City Council candidates address early childhood education

In advance of Election Day on Nov. 3, Charlottesville Tomorrow will once again mail out in-depth nonpartisan voter guides, featuring exclusive one-on-one interviews with all 25 candidates for Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, Charlottesville City Council and both local school boards.  In the days before the election, we will also feature their responses to several important questions about key quality of life issues so that you can compare candidates’ answers and make an informed choice.

Charlottesville Tomorrow’s 2015 Election Center website features links to the full written transcript and audio of candidate interviews, copies of our 2015 voter guide, information on where to vote, and more.  All the following passages are excerpts from our interviews.


Business leaders and social service agencies have told local government that new investments are sorely needed in the area of early childhood education.  Will you make pre-K education and quality childcare a priority and if so how?

Three at-large seats available

Scott Bandy (Libertarian)

It would be a disservice to parents who have children in the school system not to, but as I alluded to before, I’m leery of where the spending goes. Something that I would have to educate myself up on more, and no I wasn’t making a play on words there.
When we’re talking about making pre-K education and quality childcare a priority, we’ve got keep in mind these are the most impressionable children at an age when… My sister, she got a degree in teaching but, as life goes for some folks, it was something that didn’t gel as a career for her even though she had the qualifications for it.
Now I’m not going to dare claim that I have qualifications to be an educator or teacher in our public schools and we won’t, I won’t even further mention what’s available privately or home-schooling. But, children, the youngest of children, this is pre-K education. They’re impressionable. It’s getting them ready to catch up with the technological advances that have so, I mean, even since 2011, technological advances have just (whistles) zoomed. I’m astounded that even children who are pre-school age, you know, someone with their, someone with their parent toddlers, in a place, say, like Best Buy, going up to some of the displays. They know more than their parents!

So, something I would definitely hold a critical and constant eye on. It’s important. We don’t want to steer our most impressionable future citizens in the wrong direction. We want them to be able to, there’s that word again, sustain themselves.

Wes Bellamy (D)

Absolutely. This is something that is really near and dear to my heart. We ran on this issue, this was one of our platform issues. Not only during this campaign, but two years ago, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be something we’ll be talking about for a long time. But I hope that here in Charlottesville, we can get it right.

When we say “how do we do so?” I think we have to be methodical and strategic in how we go about it. So you all released a report earlier in the year that said that somewhere between 300 and 500 students are without pre-K. Well, that means they’re going to either a friend’s house, they’re going maybe to grandma’s house, Auntie’s house. They’re going to a neighborhood childcare provider. They may be watching Dora all day.  They may be eating non-nutritional snacks. I know what that feels like. I was a kid like that, but then I see the impact that early childhood development has on a child when I think about my own daughter who I was lucky enough to be able to afford to send her to a pre-K school. She went to a Montessori school from ages 3 to 5. Her development is incredible. We see how it sets people apart. It sets children apart, rather. So, we have to make a concerted effort to make sure that that happens.

How do we do so? I think it’s one or two ways. One of the things I’m really interested in looking at is reviewing the Blue Ribbon Commission report from a couple of years ago and let’s see if we can figure out exactly what it’s going to take for us to be able to have a centralized pre-K center. Ideally, in my personal estimation, that would be at Walker Upper Elementary School. You would go back to a more traditional model in which you have K through 5 and then you have Walker serving as the pre-K center for kids 3 and 4. You open Buford [Middle School] to grades six, seven and eight and then you have a traditional high school.

However, I know that comes with a lofty price tag. So what can we do as Council and also as a governing body working with our city manager to figure out how we can make this happen? I think everyone in this city – business investors, politicians, police officers and just the regular person on the street – would all agree that early childhood education is important. So if we all feel this is important, let’s put our efforts in making sure that it happens. Because I don’t want any children, regardless of whether you live in Westhaven, First Street or if you live in Belmont or Fry’s Spring. I don’t want any child to not have the opportunity to go and learn in those early years, ages three and four. We don’t want any kid in our city not having the opportunity to be on par with their peers, or coming in already disadvantaged. Because I know first-hand what that does and I see it every day at school how the remnants, they kind of follow you all the way up into high school. So let’s figure out how we can make it happen, and I’m looking forward to working with the school board and my fellow Councilors to make it happen.

