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CHS Updates December 2023

Classes were canceled at Charlottesville High School on Friday, November 17, due to some staff who called in sick as a response to recent fights. The following Monday and Tuesday, November 20-21, classes were canceled again for teacher workdays to allow the staff and administration to meet to “reset” the school culture.

Classes resumed after the Thanksgiving break on Monday, November 27. As Interim Principal Kenny Leatherwood reported to the CHS community on December 5, “I hope that you’ve seen or heard that CHS is heading in the right direction. The number of students walking the halls is down, and the number of students in the office is down. We are doing better at handling small things before they get to be big things.”

The organization Charlottesville United for Public Education and Charlottesville City Schools have held events such as a teacher panel, staff workdays, student debriefs and listening sessions, and a community information and listening session. We appreciate all who attended and participated.

This webpage is designed to offer Frequently Asked Questions as well as some links to previous School Board reports about related topics such as discipline, safety, and mental health. We will post additional updates or questions to this page.

How Did We Get Here?

  • What are the factors that led to more fighting at CHS this year?

    • Staff vacancies overburdened the school’s teachers with extra subbing duties, leaving less time to support students outside of class and monitor hallways
    • Some students routinely wandered the halls instead of going to class, behaving disrespectfully, and did not experience consistent consequences from adults
    • A number of fights – some significant – occurred.
    • There was turnover in leadership: the principal had just announced his resignation, and an assistant principal vacancy was only recently filled in October.
  • Timeline Leading to the Reset

    November 3: There was a serious fight at CHS

    November 8: Principal Pitt announced his resignation

    November 16:

    • CHS had a campus disruption in which staff members intervened to quell a disturbance. (This was the incident where students allowed a young adult relative to enter the building, although staff quickly identified and isolated the adult. Charges are pending for this adult.) Later, there was an unrelated fight amid a chaotic atmosphere. In addition, we had a class “fall through the cracks” for substitute coverage, which is always unacceptable but especially so if there is a security protocol called. 
    • After school, CHS staff met with the CHS administrative team (A Team) and Chief Operations Officer Kim Powell to debrief. As part of this meeting, CHS staff requested a class cancellation to “reset” school protocols and culture, with some requesting the cancellation of classes the next day. Administrators instead proposed a reset in early December to allow time for planning.

    November 16/17 (evening-morning): On top of normal staff absences plus six staff vacancies, that day about 10 additional teachers called in sick after a number of recent student fights. With the 10 additional cancellations, the school was unable to cover all classes.

    November 17: Class cancellation was announced in a brief message on Friday morning, followed up by a fuller explanation on Friday afternoon. 

    November 18: The School Board and Dr. Gurley held an emergency meeting and decided to extend the class cancellation to Monday and Tuesday (November 20-21). 

    November 20-21: Teacher-admin meetings to discuss culture, processes, and potential steps forward.


  • What did administrators learn from the teacher workdays during the “reset”?

    The predominant message we heard was that the school’s culture was uneasy even before the principal’s departure, but the resignation and the fight that occurred afterward reinforced their understanding that we need to take a break to shore up systems and support. There was concern that fighting, hall-walking, and disrespectful behavior toward staff would become normalized. 

    We also heard that teachers know that the profession is challenging – and even more challenging now than before the pandemic, but that the school needs to feel safe both physically and emotionally for the sake of the students and staff. 

    As part of moving forward, the staff wants better and more consistent accountability for everyone – our leaders, our staff, our students, our families, and our community. Staff made a “mutual accountability” agreement of reminding one another of basic actions such as standing at doorways during class transitions, limiting students’ access to hallway passes, and more. 

    The staff identified that the schools’ staffing vacancies are a big part of the problem and would like to have more professionals supporting the school as teachers, care and safety assistants, and in other roles. 

    As part of this, they want stable leadership, support, and consistency. 

    Finally, we talked about very practical matters– ways to improve systems such as hall monitoring, student pass protocols, scheduling. These discussions were productive, although the second day was unfortunately interrupted by the evacuation of the building after a student’s old posts resurfaced about a bomb at CHS. 

    Many community members attended an event hosted by Charlottesville United for Public Education that gave teachers a more public chance to share their perspectives and answer questions or accept comments from the community. 

    The community has been vocal in their appreciation for our teachers and their willingness to take on these issues more directly and publicly. We share their appreciation and their concerns that our teachers receive the support they need moving forward. We will continue to seek and build upon staff feedback gathered through staff meetings and the work of teacher-admin committees focusing on areas such as school culture or school processes.

