational attainment and a statewide average racial mix.
  • The usual problems that accompany poverty and single-parent families are there, but neither marker is present at levels seen in most Virginia cities and many poorer counties.
  • CCS offers a complex matrix of policies and programs designed to prevent its terrible performance in educating black children.

The very complexity of those policies and programs and their demands on teacher time and academic focus may be part of the problem. But not all of it.

Any attempt to fix Black student achievement must start with improving attendance and providing safe, orderly schools for all kids without which learning cannot occur.

We’ll break down the system as it is.

Infrastructure. The regular schools have been unusually arranged. There are six Pre-K-4 schools, one for grades 5 and 6 (Walker Upper Elementary), one for grades 7 and 8 (Buford Middle), and Charlottesville high school.

There are big changes in the works.

  • Buford, to be renamed Charlottesville Middle School when renovations are complete, is being redesigned and expanded to include a sixth grade.
  • 5th graders will stay at their elementary schools
  • Walker will become a designated early education center.

CCS is a partner in Charlottesville-Albemarle Career and Technical Education Center.

CCS provides alternative education at Lugo-McGinness Academy and offers a hospital education program conducted at UVa Children’s Hospital.

Buford Middle and Charlottesville High (CHS). Note here, because we will talk about discipline and attendance, that Charlottesville High School has gotten recent negative press but Buford Middle School is an absolute nightmare.

The division is accepting considerable risk in bringing 5th graders there.

Buford chronic absenteeism, at 36%, is twice that of the high school and nearly twice the state average. Buford Black student chronic absenteeism last year was 53%, white 26%.

Buford, with less than 600 students in two grades, had 30% of the enrollment of CHS.  Yet in descending order of violence of reported offenses last year:

  • CHS had the division’s only Behaviors used to determine Persistently Dangerous Schools (violent felony);
  • Buford reported 28 Behaviors that Endanger the Health, Safety, or Welfare of Self or Others compared to 47 at CHS; and
  • Buford racked up 98 Behaviors of a Safety Concern compared to 61 at the high school.

That is 126 safety-related incidents in a school, Buford, with less than 600 kids, many of whom only attend sporadically. Teacher turnover there is huge.

The high school every year has considerably more 9th graders than the previous year’s Buford 8th grade class primarily because there are several private schools in the area that reach only 8th grade.

There are enough freshman kids at CHS new to the system (last year at least 115 out of 437 9th graders in CHS did not go to Buford the year before) that CHS is whiter and more affluent than Buford.

The Board. School leadership and accountability start with the School Board. So we will.

The Board has seven members. Before the recent elections, four were teachers. Three had connections to UVa. All are elected at large.

Four members did not seek reelection. There were only four candidates to replace them. That is not atypical in Charlottesville local elections.

With the exception of Ms. Richardson, the new Board members have presented themselves as progressives. See their responses to questions about what they will do to address issues such as achievement gaps, school safety and transgender issues.

The word “attendance” does not occur in a 3,300 words of interviews.

The Board sets CCS policy and hires the superintendent. It has recognized two collective bargaining units, Licensed Personnel and School Support Professionals.

CCS Superintendent Dr. Royal A. Gurley, Jr., Ed.D. Courtesy Charlottesville City Schools

The superintendent. Royal A. Gurley, Jr., Ed.D., CCS superintendent since 2021, writes he is

“committed to transformations leadership that prioritizes access and opportunities to learn for all students.”

Just the right tone in my view.

Two years is not a long time to transform large organizations, especially coming out of COVID.

A look at Dr. Gurley’s twitter account shows him to be both engaged and engaging. The Board, which recently extended his contract to 2027, may have the right man for the job.

Races of CCS leadership and teachers. A progressive touchstone in any discussion about Black student success in schools is whether Black professionals have leadership positions in those schools.

Of the thirteen such positions in CCS, eight, including the Superintendent and the principals of the high school and Buford Middle School, are held by Black leaders.

The superintendent, to his credit, has overseen the near-annual “resignations” of the principals of CHS and Buford. I am sure he will choose better.

