Six people who applied to fill the now-vacant Samuel Miller District seat on the Albemarle County School Board until Nov. 3 each made their case Monday before the School Board and members of the community.
The vacancy is the result of the resignation of Eric Strucko, who accepted a position at Pennsylvania State University earlier this spring. The six remaining School Board members plan to appoint the new member at its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the County Office Building on McIntire Road.
Additionally, the board has petitioned the Albemarle Circuit Court to hold a special election for the Samuel Miller seat Nov. 3 so voters can elect a member to serve the remainder of Strucko’s term, which runs through Dec. 31, 2017.
Madison Cummings, who represented the district from 1998 to 2001, asked to be removed from consideration.
When asked to identify the greatest challenge to public education in the next 10 years, Jon Stokes — who represented the district from 2006 to 2009 — cited facilities and enrollment growth in Albemarle.
“It’s a little bit daunting to see what we’re in for, especially given the financial climate we’re climbing out of,” Stokes said.
What’s more, Stokes said Albemarle will need to bolster online learning and think creatively.
“It’s not always going to be redistricting and building additions,” Stokes said.
Patrick Barnett, a member of the Parent Council who has children at Red Hill Elementary School, pointed to facilities and growth, but also highlighted the role of technology in the classroom.
While Barnett stressed developing “21st century citizens,” he argued that “learning the fundamentals” are the keys to success.
Additionally, Barnett said the division eventually will have to deal with a growing LGBT population.
“We’ll need the policies that are going to be necessary as those issues become more commonplace, even at the student level,” Barnett said.
Brian Vanyo, an intelligence officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency who has children at Burley Middle School and Cale Elementary School, pointed to funding, highlighting decreased contributions from the state level.
But Vanyo warned against “turning on the money spigot” to solve any problem.
“I want to make sure we spend the taxpayers’ money in a very economical way,” Vanyo said, adding that while he wouldn’t rule out finding efficiencies within the division, he would “try to limit any decrease to teacher funding.”
Robert McKnight, an engineer with children in the division, also cited fiscal responsibility, but noted that the challenges Albemarle County Public Schools face don’t differ from many other school divisions in the country.
Dolly Joseph, who has taught in Charlottesville City Schools and at the Peabody School, said keeping up with technology’s rate of change will be difficult, and said that the board needs to ensure the division is teaching with technology that is appropriate for the age group.
Joseph also said she’d like to help change the perception that the school division’s quality only matters to those with students in the schools.
“Sometimes I feel we’re very much in our silos,” she said.
Graham Paige, who taught science in Albemarle for 24 years, cited budgeting, growth and designing the school of the future.
With respect to how he would work with the Board of Supervisors, Paige said he’d be a good board member because of his willingness to communicate and compromise with supervisors who may have different opinions than his own.
Joseph said that regardless of politics, working with the supervisors is about building strong relationships.
While McKnight said relationships are important, he stressed communicating directly.
“It’s important to communicate with facts in a factual basis and minimize those things that are emotional,” he said.
Vanyo agreed, and said it’s paramount to convey to the supervisors how important it is to educate the county’s children.
Stokes, however, said that as an elected School Board member, his job would be to advocate for the school division.
Barnett said he’s confident in his ability to build consensus and problem-solve, and said those qualities would aid him in working with the supervisors.
When asked if they intend to run formally in November, Joseph said she plans to run for the at-large seat, while McKnight, Vanyo and Barnett all plan to run for the Samuel Miller seat. Stokes said he would not run, and Paige said he most likely will.
Candidates for the special election have until Aug. 9 to file.