  • How Can I Read or Watch Dr. Gurley's Remarks to the School Board?

    • Read remarks here.
    • Watch remarks on Facebook (starting around the 2 hour, 47 minute mark)
    • Meeting video will also be posted to YouTube

What Has Been Done Since the Reset?

  • What has already been done (newer items are at the top of the list)

    • Adding a staff member to the CHS front desk to assist with student arrivals and visitor management.
    • Increasing consistency in discipline. Student discipline hearings were held by the School Board on the nights of December 3-6; a report (without any identifiable information) is included as part of the School Board meeting on December 7.
    • Opening and adding students to Knight School to increase our options for serving young people (enrollment as of 12/6=7 students). (Knight School was being planned throughout this fall as we saw that another option was needed).
    • Assigning Central Office staff (and community volunteers) to assist with hallway and door monitoring as a short-term way to reinforce the school-wide expectation of class attendance.
    • Reorganizing the layout and procedures for in-school suspension.
    • Asking the community to assist as substitute teachers.
    • Gathering community feedback and questions from staff, students, and community members.
    • The hiring of experienced interim principal Kenny Leatherwood.
    • Refining staff coverage schemes to improve staff monitoring of halls and common areas (ongoing)
  • What is being done now:

    • Dr. Denise Johnson (our Supervisor of Equity and Inclusion) will join the CHS administrative team in the temporary role of Strategic Advisor. She will assist Mr. Leatherwood and the school’s administrative team.
    • Refining processes such as supporting substitute teachers or attendance procedures.
    • Revising our check-in and check-out procedures for students who arrive late or leave mid-day for appointments or other reasons. In addition, following winter break, we’ll be revising our car drop-off routines to support these changes.
    • Giving the community answers and information on this page and in other communications, including School Board meetings.
    • Hiring additional positions to sustainably monitor hallways and assist students.
    • Filling staff vacancies – two licensed teachers will begin at CHS following winter break.
    • Developing new processes and access control system features to improve side-door security and monitoring.
    • Conducting a “mental health awareness” campaign in January to assure that students (and families) know how to get the help they need from our mental health staff, including social workers, partnerships with Region 10 and more.
    • Sending out a teacher survey to better understand the needs they have to meet their own challenges so that we can supply individual and school supports as needed.
    • Implementing further recommendations from CHS teacher work groups, including one about promoting a positive school culture.


  • What’s the approach to discipline at Charlottesville City Schools?
    Discipline at Charlottesville City Schools takes place in a context of positive behavioral and academic supports. We want to teach the behaviors we expect to see, and we want to meet the social and emotional needs of our students. But our discipline involves consequences as described in the
    Student Rights and Responsibilities (which mirrors Virginia policy).

  • Find a report to the School Board from February 2023 about mid-year discipline data (School Board presentation, February 2023).

  • How many students have had discipline referrals this year (as of 11/30/23)?

    Note: Failure to attend class is one reason why a student might receive a discipline referral.

    Total Students at CHS    1417
    Students with 0-1 discipline referrals 90.47% 1282
    Students with 2-5 discipline referrals 7.83% 111
    Students with 6+ discipline referrals 1.69% 24


  • How many fights have there been at CHS this year?
    At CHS this fall, there have been 22 incidents of “fighting with minor injury” (involving 46 students) and no incidents have been classified as “fighting with major injury.” No weapons have been involved. All but 4 of the fights involve 3 students or less. The biggest altercation had 9 students fighting.

    Of these fights, 6 were significant enough for us to contact the Charlottesville Police Department for assistance with the event and/or for follow-up with a threat assessment team.

  • How will you give future updates about discipline referrals or fights at the school?

    We will begin publishing weekly data updates to a “discipline dashboard” on this page.

    We will communicate immediately if there is a situation that impacts your child’s safety, schedule, or well-being (or a situation where we may choose to communicate to minimize rumors and misinformation).

  • Is it really about “discipline” and “suspensions” or is it more about mental health and support?

    • We are striving to offer support, along with high expectations, clear structure, and consistent consequences.
    • For more about mental health supports, see the “mental wellness” section.
  • Who breaks up a fight?

    All staff are trained in what to do during a fight. Teachers’ core responsibilities are to help students return to their classrooms or leave the area. Some teachers and staff members, along with our Care and Safety Associates and our administrators have “Mandt training” in areas such as de-escalating situations and proper restraint techniques.

  • What about the students who encourage or film fights?

    These students, too, share in the responsibility and face disciplinary consequences.

