In advance of Election Day Nov. 7, Charlottesville Tomorrow has produced in-depth nonpartisan voter guides, featuring exclusive one-on-one interviews with all the candidates for the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and Albemarle County School Board. In advance of the election, we will also feature their responses to important questions about their qualifications, priorities, and key quality of life issues so that our citizens can compare candidates’ answers and make an informed choice.
Charlottesville Tomorrow’s 2017 Election Center website also features candidates in the city of Charlottesville and links to the full written transcript and audio of these interviews.
All the following passages are verbatim excerpts from our interviews.
ALBEMARLE COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD, FIRST IN A SERIES
Jack Jouett District
Kate Acuff * Incumbent
We have to make a decision about what kinds of improvements were going to make in terms of high schools. How are we going to address capacity how we can address modernization how we going to address transportation to give students at high school level access to all the different kinds of programs that are available. The other issue is the closing of Yancey we had to reassign those 118 students to be their Scottsville or Red Hill elementary schools and for Scottsville there is already on the long term on capital plan priority list, it was already scheduled to have an expansion but it was way down on the list. We’ve had to put a four classroom learning cottage on the side to accommodate those additional students, so we’re going to have to move up an expansion of 7 Scottsville I think.
With the Woodbrook expansion that’s being d one right now that was financed under the referendum that should take care of our urban ring elementary school needs for the foreseeable future. But you know we have other needs we had 40 students additionally show up at Baker Butler, so we have facility needs but I think in terms of capital — once get past high school —continuing to modernize our facilities is high on my capital needs list. When you’ve got our average core facilities are forty-eight years. Western is forty-one years old, and it was built in an era where they really like concrete walls and no windows so a lot of the classrooms don’t have any natural light. And so that will be an ongoing process.
I think the answer you’re probably going to get from a lot of people is the high school. I hear that at a lot of doors — that we have overcrowding at our high schools, and they’re just curious as to what’s going to be happening next. We are reaching a point at Albemarle High School where we either are going to keep getting so big that we get into kind of a different category of school or we build a new high school. I think with that, we need to do a lot — the community needs to take a lot of things into account, one of which is- I don’t want to further segregate our populations along racial and social lines, and if we build a new high school up [Route] 29 where the land is, we are in essence going to concentrate the urban-ring students at Albemarle high school. We are going to have another-basically another Western [Albemarle High School] up 29, and I think that’s problematic in the long run, so we either have to be creative with how we do districting if we make that decision. So my priority would just be serving the needs of our high school students and getting ahead of growth in a way that is not further dividing our community.
I’ve attended some long range planning committee meetings which were really, really interesting, just the details that they get into as far as the growth areas of the county and the projected enrollment for different schools. I’ve learned how how they project the enrollment looking at birth data and then that’s how they figure out what the relative size of a kindergarten class will be five years later. One thing that we know right now, not even five years from now, our high school is overcrowded. Albemarle high is just bursting at the seams, and there’s been talk about us needing a fourth high school. Now where it would go to to adequately address the overcrowding in Albemarle hasn’t really yet been nailed down, but I know that the school system has recognized that we do need more capacity at the high school 9 level, and it’s not just adding on to the three high schools that we have, and it’s not something that just changing the districts of the schools will solve either.
So I’ve heard talk of another bond referendum. The last one passed, you know that was the one that funded the Woodbrook expansion, but it also, it put money into every single school in the county. Technology upgrades, science lab upgrades things like that. So if we have, we possibly have another bond referendum coming up in the future, and I believe that would be to address high school capacity issues, but I haven’t been privy to all of those conversations. We have had land that was proffered to the county for an elementary school in a development that’s not there yet but it’s off of [Route] 29 North [at the Brookhill] development. So I anticipate that they will put an elementary school on that land once the neighborhood finally materializes. I know they do need an expansion at Crozet Elementary. Brownsville is huge, Brownsville Elementary is very, very big and Crozet has projected growing enrollment. But when you look at schools in other parts of the county, you know Broadus Wood [Elementary], if you look at the tenyear numbers actually shows declining enrollment and Stony Point [Elementary] over in the other side of the county also shows declining enrollment. Our rural schools are, we’re going to see the numbers start to go down because the development isn’t happening out there, all the jobs aren’t really out there, public transportation doesn’t really go out there. So we’re going to have to figure out how we’re going to balance out our student population without having children on the bus for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon, because that’s not the ideal solution either. So yeah, I definitely I think a new high school is probably on the horizon, elementary expansions are going to be needed in a couple of places and then a new elementary school up on [Route] 29.
