In Virginia, county school boards are composed of at-large members, plus one member from each district in that county. They are elected for four-year terms and serve as the leaders of the school district by setting the policies and choosing the leadership of public schools, among other duties. The Albemarle County Public Schools Board has seven members, one from each of its six districts, and one at-large member.
Jonathan “Jonno” Alcaro served two terms as the at-large representative but is not running again. Newcomers Allison L. Spillman and Meg S. Bryce are the two certified candidates for the at-large seat this year. This race has had a lot of local news coverage, some of which is shared at the end of this Q&A.
Charlottesville Tomorrow designed a questionnaire based on more than 200 responses we received to a voter survey. The candidates’ answers appear in the order they were received
Like many school districts, Albemarle County Public Schools is struggling to hire and retain teachers. How would you as a school board member propose addressing this issue?
Meg Bryce: First, teachers deserve higher salaries, which may be accomplished by eliminating wasteful spending in our budget. For example, teachers are frustrated that our district seems to prioritize hiring people in the central office over hiring people who work in the schools. Second, teachers would like better professional development opportunities. Third, teachers need to feel that their expertise is valued, and that leadership is listening to their concerns. Our district does not have a reputation of listening to or valuing its teachers, and that will inevitably result in teachers choosing employment elsewhere. We need leadership that respects and listens to teachers.
Allison Spillman: I’m committed to addressing the teacher retention challenge through several key initiatives. Our educators are frontline workers, and we must pay them a competitive wage with excellent benefits, reflecting our respect and appreciation for their vital role in our children’s lives. I support creating an Office of Ombudsman, which will provide a confidential avenue for staff to report concerns, fostering trust and transparency within our school community. By valuing, respecting, and empowering our educators, we can attract and retain the best talent in Albemarle County Public Schools.
This district is having a similar issue with bus drivers. How would you propose addressing this issue?
Bryce: I have gotten to know many of our bus drivers and I see how much they love the children and families they serve. What they don’t love is the leadership in our district. One bus driver told me plainly: “We want three things: communication, 12-month pay, and respect.” They want 12-month pay (not nine-month), they want full work hours (increasing their hourly wage does nothing if their hours are decreased), they want to keep their routes, and they want to be treated like the professionals that they are. If we don’t fix those problems, we will keep losing drivers.
Spillman: Ensuring that 100% of ACPS students have access to bus transportation is of utmost importance. The challenge of student behavior has been significant for many bus drivers, exacerbated by the lack of a consistent discipline policy across the district. To address this issue, we must not only offer competitive wages and benefits but also focus on implementing a district-wide, uniform discipline policy. This policy will help create a safer and more respectful environment on buses, ensuring that drivers can perform their essential role without unnecessary disruptions, while also promoting fairness and consistency in how behavior issues are addressed. Our bus drivers are frontline workers, and they deserve to be respected, valued, and heard.
The Bellwether report, presented to the Board in June, pointed to the disparities students of color and economically disadvantaged students are facing in their studies. What would you do to support efforts to bridge the gaps? Are there approaches you’ve supported in the past?
Bryce: This is a critical issue in our district and many people I talk to don’t realize how bad it has become. Last year, only 35% of economically disadvantaged students and 31% of Black students passed the Third Grade Reading test [part of the 2022-2023 Standards of Learning from the Virginia Department of Education]. Respectively, those scores are 17 and 22 points below state average! We need to focus our efforts in early education — grades kindergarten to three — and work to identify struggling students early to give them the support they need to thrive. On a practical level this means that we need more reading specialists and math specialists in the elementary schools.
Spillman: It is critical that we address disparity gaps in our schools. My commitment is to ensure equitable resource allocation in ACPS, with a dedicated focus on students of color and economically disadvantaged students. This involves directing more resources toward intervention, especially in elementary and middle schools, and ensuring fair distribution. Additionally, I advocate for involving volunteers and organizations in tutoring and mentoring where they’re most needed. I’ve also supported initiatives like universal pre-kindergarten to provide a strong educational foundation and reading interventionists to help struggling students catch up.
There’s been an increase in violence, particularly gun violence, within the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. What steps do you think the district should take to keep students safe and supported in school?
Bryce: This is a scary time to be a parent, teacher or student. The best thing that we can do is to reinstate School Resource Officers in our district. They were removed in 2021 despite a majority of student- and parent- survey respondents indicating that they appreciated the presence of SROs. That was clearly a mistake, as evidenced by ACPS recently deciding to hire back one SRO this school year. However, one SRO is not enough. Schools need a security presence on site, and a direct line to the police department.
