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Identifying an architectural firm to design and plan the Walker-Buford reconfiguration project and leveraging private money to complete the project are among Jennifer McKeever’s priorities in her new term as Charlottesville School Board chair. McKeever, who has served on the Charlottesville School Board since 2012, said the city schools also have several projects going on and that’s one of the reasons she’s excited to remain on the School Board. “We’re in the middle of a lot of things right now — things that started last year and things that we need to prioritize,” she said. “I think the board has been focused and will remained very focused.” McKeever, who initially ran for the School Board because she had two children in the division, will be overseeing the board during a pivotal time. The division began talking about the reconfiguration of Walker Upper Elementary School and Buford Middle School nearly a decade ago, but the city couldn’t afford allocating a large amount of money to the schools. Currently, Walker houses fifth and sixth grade. Buford houses seventh and eighth grade. The city approved $3 million for planning and the hiring of an architectural firm for the reconfiguration. The division wants to move sixth grade to Buford and fifth grade down to the elementary schools. The Walker building would then serve as a centralized preschool center. That plan would allow all the division’s preschool programs to be under one roof because they’re currently scattered across the elementary schools. The city released the request for proposal on Dec. 18. Jan. 30 is the deadline for the firms to submit their proposals. Michael Goddard, project manager of facility development for the city of Charlottesville, said he has not received submissions yet. He added that if he did, that would be “highly unusual.” “Firms always use almost all of the time allotted to put their packages together,” Goddard said. The division anticipates needing nearly $60 million to complete the Walker-Buford project. McKeever said it’s important to leverage private funding for the project because it would help support the goals of reconfiguration to ensure that the city taxpayers don’t have to pay for the entirety of the reconfiguration. “I’d like to research how to set up some foundation of some sort so that people can support the goals of reconfiguration privately in addition to the public support that we’re going to be asking for as a board,” she explained. In addition to prioritizing the Walker-Bufford project, the city schools must also address the current substitute teacher shortage. The newest member of the Charlottesville School Board, Lashundra Bryson Morsberger, recommended a local job fair to see if people in the community might want to help. Bryson Morsberger also stressed the administration find some flexibilities, such as different ways to approach candidates, whether it’s different types of incentives. At this month’s School Board meeting, the division approved seven new substitute teachers in its consent agenda. McKeever said the administration is advertising current substitute teacher openings. “One of the things that I’d really want to see with budget process is the increase. Last year, we did an increase, especially for long-term [substitute  teachers]” she said. “What I’m hoping for this year’s budget is [for Superintendent Rosa Atkins to] increase the salary once again.” She stressed she’d like to see the salary raised to $15 an hour. But it’s up to what Atkins recommends during her budget presentation in February. “I look forward to seeing what her recommendations are,” McKeever said.

Billy Jean Louis joined Charlottesville Tomorrow as its education reporter in April 2019 and is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean Louis speaks English, Haitian Creole and French.