In Virginia, county school boards are composed of one member from each district in that county, and sometimes include an at-large member. Members are elected to four-year terms and serve as the leaders of the school district by setting the policies for and choosing the leadership of public schools, among other duties. The Fluvanna County Public School Board has five members, one from each district.

Incumbent James Kelley is being challenged by Brittany Gray to represent the Palmyra District on the Fluvanna County School Board. Kelley, who is the current School Board chair, won the Palmyra District seat in an uncontested election in 2019.

Charlottesville Tomorrow designed this questionnaire based on more than 200 responses we received to a voter survey. Kelley’s answers to the questionnaire can be read below; Gray did not return answers.

Last year, the school board worked hard to increase teacher salaries, cutting other programs to do so. What are your goals for the budget for next year and how would you reach those goals?

James Kelley: Fluvanna County Public Schools did not have to cut any programs while giving staff raises between 7% and 13% last year. The School Board requested an unprecedented $2.7 million dollars from the Board of Supervisors and was allocated $2.2 million. Based on this generous allocation, we were able to give staff raises and add important positions including a new assistant principal at Central Elementary and a new division-wide mental health coordinator.

My goals for this next year’s budget include listening to the mental health coordinator and advocating for what she needs to help our students, whether that’s additional staff and/or resources. I’d also like to add a testing coordinator position so that our instructional technologists at the elementary level can focus on aiding teachers and running our STEAM labs without interruption.

I plan to treat this budget cycle like all those before — by listening to our staff about their needs, advocating for what helps students the most and by being a constant presence at the Board of Supervisors. This means being present at all budget hearings, being transparent and open about our priorities and budget lines, and continuing to focus on our students.

Gray: Did not provide a response.

Like many school districts, Fluvanna is struggling to hire and retain teachers. How would you, as a school board member, address this issue?

Kelley: There is no denying a trend of early retirements and teachers leaving the industry in the COVID and post-COVID eras. That said, hiring talented staff and retaining them is a top priority for our division. This is done in two ways: by creating a culture where staff want to work in Fluvanna, and by paying them enough so that they can do so reasonably. Last budget cycle we ran a salary study to provide ground truth on how competitively we pay our staff as compared to surrounding divisions. The results were sobering — for some positions, we pay 20-30% behind other localities. We used this salary study to garner support among the Board of Supervisors for raises between 7-13% for all staff. That means staff have seen a minimum increase of 17% over the past four years. I am committed to advocating for our staff — both for their pay but also to improve the culture in Fluvanna. The more board members are in the buildings, are seen by the staff and listen to their needs, the more we can create a culture that encourages them to stay.

Gray: Did not provide a response.

Districts are also struggling to hire and retain bus drivers. How would you propose addressing this issue?

Kelley: Fluvanna County Public Schools did not struggle to hire and retain bus drivers. Ms. Marsh, our transportation supervisor, has created a culture in her department that has helped us overcome the challenges all divisions are facing with regards to transportation. Fluvanna is fully staffed and has recently hired a handful of drivers from surrounding divisions. I cannot and will not take credit for the culture inside the transportation department, but I will note that returning from COVID, the School Board increased the starting bus driver pay from $15 to $20 an hour, and we are one of a few divisions offering benefits. Again, I’d say our success comes down to culture and pay.

Gray: Did not provide a response.

Tell us about the achievement gaps for students in your district. What sort of programs do you favor to close those gaps?

Kelley: Fluvanna has significant achievement gaps as it relates to standardized testing among several populations: between white and non-white students, between those with high and low socio economic status and between those with and without disability. While it doesn’t absolve us of our responsibility to fix this, I will note that many surrounding divisions have similar gaps in scores. I will continue to fight for equity in education and believe we can remedy these gaps using a few key mechanisms:

  1. Individualized attention. Each student learns in a unique way. In classrooms with 15-20 students, the teacher and their students need support. This is why I have advocated for, and Fluvanna has hired, reading, math and behavioral specialists and some supporting aides. I believe that small group work, and work with specialists, helps identify areas where students are struggling and helps them overcome comparative weaknesses. I believe that investing more in specialists and aides, and the statewide initiative on tutors, can help close these gaps.
  2. Project-based assessment. The other thing to note is that “drill and kill” or teaching to the test doesn’t lead to long-term knowledge gains. I believe that a refocus from standardized tests to project-based assessment can help students learn the functional skills they need to pass SOLs [Standards of Learning] and other standardized tests, and actually learn the course material. I believe this refocus helps all students, whether or not they tend to perform well on standardized tests.

Gray: Did not provide a response.

