School staffer backs up Petrilli's claims

Some Booker T. Washington Academy parents wanted an African-American principal in 2005 and were unhappy when they didn't get one, according to testimony Wednesday in Fayette Circuit Court.

Cheryl Jones, a staffer at the school, said in taped testimony that there was a desire for a black principal among some site-based council members at the Academy at Lexington, one of two elementary schools that merged to form Booker T. Washington in 2005.

Jones said the parents had some candidates in mind when their work was rendered "null and void" by Fayette County Schools Superintendent Stu Silberman's appointment of Peggy Petrilli. Asked if she was shocked by the appointment, Jones said, "Yes."

Petrilli alleges in a lawsuit that Silberman and Fayette Schools forced her to resign from Booker T. Washington in August 2007 to placate parents who wanted the school run by an African-American and undermined her own efforts.

Jones' testimony Wednesday was the strongest independent support so far in the case for Petrilli's contention that a group of parents wanted a black principal and were angered when she was named.

(Jones, who is ill, didn't appear in court. Instead, parts of her deposition, taped earlier, were played for jurors.)

In other testimony, Robert McLaughlin, who was the school district's elementary schools director during Petrilli's first year at Booker T. Washington, testified that she rapidly raised reading levels at the schools. McLaughlin, a mentor to Petrilli, said she was particularly skilled in student instruction, and he ranked her as the second-best principal he worked with in his more than 30 years of experience.

But McLaughlin also said that Petrilli was weak in communication skills, and that he feared that could become a problem when she took over at Booker T. Washington. McLaughlin said that he urged Petrilli to communicate more and reach out to Booker T. Washington parents, but that he sometimes had to fix problems that developed because she didn't always do so.

McLaughlin also said Petrilli never indicated to him that she was forced out because of her race, or that Booker T. Washington parents wanted to replace her because of race.

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