By contrast, only 12% of the teachers are black. That reflects limited supply rather than lack of major CCS efforts to recruit. The racial mix of CCS teachers reflects those statewide.

Teachers. School year in 2022-23 showed

  • Very High Educational Attainment, reflecting proximity to UVa’s School of Education:
    • 63% masters degrees compared to 56% statewide;
    • 2% Doctoral degrees compared to 1%;
    • 4% without college degrees vs. 5%;
  • Specific qualifications and experience
    • Out-of-field 7.4% – State 6.4%;
    • inexperienced 5.8%; – State 5.2%
    • both 2.4% – State 1.3%

The differences between CCS teachers and state teachers in specific qualifications and experience are centered in, and explained by, Buford Middle School.

  • Out-of Field 26.2%
  • Inexperienced 15.4%
  • Both 7.7%

Those numbers indicate very high teacher turnover.

Equity and anti-racism. The policeis of CCS that all of those professionals are charged to execute leave no progressive stone unturned.

As example, 86% percent of CCS students in grades 3-11 were identified as gifted in 2021. Only 60% of those students could read and 42% could perform mathematics at grade level in that year.

CCS established an Office of Equity and Engagement in 2018. Lots of equity efforts were in place before then. That Office

“helps ensure the success of all our students.”

CCS defines equity as providing each child what they need to develop, but then writes that working towards equity involves “ensuring equally high outcomes.”

It has an “equity-centered professional learning program.” It boasts family and community engagement, a resource hub for families, multiple community partnerships, and volunteer efforts.

None of those things, however individually worthwhile, have helped Black students succeed.

By its anti-racism policy:

“CCS is committed to altering systemic power and privilege dynamics and structures in order to hear and elevate underrepresented voices and to recognize and eliminate bias.”

The evidence suggests the division has achieved that goal. Black men and women dominate CCS leadership.

But neither the equity and anti-racism policies nor the personnel appointments have improved Black student achievement and attendance. They are still awful.

The problem must lie elsewhere.

Next. In the next article in this series, we will delve deeper into CCS policies on discipline and attendance.

And we will examine the historically close relationship between CCS and the UVa School of Education and Human Development.

The state has thrown $100 million this year at college and university lab schools.  UVa’s initiative is at Buford.

“The plan centers on robust professional learning, real-life application of computer science skills, and the latest research on youth development.”

Excellent news for some kids.

But of the 177 Black kids in Buford last year, only 41% could read and 30% could solve math problems at grade level.

A state-of-the-art computer lab may not have been the first thing they needed.

Someone with a high tolerance for chaos will have to teach in it.

A major update was entered on Dec. 18, 2023 to reflect updates in the book version of this series.  Some of the text originally in Part One was moved to this Part 2.

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102 responses to “Charlottesville, Its Public Schools and UVa – Part Two – Black Students”

  1. It’s old news, but in 2021 Albemarle County renamed Jack Jouett Middle School Journey MS. Quite disappointing. Jack didn’t deserve that. Tough times for patriots these days.

  2. Thanks for doing this.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      You are welcome. More to come. It has fascinated me.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    I just want to point out that while Cville has the biggest gap, this “gap” is common in many larger school districts:

    this is for aggregate district Reading:

    Division Name Race Pass Rate

    Charlottesville City Black, 41.7
    Charlottesville City White, 88.14

    Chesterfield County Black, 59.64
    Chesterfield County White, 83.51

    Fairfax County Black, 71.36
    Fairfax County White, 88.61

    Fredericksburg City Black, 52.6
    Fredericksburg City White, 72.94

    Henrico County Black, 54.28
    Henrico County White, 83.03

    Loudoun County Black, 73.01
    Loudoun County White, 84.42

    Newport News City Black, 51.38
    Newport News City White, 77.1

    Portsmouth City Black, 55.85
    Portsmouth City White, 75

    Williamsburg-James City County Black, 58.39
    Williamsburg-James City County White, 86.79

    Some of these schools do better but the large gap
    is still there.