  • Has anyone gotten hurt during these fights?
    We have had minor student injuries; some staff have been injured while breaking up or preventing fights. For instance, one staff member has given permission to say that he received moderate hand injuries and is recovering well. We take all injuries seriously.

  • Why are you focusing so much on cell phones?
    Relating to school culture and student behavior, cell phones are connected to many of our students’ behavioral issues, such as students agreeing to meet in the hallway or for a fight. Cell phones are also foundational to amplifying students’ disagreements with one another. Other reasons schools limit access to cell phones include minimizing distractions in class, promoting strong face-to-face relationships, and reducing the mental health toll of cell phones and social media.

  • What about even more serious matters, such as a report of sexual assault?

    All employees are mandatory reporters. We take any reports—even third-hand reports—of matters such as sexual assault seriously, and we follow our policies, procedures, and legal obligations with fidelity and in careful consultation with legal counsel. Our policies and practices are in alignment with Virginia state code and Virginia School Board Association policy.

Mental Wellness

  • What types of mental health services and staffing do you have in our schools?

    Charlottesville City Schools and our community partners have prioritized mental wellness and social-emotional learning. Beginning in 2021, we doubled the size of our mental health professionals staffing in our division to 40 positions, 1 of which is currently vacant. At CHS, there are 6 school counselors and 6 other mental health professionals.

    These positions include school counselors, social workers, psychologists, and social-emotional support counselors. We also partner with Region 10 to provide on-site services for students at Buford and CHS, including the student assistance program available to all students. Additionally, outpatient counseling for referred students is available through Region 10 for students at CHS. Therapeutic day treatment is also available in many schools for Medicaid-eligible students offered by the National Counseling Group.

    Other supports:

    • We teach social-emotional skills to our students beginning in elementary school.
    • We offer mediation and restorative practices.
    • We partner with Wild Rock to allow students to benefit from outdoor activities and nature play.
    • We partner with Care Solace to offer complimentary service to coordinate appointments for students and their families who need assistance with mental health or substance use issues


  • What is our model for safety?

    Through a committee and community engagement process, in 2021 the Board approved a new safety plan focusing on:

    • Strengthening our community and relationships
    • Growing our mental health supports (we doubled our mental health staffing in 2021)
    • Hiring and training care and safety assistants – community mentors who are trained school security officers, with skills in areas such as de-escalation
    • Partnering with the community, including including the Charlottesville Police Department (CPD), although the current partnership does not include school resource officers (SRO's) in our school buildings.
    • Investing in upgrades to building security

    You can learn more about this model at


  • What are some recent examples of changes or upgrades to this safety model?

    Safety is a matter of continuous improvement. At the request of school staff, we have increased the number of care and safety assistants (CSAs) at our schools. In the past years, we have upgraded the main-entrance security and added access control technology at many of our buildings, along with upgraded classroom door locks. Additional cameras and lights have been installed. We remain in conversation with the Charlottesville Police Department about best practices to improve communications between the schools and the police.

  • What are upcoming changes to the safety model?

    • We are working to improve monitoring of CHS’s many side doors with our IT department. In the meanwhile, we have staff and volunteers assisting with this.
    • We will be hiring additional staff to help monitor hallways
    • In December, we will be re-routing the car riders to our pre-pandemic location to minimize the doors used during arrival and dismissal
    • Over the summer, some of our student restroom areas will be redesigned to meet current standards for safety (plus privacy and inclusivity). The design creates one-person bathrooms with the sinks in areas that can be better monitored. The current bathrooms have sometimes been the sites of fights, vaping, or other poor behavior choices.
  • What changes are under consideration?

    • We will making decisions about he installation of metal detectors
    • CCS and CPD continue to discuss the possibility of revisiting our Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The district is also exploring models from other communities for school resource officers or “community youth officers.” Any possible MOU would include:
      • Joint selection process for possible candidates
      • Purposeful assignments and routines to mitigate general surveillance
      • Clear protocols and operating procedures
  • What’s the link between relationships, belonging, school culture, and safety?

    Relationships, a sense of belonging, a positive school culture, and safety are tightly interrelated. We behave our best when we are feeling connected and the mood is positive. As the Washington Post summarized the consensus of school safety experts in May 2022, “Many security experts and educators point to a solution that is decidedly low-tech: the relationships.”

  • When do you call 911 vs other police numbers?

    For unfolding emergency situations, we call 911. For non-urgent notifications, follow-up, questions, or scheduling meetings such as threat assessments, the current protocol that CPD has asked us to use is to call the assistant chief, and we are following this protocol.

  • What is a Threat Assessment Team?

