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Duval School Officials Rescind Offer To Atlanta Principal

Duval County Public Schools

An Atlanta educator picked to head Duval County’s first all-male public school has been pulled.The district rescinded its offer to Sam Scavella, who currently heads Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta.

Scavella had been selected to lead Butler Young Men’s Leadership and Technology Academy. But the district decided against it after past claims of misconduct surfaced during the district’s screening process, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said.

“There were things that came in from other districts that we requested information from, and at that point, I made the decision that, although he was eligible to be employed, I felt uncomfortable based on the background that he was the right fit for that school,” he said.

According toa report from The Telegraph newspaper in Macon, Scavella resigned as principal of Northeast High School in June 2010 amid claims that he retaliated against a school employee when she broke off an affair with him.

The Telegraph also reported that Scavella received low performance marks in 2004-2005, while serving for one year as principal of Blanche Ely High School in Florida’s Broward County and was placed on a performance improvement plan.

In 2007, a suit was filed against him alleging that a student at the school had been sexually assaulted by a math teacher in March of that year, the paper reported. Scavella was not principal at the time, but the complaint alleges that he did little to investigate complaints previously filed by two other students against the teacher while he was still at the school. It also alleges he withheld information from investigators.

The claims at both Northeast and Blanche Ely were eventually dismissed.

When questioned on why district administrators chose not to perform a background check on Scavella before announcing the principal changes, Vitti said screening every person interviewed would be costly and time-consuming.

“If we waited to background screen all applicants, it would take us weeks and months to go through the process...and money,” he said. “So what we do is go through the preliminary process first by looking at resumes, then going through the interview process. Once we believe that we’ve found the right candidate, we go through the background screening.”

But in a lengthy emailed response to WJCT, Scavella contended that the district did indeed complete a background check of him on Friday, prior to the release of the new principal assignments. On the following Sunday, he was contacted by a district administrator to schedule a community meeting and conference call with Vitti, he said.

“At 2:30 p.m. that same day, I was contacted by another district administrator informing me that I was being pulled off the list because of past performance issues,” he said in the email.

Scavella stated that he provided Vitti with documentation, disputing the performance evaluations and past complaints against him, and noted that he was cleared of both claims.

“As a nine year veteran principal with 15 years experience in administration and 21 years in education, I have grown to be a proven leader who has significantly increased student achievement at ‘every school’ that I have led...It is not right, that past and present news articles try to assassinate my character and integrity as a school administrator by reporting false information that is extremely misleading,” the email states.

Vitti said given the high-profile nature of the new all-male school, he was hesitant to take any chances on its success.

“The spotlight that this school will have...just not having clarity going through the process that these incidents had taken place, led me to reservations,” he said.  

Vitti said Scavella will be replaced by Westside High School assistant principal Truitte Moreland for the top spot at the school to open this fall.

The final list of principal changes goes before the school board during its regular board meeting this month.

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.

Rhema Thompson began her post at WJCT on a very cold day in January 2014 and left WJCT to join the team at The Florida Times Union in December 2014.