Tell us about student safety in your district. How should the district keep students safe in school?

Kelley: Fluvanna schools are remarkably safe. That said, we have an occasional fight in the high school and this year we’ve had two bomb threats delivered over social media. We take both infractions seriously. With regards to fights, we have a zero-tolerance policy. This means students receive a minimum 3-day out of school suspension for physical assault, a minimum 5-day out of school suspension for fighting, and a minimum of 5-day out of school suspension for filming fights. It is our responsibility to provide a safe learning environment and clear, reliable consequences are the key to discouraging students from engaging in physical violence.

With regards to bomb threats, we take each threat to the safety of our students and buildings seriously. We immediately notify local law enforcement and take whatever steps necessary to evacuate our buildings. We enjoy a strong relationship with our sheriff’s department and work closely to ensure those issuing threats are identified and held accountable.

In addition, our own policies with regards to punishment for students are substantial and ensure those who pose risks to others are not welcome on campus.

Gray: Did not provide a response.

Kelley: Fluvanna County Public Schools has several policies related to discrimination. When Governor Northam released their model policies, we did not change our policy, but rather modified the implementation accordingly. We have done the same in response to Governor Younkin’s model policy. Fluvanna County Public Schools believes in a safe and equal learning environment for all students regardless of identity.

Gray: Did not provide a response.

Tell us about the history and social studies curriculums you would support your district using.

Kelley: I trust our experts as it relates to curriculum. Specifically, I trust our administration and curriculum coordinators, our teachers and our curriculum committees to review relevant course material, debate and make recommendations as it relates to the appropriateness of adopting textbooks from among the state-approved lists. I have never voted against the recommendations of our curriculum or textbook committees.

That said, I believe in a history and social studies curriculum that provides coverage of relevant events, regardless of whether the facts make us uncomfortable. I believe history is frequently told as a singular narrative but is truly complex and should include the voices of many groups involved. I believe that teaching history includes confronting the ugly truths of the past and is essential to not repeating them. We would be doing ourselves a disservice if graduating students did not have a realistic understanding and perspective on topics such as the Holocaust, slavery and the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.

My opponent recently received an endorsement from and was featured on a direct mail piece by the 1776 Project PAC, a group dedicated to using Critical Race Theory (which has never been nor will be in our curriculum!) as a wedge issue to fearmonger and activate voters. The candidates they support disproportionately advocate for censoring and/or burning books with which they disagree.* I believe this is the antithesis of tolerance and of education. I’m ashamed to share a ballot with someone endorsed by this group.

[Editor’s Note: On August 3, 2023, the 1776 Project Political Action Committee (PAC) posted its endorsements for Virginia School Board candidates to X (formerly Twitter). The list included Brittany Gray, as well as Fluvanna County School Board Fork Union district candidate Danny Reed. On X, the organization describes itself: “We are a PAC that helped elect over 100 un-woke school board members last year and we’re only just getting started.” The PAC’s website says that it is “committed to abolishing critical race theory and ‘The 1619 Project’ from the public school curriculum.” And a popup on the site reads “report a school promoting critical race theory.” Charlottesville Tomorrow was not able to independently verify that Gray was featured on a PAC mailer, nor were we able to verify that candidates the PAC supports advocate for book burning.]

Gray: Did not provide a response.

Are there any other important issues facing the school district that you’d like voters to know about?

Kelley: Fluvanna is a fabulous school division with amazing success stories. I am proud to serve this division and to advocate for our students and staff. That said, the more state, national and fringe politics influence our school division, the more it distracts us from focusing on what’s important. Please join me in the voting booth, but also in the boardroom, so we can continue Putting Fluvanna Students First.

Gray: Did not provide a response.

Polls in Virginia close at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 7, night. The Virginia Department of Elections will publish election results in real time, as they arrive from precincts around the state. To view them, head to this link. These are unofficial results until they are certified. Here’s more about how to get election results.

  • Sept. 22: First day of in-person early voting at your local registrar’s office.
  • Oct. 16: Deadline to register to vote, or update an existing registration. You can also register after this date, and on election day, but you will vote with a provisional ballot, could take longer for officials to count because they will verify your eligibility.
  • Oct. 27: Deadline to apply for a ballot to be mailed to you. Your request must be received by your local registrar by 5:00 p.m.
  • Oct. 28: Voter registration offices open for early voting.
  • Nov. 4: The last day of in-person early voting at your registrar.
  • Nov. 7: Election Day. Here is where you can find your polling place.

Need to know if you’re eligible to vote? Here are resources from the Virginia Department of Elections.


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