    What might be useful and informative would be to
    list school districts in Va that don’t have these large
    gaps and how they differ from those that do have
    the large gaps.

    I am of the view that most public schools primarily
    focus on kid who learn well from conventional approaches and whose parents are strong advocates for their kids.

    Public schools do much less well with kids that don’t learn as well in those kinds of environments nor have strong parental
    involvement much less advocacy.

    Parents that are poorly educated themselves and unable to find good paying jobs with benefits live more chaotic lives in terms
    of family structure and where they live – often not where there
    are good schools to start with.

    Those parents do not make sure their kids attend school.
    The schools can’t fix that per se.

    The kids themselves end up not in stable homes or families.
    They can go to live with other relatives when the parents
    cannot get themselves straight economically.

    Charter schools per se won’t fix this because most of them
    are actually targeted to the same kids who public schools
    do well with, not the economically disadvantaged ones.

    A charter would have to be more like the Success Academies that specialize in at-risk/economically disadvantaged kids and
    even then, there needs to be an answer for the kids who
    may be chronically absent from those schools. Kicking them
    out from the Charter would be no better than kicking them
    out for the public school.

    1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
      James Wyatt Whitehead

      In a vain attempt to close the achievement gap, the left has lowered standards, eliminated excellence, and routed accountability. By doing so the top of the gap is slower and average now, and the bottom cannot read, cannot write, and cannot behave in class either. The Captain’s discussion the past two days has made me think back to what Thatcher once said of the wealth gap. I think the logic she used applies to this discussion.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        happens in Conservative school districts also, no?

        1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
          James Wyatt Whitehead

          What are you asking? Oui?

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            Are you calling VDOE the “left”?

            I don’t believe Thatcher had it right BTW.

            Just another right wing mouth in fact.

            She also wanted to get rid of the UK Health system and she was massively rejected.

            “socialism” is.. things like public education, public roads, public health care, and a litany of other things founds in the US.

          2. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
            James Wyatt Whitehead


          3. LarrytheG Avatar

            where what?

          4. Where wolf?

            There wolf!

          5. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
            James Wyatt Whitehead

            Ha! Mr. Larry you have fallen for the ole Vinny Barbarino what, where, when, why routine! Ho! Ho! HO!

          6. I thought he was heading into ‘Young Frankenstein’ territory – hence my comment…


          7. LarrytheG Avatar


          8. I thought he was heading into ‘Young Frankenstein’ territory – hence my comment…


          9. LarrytheG Avatar


  4. Wow, the mess at Buford almost makes one sympathetic to the high school because of what they are being fed by the middle school. But not quite.

    Where does it start? It is hard to believe that the issues start with middle school. What is Buford getting from the elementary schools?

    With intellectual disability issues the statistics are clear, the longer we can prevent delay the lesser the disability. The longer we can prevent infants and young kids from falling off the normal developmental curve, the better off they are. The converse is also true, the lesser the intervention, the sooner the onset of delay and the greater its eventual severity.

    My guess is that schools follow a similar pattern. That would mean that the Pre-K-4 schools will show clear patterns of poor black student achievement that worsens with each passing grade. That will get worse in the 5-6 grade school and blossom in middle and high schools.

    Every year the kids fall further and further behind. It is little wonder some of them have anger issues and become behavior problems. They may not have achieved educational goals, but they know they’ve been screwed.

    Once again, the obvious. Schools cannot teach kids who are not there. Where does black chronic absenteeism start? Pre, K, 1-4 seems a good bet. If so the schools are rotten to the core and are failing little kids from the moment they start their “education”.

    Thanks again for this series. I’m looking forward to where it goes. It is great so far.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Thank you. I learn something new every time I check a fact. The dysfunction in Charlottesville schools has uniquely bad outcomes for Black children. The Black community there does not exhibit unique characteristics, so we have to look to the schools, the teachers and local politicians that make up the school board and write policy.

      We find there off-the-charts progressivism reflective of the community which votes more than 80 % Democratic, the highest rate in Virginia.

