UPDATE: Some Bedford County Public School officials still were in shock Friday following Superintendent Doug Schuch’s announcement during Thursday night’s school board meeting.
According to a news release from division spokesperson Ryan Edwards, at the close of Thursday night’s meeting Schuch announced he does not plan to continue as superintendent beyond June 30, 2021, when his current contract expires. Schuch did not state his reason for the decision and Edwards said Schuch would not comment further on his resignation announcement.
Reactions to Schuch’s announcement were mixed Friday. District 1 School Board Representative-elect Susan Mele called the announcement “totally unexpected.”
“It came as a complete surprise to me,” Mele said. “I was not expecting that to happen during the meeting.”
District 2 Representative Jason Johnson also said he was surprised.
“It certainly was unexpected,” Johnson said. “However, Dr. Schuch has been in Bedford County about 10 years, which is a longer-than-average tenure for superintendents in Virginia.”
Johnson said Bedford County Public Schools have done well during Schuch’s tenure and he said he was glad the school board had plenty of time to search for Schuch’s replacement.
“I think Dr. Schuch has done a lot of good here in Bedford County and I’m grateful he always encourages teachers and staff to try new things,” Johnson said. “Since the school board just got this news, we haven’t had a chance to start a conversation about hiring a new superintendent but since we have 19 months before Dr. Schuch’s retirement, we will have a lot more time than most school divisions to make this decision.”
Bedford County resident Isaiah Knight — who repeatedly has called for Schuch’s resignation — said Friday he encourages the school board to replace Schuch before his contract ends in 2021.
“The sooner he [Schuch] is gone the better it will be for students in Bedford County,” Knight said. “I am glad he is stepping down, and I hope the new majority on the school board in January will buy out his contract and hire a replacement.”
Knight has called for Schuch’s removal as superintendent since the school board voted 4-3 in June 2018 to accept Schuch’s recommendation to reassign former Deputy Superintendent Cherie Whitehurst as an instructional coach in the division. Johnson and school board members John Hicks, Marcus Hill and Julie Bennington voted in favor of Whitehurst’s reassignment, while board members Susan Kirby, Martin Leamy and Richard Downey opposed.
In March, Whitehurst filed a multi-million- dollar lawsuit against Schuch and the school board, claiming her reassignment was a retaliatory measure against her by Schuch. Whitehurst is suing the school board for $300,000 in damages, back pay since the date of her reassignment, front pay until 2027 and attorney fees. Whitehurst also is requesting $5 million in compensatory and punitive damages from Schuch.
“I think it would be cheaper in the long run for the board to just buy out the contract and be done with it,” Knight said. “It is time for the school division to move on.”
According to the release issued to media, Schuch said he planned to stay in the division until his contract expired.
“That contract compels me to notify the board of my intentions no later than June of 2020, but I want to give you as much time as possible to plan for the upcoming transition,” he said in the release. “I also want you to know that I will remain committed to leading this school division until my final day on the job and also to pledge my personal support to doing as much or as little as the board may request in facilitating the transition of leadership.”
“I know that some of you may be wondering, ‘What comes next for me?’” Schuch said in the release. “The answer is that I actually have no idea, but I will certainly be praying about and contemplating that question during the next 19 and a half months. Because of my years of service, VRS [Virginia Retirement System] will technically term this a ‘retirement,’ but I don’t believe that I am ready to retire just yet.”