Two new candidates have entered local school board races.
In Albemarle, Jonathan “Jonno” Alcaro, 62, is running to represent the White Hall District, while Sherry Kraft, 67, is running for one of four open seats on the Charlottesville School Board.
All of Charlottesville’s seven board members serve in at-large capacities. Six of Albemarle’s seven board members represent magisterial districts, and one holds an at-large seat.
“I’m very committed to our public schools, and I think they’re really the heart of our community,” Kraft said.
Kraft, a semi-retired clinical psychologist who holds a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University, said she’s entering the race because the timing is right and because she values civic involvement.
“I’ve been thinking about the school division’s challenges and what it means to support the schools,” Kraft said, “and how we can bring the resources the schools need to them and to make sure they’re used well.”
Kraft, whose children attended Charlottesville City Schools, has served as PTO president at Burnley-Moran Elementary School and vice-president of the PTO at Buford Middle School. She also has been involved with the Charlottesville High School Orchestra boosters.
One area Kraft said she would like to focus the School Board’s attention on is how mental health impacts academic performance.
“We’ve been working on it for a long time, and we call it different things, like the ‘achievement gap,’ but it’s a real challenge to understand what’s going on with the kids who seem not to be doing as well,” Kraft said. “It’s a context for the struggles that a lot of the kids have.”
Kraft also said she supports expanding services for the division’s youngest learners.
“I think we have to increase the resources that go to those pre-k programs,” Kraft said. “It seems like we’re at the point where we really need to do something there.”
To accomplish this, Kraft said Charlottesville needs to “look at all options,” and engage teachers in the conversation.
“We have to really listen to the preschool teachers who are there now in terms of what they think will work for the kids and their families,” she said.
Additionally, Kraft cited increased cooperation between the City Council and the School Board, workforce development for students exiting high school and maintaining fine arts programs as areas of emphasis.
Alcaro, co-owner of Meritage Financial Solutions, has lived in Albemarle for five years and has a daughter who attends Western Albemarle High School.
School Board member Barbara Massie Mouly is not running for re-election to the White Halls seat. Alcaro will run against Attorney Dave Oberg who launched his campaign last month.
Alcaro said he’s running to contribute to the school division his daughter attends.
“I want to help make a difference in terms of the future of the programs,” Alcaro said, noting that while he isn’t entering the race with specific issues he wants to address, he’s heard consistent themes from the teachers, parents and students he’s met.
Alcaro said the teachers he’s met are concerned with their work load — the total amount of students a teacher is assigned per semester — and compensation, while many parents, he said, would like to see new energy infused into some of the division’s older teachers.
Many students, Alcaro said, are concerned with the amount of technology in the classroom and the growing role it’s playing in student learning.
Alcaro said he has been following Albemarle’s redistricting conversation and that while he can see the logic behind a redistricting, at “first blush” it seems like a “stopgap measure.”
“If we can be working toward a final solution, like more schools up north where the growth is, then that makes more sense to me,” he said. “As a businessman, stopgaps have to be just that.”
Alcaro said he plans to visit every Albemarle school building this summer, and to continue meeting stakeholders in the community.
“I want to meet the principals, see the facilities … and just learn what’s going on school by school,” Alcaro said.
“I don’t presume to know all the answers,” he added. “Other people who are in the race have a lot of experience, but I’ve got some other experience that I can bring to the table.”
The deadline for candidates to submit their paperwork to qualify for both city and county school board races is Tuesday. There are no declared candidates for Albemarle’s at-Large seat and only three announced candidates for the four seats on the ballot in Charlottesville.
On the city School Board, incumbents Amy Laufer and Jennifer McKeever are running for re-election. Colette Blount has not announced whether she will seek another term. Willa Neale is not running for re-election.