When we think about High School 2022, some of the things that we might have to do in high schools may not even be in the building. We might have to come up with some type of way to think outside of the box, realizing that students may not necessarily have to really be in the classroom, they may not to have to be in the actual school building. If they have internships in different places, that would be something that would be a part of our curriculum, it would be outside of where they would actually be going to school. So it may not have to be that we have to always expand our facilities, but we might have to try to develop better partnerships with different companies or things within our community so that we could have more internships. The school facilities in some cases might have to be updated too, they would have to be updated in a lot of cases, but the main thing is that we might not necessarily have to, again, stay within the building.
One of the big issues that’s come up in the past year or so is and you’ve definitely heard this about building a new high school out in Rio to help accommodate the overcrowding from Albemarle High School, Albemarle High school is incredibly overcrowded. In fact, when I visited there last year, they’ve actually taken part of the basement and transformed it into classroom space simply because they just don’t have enough space to accommodate the number of students they have. And that’s not something that we’re going to fix by redistricting. It’s just not, because when we look at Albemarle County having just Albemarle High School as the only high school in the urban ring and then Monticello and Western are a little bit more on the fringe of that population growth area. It’s not feasible for us to look at redistricting as the only option to help solve Albemarle’s problems. And we look at expanding our infrastructure on that property. We don’t have enough space to accommodate that population growth forever.
But I think that before we look at building another high school out there, out at Rio, at the location that has been set aside, we need to look at what the results are from the current bond referendum because when we talk about building a new high school the talk is really having a bond referendum to get the money to build that high school. And so what we need to do is look at how are we managing the projects that we’ve already passed from the current bond referendum and use that to help spur public confidence in building a new high school. I think that it’s absolutely right move to make. But that we need to be really careful when it comes to a budgetary sense of how are we going to do this in a responsible manner that doesn’t betray our trust of the community, that tells the community that, yes this is what we’re going to do, and we’ve been able to follow through on it. We’re going to able to do this and serve you better, as best as we can. Because when we tell the community that we’re going to build a new school and we’re going to try and serve them better by alleviating overcrowding, though that’s something that they see and they’re going to expect that we’re going to put our all into it. And so we really need to show them that from what we’ve done in the past year and the past few months that’s really going to have a positive outcome for them.
And when we look at infrastructure as a whole, especially when you look at school improvement projects, such as we had from the bond referendum from this past year, it seems to me that that all too often when we’re looking at school improvement projects, when we look at expansion projects to help alleviate or crowding what we’re really doing is playing it almost like it’s a game of catch up where the overcrowding happens and then all of a sudden we rush and try and build that expansion area so that there’s no longer any overcrowding. And what I think we need to do is we need to explore a system where it’s a rolling system where you have a set of expansion projects that takes into account the needs of growing populations or shrinking populations. And how do we consistently accommodate for that instead of having to play that catch up game. Having to play that game of catch up over and over again, it does a disservice to our community, does a disservice to our students and a disservice to our teachers. And so when we look at planning five years out, or two years out and saying this is what we’re going to do this and the population is expected to increase and enrollments going to give us 50 more students by 2020, ten let’s have that in a long term plan. Instead of saying well they’re overcrowded now, what are we going to do about? I just think that we do a disservice to ourselves by not trying to see that in advance.