Spillman: We must prioritize our students’ safety at schools. I am proud to be a Moms Demand Action Gun Sense Candidate. I’m committed to implementing common-sense strategies to protect our children. This includes promoting the Be SMART gun safety program via ACPS’s website and parent communications. [Be SMART is a national campaign that started in 2015.] Additionally, we should provide free gun locks to ACPS families, a crucial step in prevention. We must effectively utilize ACPS’s Threat Assessment Program for early threat identification and coordinated intervention with mental health counselors, parents, and law enforcement. Finally, I’ll lobby for common-sense gun safety measures at the state level, including universal background checks, raising the firearm purchase age to 21, and banning high-capacity magazines.
Youngkin recently released updated model policies that define how school officials should treat transgender or gender nonconforming students — for example requiring teachers to get parental consent before calling students by names or pronouns that are not on official records. Do you support adopting this policy?
Bryce: I support the updated model policies because I think that it is essential to keep an open line of communication between schools and parents, even more so when a child is in distress.
Spillman: I vehemently oppose Governor Youngkin’s model policies. As a school board candidate, my highest priority is to ensure the safety, respect, and support of all students within our public schools. Youngkin’s policies not only discriminate but also place transgender students at risk. Creating an inclusive environment where every student can thrive and express their true selves is of paramount importance. Governor Youngkin’s model policies would result in the non-consensual outing of students, posing severe dangers such as emotional distress and bullying. Instead, I support policies that foster acceptance, respect, and dignity for all students, irrespective of their gender identity or expression. Our schools must stand as bastions of inclusivity, nurturing an atmosphere where every child can learn and flourish free from fear or prejudice.
The county has seen a steady increase in migrant, refugee and immigrant populations over the past years. Do you support helping these students get up to speed? How?
Bryce: We are blessed to have a growing international population, and we absolutely have a responsibility to provide these students with the best possible education. The first step is to ensure that we have enough ESOL [English to Speakers of Other Languages] teachers to serve them, as well as reading and math specialists to assist the classroom teachers. Importantly, though, we need to reach out and educate these families on our school system and how they may make their voices heard. I’ve spoken to many immigrants who came to this country precisely for the educational opportunities, but feel disappointed. We need to do better for them.
Spillman: I wholeheartedly support assisting students from migrant, refugee, and immigrant backgrounds. To ensure these students catch up, we need to hire more ESOL teachers and fund additional ESOL programs. Additionally, we should have translators at school board meetings and provide ACPS materials in multiple languages. Collaborating with community organizations like the Boys and Girls Club can also be beneficial in supporting these students. By implementing these measures, we can create an inclusive environment that fosters the academic success of all students.
Are there any other important issues facing the school district that you’d like voters to know about?
Bryce: People in this district are extremely frustrated with current leadership, and everyone wants accountability for what they see as persistent failures and lack of transparency. I think it’s very important for voters to understand that “providing accountability” is the role of the School Board! The School Board oversees the superintendent’s office, and ought to hold that office accountable when things go wrong. That hasn’t been happening for years now. I hope voters think about who will fight for that accountability as a School Board member.
Spillman: I fully support collective bargaining for ACPS teachers, staff and bus drivers. Our teachers are our frontline workers. They deserve strong wages, good benefits, and a seat at the table. In addition, we must always ensure that books are not banned and that history is told accurately. Students must have the freedom to learn and to read books that feature a diverse array of perspectives.
More about the candidates for the at-large seat on Albemarle County Public Schools Board
- Spillman’s campaign contributions from the Virginia Public Access Project
- Bryce’s campaign contributions from the Virginia Public Access Project
- An Oct. 17 report in the Daily Progress on the candidates’ appearance in an NAACP forum that focused curriculum and systemic racism
- An Oct. 27 interview with the candidates in the Daily Progress
- A news report on a forum hosted by Crozet Gazette and WINA, in the Daily Progress
- A news report on a forum hosted by the Senior Statesmen of Virginia, which Bryce declined to attend, in the Daily Progress
- A news report on Bryce’s candidacy announcement in the Crozet Gazette
- A news report on Spillman’s candidacy announcement in the Crozet Gazette
- Bryce’s appearance on WINA Morning News
- Virginia Department of Education Standards of Learning assessment results for Albemarle County Public Schools
As you get ready to vote, here are some key dates and links from the Virginia Department of Elections:
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.