Kathy Galvin (D) * Incumbent

We are in a wonderful situation in the City of Charlottesville, for the first time in a long time we are seeing enrollment increase.  When I was on school board five years ago, we were kind of at our low point, like 3,700 students, now we are at like 4,200 students. That’s a considerable increase. That’s telling me that young families want the walkable city.  They want what Charlottesville provides.  That’s the good part.  What we also need to understand though is that across the board not every child is succeeding in our city schools the same way.  I have learned over the years that a lot of that is attributed to the neighborhoods that the students are growing up in.  It’s different if you are living in a neighborhood that has parks, that has sidewalks, that feels safe, you are not in danger of any kind of harm.  As opposed to living in a neighborhood that has food deserts and park deserts and actually could have high levels of violence.  

So we’ve got a situation where we need to rebalance the time after school and the time before school since about 87 percent of a child’s life is not in school at all. So I am expanding the question a bit – we need better after school programming.  Now those same neighborhoods, and those same circumstances for the more affluent children, also are the ones that give them the most rich early childhood education.  I was able to send both of my children into a lovely church preschool program which was absolutely delightful.  I know that doesn’t happen for all of our children.  

We are fortunate in the city to have a 4-year old program for our high-risk children and for a certain select few we are able to do the 3-year old program.  But while we are now looking at the wonderful problem of having to actually expand the physical capacity of our schools because of a growing enrollment, and you’ve got this growing need now to expand pre-K education to everybody, at least all 3-year olds, then I think we need to think about a very robust capital improvement program.  When I was on school board we had the reconfiguration plan which was an opportunity to get all of the fifth grade back into the elementary schools.  It was then consolidating sixth, seventh and eighth at Buford and then it was going to be using Walker as a state-of-the-art early childhood development center. That could have considerably expanded our options for early childhood development, and I stress that it is early childhood development, this is not only daycare.  This is state-of-the-art enrichment and [we could] work out a partnership with the [University of Virginia] Curry School [of Education and Dean] Robert Pianta, an expert in early childhood education.  As we all know there has been a summit between the various daycare providers and the school divisions on early childhood education.  I think now the time is right to get the right people in the room to start tasking out the steps that are going to be needed to create both the physical plant as well as the staff resources to get this done.  So once we know what our trends are for sure, what our growth needs are, then we can start looking at this together with the county what we need by way of resources in terms of the physical plant, that means capital budget needs, as well as then programming needs.  I think, I am hoping at some point we can even move towards a model where it’s a regional approach so that city children and county children are going cross borders.  Let’s use the early childhood development program as the first step towards greater sharing in our division, because we don’t have it yet.  We don’t have all these other systems in place that need to be broken first in order to tie them together.  This would be a brand new way of delivering services and both jurisdictions learning to do it together.

Anson Parker (R)

Absolutely. I grew up in Lexington. We had an outstanding education system, right? I think from 1975 to 1996 we actually had zero drop-outs. Rates that were like one hundred percent graduation, right? Like, actually no child left behind kind of stuff. So, absolutely. We need to have pre-K and I think again, this is one of those places where I think we should be leaning on UVa. They keep saying they have this huge commitment to attracting STEM women and I don’t see them really putting their money where their mouth is. I think we should be leveraging that very seriously.

Mike Signer (D)

Yes. I will make it a priority. I think that the evidence is in about how absolutely crucial those first years are in the development, particularly of low-income and more vulnerable kids. Particularly those who may not have the most stable home environments. So education programs, ranging from motor skills to having their vocabulary increased to being read to, to being cared for. They provide just such an important leg up.

So, I think that Charlottesville Tomorrow has done really good work in the community on this. You all have done some interesting reports about innovative programs around Virginia and also around the country. There was something about social impact bonds you did about ways of funding these programs because it can be a slightly different income stream because you have Head Start monies, there’s non-profit monies. It’s off of the traditional K-12 brief of a standard school board.

So I want to be heavily involved in this. I want to be active on it, working with my other Councilors, working with leaders in the community. We have amazing resources in Charlottesville. We have the Curry School of Education. We have a lot of private sector folks here who might be willing to support greater childhood education. We have nonprofits. And it is something I’m going to support.