      The University of Virginia is the reason for that. But its ed school also has CCS in its clutches. A double negative in this case does not make a positive.

      1. I’m under no illusion that it is a simple issue. If it was it would have been solved. I expect that the black community in Charlottesville shares problems with those in bigger cities.

        Those include chaotic homes that are often impoverished, single parent (often poorly educated young women), lack adequate nutrition and other issues. They are not simple problems to solve, nor are they fixable by the schools.

        The schools business is educating children. However, they have to deal with the students they get. By the SOL numbers they are failing to educate black kids.

        Years ago in the rehab business I had staff complaining that the intellectually disabled participants did not have the cognitive abilities needed to be successful. They needed better clients. I reminded them that they chose this field and knew who they were going to be working with. Further complaints about the quality of the clients would be reflected in their annual personnel evaluations. Merit raises would not be ensuing, and their replacements would be. Attitudes and, more importantly, outcomes improved.

        The point being that our schools also know the problems they are dealing with and to be viable must engage them constructively and successfully. The SOL numbers are damning.

        What seems clear is that the emphasis on wokeness, racism and ed school blather does little to help little kids succeed.

        Something that gives me cognitive dissonance is that C’ville’s high real estate values seem to argue against a significant poor underclass of any race. Are the numbers on that easily available? If the schools problems do not originate in poverty related issues that puts an entirely different perspective on the schools failures to educate black kids.

        1. how_it_works Avatar

          46.6% of Charlottesville’s student population is eligible for free lunches, based on

          “Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) Reports
          As defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service, Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is a non-pricing meal service option for schools and school districts in low-income areas. CEP allows the nation’s highest poverty schools and districts to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students. Schools that adopt CEP are reimbursed using a formula based on the percentage of students categorically eligible for free meals based on their participation in other specific means-tested programs.”

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            many of the same kids who do poorly on academic performance get the free lunches.

            So they are provided free lunches and breakfasts but apparently not free academic help to get them up on grade level?

          2. how_it_works Avatar

            It’s a lot easier to feed ’em than it is to educate ’em.

          3. Interesting, thank you. Almost half of students eligible for feeding programs. With less than 30% black students that indicates widespread poverty.

            With CEP’s eligibility being “highest poverty schools and districts” that would make Charlottesville a high poverty area. That is not what one would expect from the influx of high salaried UVA folks, the general prosperity of the city, and the high real estate values. Curious.

          4. James C. Sherlock Avatar
            James C. Sherlock

            Check my reply above.

          5. how_it_works Avatar

            Look at the numbers for Prince William County, they aren’t good either yet PWC is a pretty expensive place to live.

            I guess it’s a case of rich folks needing low-income folks to do the menial work (which translates into a huge income disparity).

          6. LarrytheG Avatar

            low income parents have low education levels because they likely did poorly in school also.

            This is a cycle, a generational one.

            It’s not what rich folks “want”, it’s what happens to anyone who does not get a good education – they become low-income labor and their kids continue right after them if they do not get a good education themselves.

            It’s not like this happened all of a sudden out of the blue …. and we’re now “shocked”….

            or that their parents are really highly educated but choose to take low-paying crappy jobs cause they’re shiftless and what not….

          7. how_it_works Avatar

            There weren’t 10 low income people shacking up in a 3-bedroom house in PWC 30 years ago, or at least not nearly to the degree that it happens now.

            Something changed…

          8. James C. Sherlock Avatar
            James C. Sherlock

            Price of shelter

          9. LarrytheG Avatar

            Do you think the low-income folks 30 years ago had good educations, good jobs, and a nice house to bring their kids up in a school that well-educated them?

          10. how_it_works Avatar

            I don’t know where to find the statistics, but I don’t think there were as many low-income people in PWC 30 years ago as there are now (as a percentage of the total population).

          11. LarrytheG Avatar

            Well in shear numbers.. or percentage of total? But there were poor people in PWC 30 years ago
            …some number… and chances are pretty good they were poorly educated… and they probably
            had kids who were also poorly educated… and the cycle continues ?

