Growing up in the Charlottesville- and Albemarle-area, Dom Morse faced adversity and he felt the school division didn’t serve him well enough.
He ended up earning a GED instead of traditionally graduating high school. So, Morse said, that he’s running for one of three open seats on Charlottesville City School Board to help ensure students have better outcomes.
Morse has also gone on to become the Youth Entrepreneurship Facilitator at Community Lab School, a charter school in Albemarle County. In 2020, The Charlottesville Business Innovation Council awarded him as “Educator of the Year” for his work.
“Being a leader doesn’t require us to be superheroes, but to be compassionate, hard-working, and helpful wherever we are,” Morse said. “It’s about influencing change and moving people in the same direction. I’m proud to know that my students, neighbors and community members believe in me and I know that I can do this job.”
Morse feels that his experience as a local who went through the local school system, as well as his current experience in teaching, can be useful to the board.
“I’m an active K-12 educator and I think that’s something that we need on the board,” Morse said.
He added that as a school board member he would understand the teachers’ experiences with their students.
Morse explained that he’s witnessed alternative approaches to curriculum that may yield good learning outcomes. It’s that experience that also earned him Educator of the Year.
“We completely redid our middle school [Community Lab School] to where we have project time every single day. What this allows is for our students to really engage with who they are, explore the curriculum and do it in a way that it’s not subject-focused, but it is standard-focused interdisciplinary work,” Morse said. “Students are able to tackle social studies and science while also tackling maybe a community issue or trying to find out different ways they can solve problems as teachers come up with their own narratives.”
Food access and nutrition are some priorities for his campaign, and the experience is also personal.
“I can tell you personally, my mom went through that process to get free and reduced lunch and we were denied free or reduced lunch because she made $50 dollars over the limit,” Morse said. “My mom was able to help provide a good lunch but where it really hit us the most was when it came to dinner and other finances. Sometimes, not being able to get a winter coat because we had to choose between dinner and a new coat.”
If elected, he would continue to support free and reduced lunch programs. Morse will also continue the collaboration with organizations like Cultivate Charlottesville. Additionally he wants to raise salaries of cafeteria staff and budget for more fresh produce served in schools.
“That’s due to an addition of responsibilities as we ask them to prepare fresh food for our students,” Morse said. “They will need additional training and we also should make sure that we appropriately pay them.”
As all things in local government are tethered to budgets, Morse said it will also be important to evaluate programs to “make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.” Morse said that he would help analyze what could be changed, eliminated, or even added on to.
“For me, the budget priority is always student-facing,” Morse said. “Obviously the money comes from City Council, but at the same time, we have other ways to fund positions.”
He pointed out that the School Board and City Council can advocate to the state legislature as needed and that the school division could create memorandums of understanding or partnerships with area nonprofits as well.
Increased participation and advocacy from students, parents, and teachers is something Morse said he will push for and bring to the public if elected. Morse explained that he will be committed to hosting listening sessions and finding ways to bring more parents and students into physical or virtual chambers when the board meets.
“There are a lot of community members that aren’t engaged in this process and I’m a person that is willing to engage them, even if it’s one person at a time,” Morse said as he reflected on bringing a parent he’d been in contact with to a meeting in September.
Morse will keep educating parents on where to find agendas when they’re posted and how the process works for public comment.
“I want parents to be involved — especially if they’ve gone through our system and have an ‘education trauma,’” Morse said.
He said he was shut out of Advanced Placement courses at Charlottesville High School due to overcrowding. During his one year spent at Monticello High School in Albemarle County he was dual-enrolled in regular and AP courses. In the time since, Charlottesville has reworked its gifted model. Also, a long overdue reconfiguration of Buford Middle School and Walker Upper Elementary School is closer to becoming a reality. Those are both things Morse said will serve students well.
In seeking a school board seat, he explained that he can not only support the board in its efforts, but he can help reach parents and students whom he may have shared experiences with.
“It’s weird to come back into the system after having negative experiences, and then having to advocate for your child when parents feel like there is a power imbalance,” Morse said. “I want to make sure that it’s welcoming to all community members.”