The five candidates for Albemarle County School Board on the 2017 general election ballot appeared at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters on Thursday. The event took place at the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library’s Central Branch in downtown Charlottesville.
Three county School Board seats are up for election this year. Graham Paige is running for a second term as the Samuel Miller District representative. Julian Waters, a 2017 graduate of Western Albemarle High School, is challenging Paige.
Katrina Callsen and Mary McIntyre, both newcomers to local politics, are running for the Rio District seat on the School Board. Rio District incumbent Pam Moynihan is not running for reelection.
School Board Chairwoman Kate Acuff is running unopposed for a second term as the Jack Jouett District representative.
Paige taught in Albemarle County schools for over 20 years and has served as a member of the school division’s Long Range Planning Advisory Committee. He was elected to the School Board in 2015 to fill the unexpired term of Eric Strucko.
“I have had a lot of experience in the classroom, and being involved with parents and other people in the community,” Paige said. “I am committed to maintaining the excellence that we enjoy in many areas, while also improving areas in which we recognize problems.”
Waters, 18, has served as a student adviser for several of Albemarle County’s high school redesign initiatives. “It’s important for us to have someone fresh out of the system, who can speak directly to students and teachers,” he said.
Waters said his priorities as a School Board member would be expanding early childhood education and preschool access, reforming and improving transportation, and increasing teacher compensation.
McIntyre holds master’s degrees in music education and literacy instruction. She has taught at schools in Virginia, North Carolina, and Hawaii, and at an American military base in Germany. She worked at Agnor-Hurt Elementary last year as a part-time reading instructor.
“Everybody carries the experiences they’ve collected through their life, and those experiences help guide the decisions that they make,” McIntyre said. “My life has always been centered around education.”
Callsen, a graduate of Yale University and the University of Virginia School of Law, taught middle school math for two years as a Teach for America corps member. She said her parents, who did not graduate from high school, taught her to value education, hard work, and public service.
“That mindset was what pushed me to attend Yale when I thought college was impossible. And it’s what motivated me to become an educator, and work with children,” Callsen said.
Acuff, a health policy consultant, said Albemarle’s public schools were among the best in Virginia. However, she said more work was needed to ensure greater equity for economically disadvantaged students.
“I am very dedicated to working through possible interventions and opportunities for students, so we can engage every student,” she said.
Questions submitted to the candidates by the PTO Council of Albemarle County focused on overcrowding in schools and school modernization needs.
Paige said Western Albemarle High School in Crozet would soon need additional building space to alleviate overcrowding there. He said redistricting could be necessary as a last resort to evenly distribute Western Feeder Pattern students in the lower grades.
Waters said creative student grouping and instruction could provide immediate, short-term solutions to problems caused by overcrowding.
“Insuring that we have the necessary organization done with students and teachers can help us, in addition to exploring increased capacity in terms of infrastructure,” he said.
Acuff said the county may need to accelerate a planned expansion of Crozet Elementary School to accommodate the community’s growth. She encouraged county residents to attend the Oct. 26 School Board meeting, at which the board will receive recommendations for high school improvements from a consultant.
In 2016, Albemarle County obtained a 61-acre site for a new high school near the intersection of U.S. 29 and Rio Mills Road as a proffer for the Brookhill subdivision. Callsen said she was concerned that building a high school in this location along the new Berkmar Drive extension would “…further divide our students along socioeconomic and racial lines.”
McIntyre said the School Board should consider collaborating with the county government to establish health clinics, food pantries and other community resources on the campuses of new schools.
“Schools as insular, siloed, buildings… are the schools of the past,” said McIntyre. “The schools of the future have more of a community center atmosphere.”
All four of the candidates at Thursday’s forum said they would oppose any state policies that give residents tax credits or vouchers to send their children to private schools. The candidates also were supportive of Virginia’s current restrictions on charter schools. Albemarle County already operates two of the eight public charter schools in Virginia.
Candidates were also asked to share their budgeting philosophy for the school division; their thoughts on frequent changes to curriculum in the county schools; and their opinion of the School Board’s decision to close B. F. Yancey Elementary School.
Election day is Nov. 7.