            It just seems not reasonable that parents and grand parents were well educated with good
            jobs and then the schools failed to properly educate their kids – because at the same time
            other kids with well educated, higher income parents DID get well-educated and went on to higher ed and good jobs…

          12. how_it_works Avatar

            I think there’s been influx of low-income people to PWC to serve the need for cheap labor in Northern Va.

          13. LarrytheG Avatar

            well as the population in NoVa grew, right? But they live in PWC instead of NoVa because
            they cannot afford NoVa….

            We have folks who live in Spotsy and work in NoVa for similar reasons.. Most of our
            population has jobs north of here unless they work for the schools or LE , EMS, etc.

            We lose a lot of people that start here, get trained, then go north for jobs that pay more but
            their kids are in Spotsy schools.

          14. how_it_works Avatar

            People living in PWC and commuting has been the case for a long time. It’s only in the last 2 decades that an influx of people so poor they are living 10 to a house has happened in PWC, and then it’s been mostly around Manassas, Manassas Park, Dale City, and Woodbridge, primarily in older (1960s) neighborhoods.

          15. LarrytheG Avatar

            but mostly Hispanic and Asian, not black?

          16. how_it_works Avatar

            Probably mostly Hispanic, from the stats I’ve seen.

          17. LarrytheG Avatar

            how do the Asians live?

          18. how_it_works Avatar

            In expensive houses in Gainesville.

          19. LarrytheG Avatar

            high income, right? Are there no low income Asians up that way?

          20. how_it_works Avatar

            I wouldn’t say there are none. Not many, though.

          21. Big size difference between PW and C’ville both in geography and population, 420k to 46k, almost 10:1.

            The complaint I’ve heard for years is that UVa’s hourly employees had to move out of C’ville to live because the housing prices were so high.If the poverty rate is so high, how does that work for poor people?

            Are workers forced to move to PW because they can’t afford to live in Manassas?

            Not quibbling with you, just cognitive dissonance still lurks.

          22. how_it_works Avatar

            The numbers for Manassas (and Manassas Park) are even worse than for PWC. The rich people in PWC generally live in Nokesville, Haymarket, and Gainesville.

          23. So the poor are not pushed out of Manassas (Park) into PW county by higher housing costs in the city. Each locality has its own issues. I do appreciate your link to CEP standards, tks.

          24. how_it_works Avatar

            By the way, somewhere I think I saw the stats by school, not just by locality/district. Not sure where, though.

        2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          Charlottesville has very little traditional middle class. The residents trend upper middle class-to-wealthy or poor-to-very-poor more than most places.

          Some of the people that the census bureau counts as poor are students who are not price sensitive to real estate values because they rent and their parents or their student loans help out.

          Only a microscopic number of students have kids in the Charlottesville schools.

          So the poor kids in the schools trend Black and Hispanic.

  5. Brilliant reporting, Jim, keep it up! I’m eagerly awaiting Part III.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    Albemarle is not so hot either: from VDOE build-a-table

    Albemarle County English:Reading Black 48.36
    Albemarle County English:Reading White 85.55

    some southwest VA schools – most better than Cville
    and Albermarle…

    Alleghany Highlands Black 63.55
    Alleghany Highlands White 67.65

    Bland County Black 80
    Bland County White 74.38

    Botetourt County Black 75.56
    Botetourt County White 85.61

    Carroll County Black >50
    Carroll County White 76.68

    Galax City Black 69.44
    Galax City White 80.18

    Giles County Black 66.26
    Giles County White 72.17

    Grayson County Black 64.29
    Grayson County White 80.69

    Henry County Black 57.99
    Henry County White 69.83

    Lee County Black 70
    Lee County White 74

    Pulaski County Black 58.76
    Pulaski County White 65.8

    Roanoke County Black 65.75
    Roanoke County White 84.06

    Scott County Black 47.86
    Scott County White 78.34

    Tazewell County Black 72.62
    Tazewell County White 82.4

    Wise County Black 77.78
    Wise County White 85.52

    Wythe County Black 68.12
    Wythe County White 79.85

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