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Emails show ex-board member defended embattled superintendent

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) – Emails obtained by CBS 6 News are shedding light on the professional relationship between the superintendent of Henrico County Public Schools and a school board member who resigned Monday.

Last Thursday when CBS 6 reporter Catie Beck asked former school board member Diana Winston about the job performance of Henrico Superintendent Pat Russo, she refused to make any comment.

However, emails gathered by way of a CBS 6 open records request show Winston as a loyal defender of the embattled school leader just over a month earlier. [RELATED: Henrico school leader resigns, board calls for investigation]

In an email exchange at the end of June, a Henrico school employee wrote to Winston, challenging Russo’s contract renewal. The employee points out that his previous employer is still garnishing his wages.

“He obviously feels he’s making a point by not simply writing a check in the appropriate amount and mailing it,” she wrote. “ Is this the type of citizen and role model one wishes to influence the young people who attend Henrico County schools?”

Winston responded, “Dr. Russo is more than up to the task of leading this system forward.”

Winston later forwarded the email chain to the superintendent. Russo responded, “Thank you.”

Our request for Russo and Winston’s emails also turned up records of an education conference in San Diego a few months ago. Russo, Winston and board chair Beverly Cocke attended. Russo alone expensed $3,000 to the district for the trip, which included a $127 lunch for the three at the famous Hotel del Coronado.

Emails from June also indicate another school-related trip was on the horizon for Winston and Russo. This one was to a foreign language school in China in 2014.

Russo has averaged about one professional conference every month for the past three years, the vast majority of them are out of state. So far this year he has been to Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver, Milwaukee and Baltimore.

Winston represents the Three Chopt District on the Henrico School Board.  The Three Chopt District is located in western Henrico County and is made up of schools like Deep Run High School , Tuckahoe Middle School and Short Pump Elementary School.

In her letter of resignation, dated Aug. 12, 2013, Winston laid out the reason behind her resignation.

“I appreciate the opportunity the citizens of the Three Chopt District have given me to represent their concerns and interests. I have done so responsibly , objectively and ethically,” she wrote.

“Anyone who knows me or my husband knows that we are upstanding citizens of this county. I appreciate the encouragement from many to keep my position on the Board. Family means everything and at this point in my life I will devote myself to enjoying my grandchildren,” she continued. “There is not enough time to worry about the misinformation of disgruntled ex-employees or past school board members reported by journalists interested in sensationalism and not accuracy. They need to “get a life.”

Depend on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for the latest updates on this story.


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