    A threat assessment team meets to identify, evaluate, and address threats or potential threats. This includes threats made to others’ safety or one’s own safety (“threats to self”). For threats made against others, threat assessment teams must include persons with expertise in counseling, instruction, school administration, and law enforcement.  The number of threats made locally and nationally have risen. 

Positive School Culture and a Sense of Belonging

  • Why is culture and belonging important?

    Culture and fostering a sense of welcoming and belonging is foundational to students’ success and employee retention. School security experts point to belonging and relationships as a primary tool to promote safety.

  • What is CHS doing to promote a positive and welcoming culture?

    As students returned to classes from Thanksgiving Break, teachers worked to restore classroom community and expectations (and fostered discussions to help students share feedback about the school, the reset, and more.)

    One of the staff committees at CHS is focused on next steps for promoting a positive school culture.

  • What are the root causes for students not attending class?

    This is a question we ask students and their families, and the answer varies. There is no simple answer like “students are in classes that are too hard for them” or “teachers need to engage all students.” These may include mental health issues, a lack of engagement in classes, or a desire to see peers.

  • How Can I See the Results of the State’s Annual Climate Survey?

    The Virginia School Climate Survey is a tool for division leaders and principals to monitor and ensure all students and staff have access to a healthy and positive environment in which to learn, work, interact, and grow, whether remotely or in-person. The survey is given every year, alternating between high school and middle-grade students. A review of our past data includes a mixed portrait with key areas of needed improvement.


  • How will you improve communications about “the reset” and related matters?

    We hope that this webpage and these Frequently Asked Questions demonstrate our commitment to communication. We will continue to build out this page and give you updates.

  • While any initial communication about an emerging situation is likely to remain very brief (since the situation is emerging), as part of follow-up communications, we will provide factually verifiable information that is not a violation of the student’s privacy or that may interfere with a police investigation. We communicate about situations that impact your child’s safety, schedule, or well-being or that minimize rumors and misinformation.

  • For the upcoming months, the school’s division communications staff will assist CHS to improve school-level communication about day-to-day events, good news, and emergencies.

  • Why don’t we hear more good news about CHS?

    As staff have been short-handed, it has been a challenge for school staff to communicate the good stuff. Our division communications staff will begin offering support to CHS during this period, both for day-to-day, emergency, and celebratory communications.


  • For School Board information, we publish monthly “mini-minutes” with links to all their slides and presentations, aside from the official minutes or the posting of the video feed to our YouTube Channel.

    • All CCS staff and families (plus CHS students) receive School Board meeting notifications through Parent Square.
    • Community members who wish to receive notifications of School Board meetings can sign up here.

Staffing Updates

  • How will we address staffing shortages and vacancies at CHS?

    There are currently 6 teaching vacancies at CHS, and 2 of these will be filled with licensed teachers following winter break. We have added another staff member to the entrance to help with student arrivals and visitor management. Human resources continues to interview for other unfilled positions. We are repurposing some vacant positions to add hall monitors to the CHS staff. The in-school suspension (ISBI) position has been redesigned to better support the needs of our students, and this position will be posted soon. In the meantime, we will staff ISBI with a qualified substitute.

Alternative Education

  • What is an alternative behavior programs, and what is available to CHS students?

    Alternative programs are just that –another alternative to help students find what they need and work toward their goals. We have three main programs for alternative education for our high schoolers:

    • Lugo-McGinness Academy serves ## students in grades 8-12. Students may self-select or be referred for admission to the program.
    • Knight School is just getting started, currently serving 7 students in the evening at the LMA building. Find more information here.
    • The WALK program at CHS helps struggling high school students earn credits needed for graduation.

Career and Technical

  • What about career and technical education, not just for teenagers, but for adults in our community?

    • Clearly, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center (CATEC) is an incredibly valuable tool for both teens and adults in our region. The division’s decision to purchase CATEC last year was a decision to guarantee access for students in Charlottesville (and Albemarle).
    • CHS also offers Career and Technical Education (CTE) classes and certifications
    • Beyond that, we are building relationships with organizations such as Virginia Career Works to help us establish a framework for additional work-based learning for our students – and their parents.

    Between our alternative learning centers such as Lugo-McGinness, our new Knight School, CATEC, our CTE classes at CHS, and a framework we are working on to create opportunities for work-based learning, we currently offer and will soon expand offerings for our students and their families to find the learning environment where they will thrive. We recognize that an important step toward helping many of our students is offering their parents/guardians support and a path forward. Just as CATEC serves both teens and adults, we envision this framework of work-based learning to meet inter-generational needs.