Write-in candidate for the Samuel Miller district of the Albemarle County School Board, Randy Zackrisson, said that running for local office “was about the last thing [he] ever expected to do.”
Nearing retirement, he did not expect to become energized for a campaign and to jump in the race after filing deadlines to appear on the ballot. But after learning about some public pushback to school board policies regarding transgender students in Loudon County over the summer, which then diverged into discussions of Critical Race Theory, Zackrisson decided to explore locally if Critical Race Theory was being taught in Albemarle County to his grandchildren.
While Critical Race Theory — referred to nationwide as CRT — is something ACPS said is not being taught in local schools, but rather a legal framework taught at the collegiate level, Culturally Responsive Teaching, which shares the same acronym, is something being implemented. Culturally Responsive Teaching is a certification teachers can obtain which promotes understanding cultural differences in approach to teaching and learning.
The division has also launched a pilot program called “Courageous Conversations About Race” at Henley Middle School, which has been met with contention by some area parents.
Zackrisson said he learned about the program by speaking with Superintendent Matt Hass, other administrators, and incumbent school board member Graham Paige, who he is now challenging.
“They’re teaching that our country was founded on a mistake and that we’re a bad country,” Zackrisson said. “I’m not a zealot. I don’t have any axes to grind, I just want kids to get educated like I was educated.”
Meanwhile, Zackrisson feels that students are being left out in other ways. Amid the largely virtual learning environment of the past year, he wants to advocate for more tutoring to help students who struggled with virtual learning catch up and excel.
Another priority of Zackrisson if elected is to help parents advocate to the board and support their rights to make choices for their children. And he’s been endorsed by Citizens Advocating for Responsible Education, a group of area parents that formed over the summer, in part, in response to concerns about CRT. Some involved have also helped with Zackrisson’s campaign.
“If you go to the concept that the parents are the primary educators of the students for their whole lives, the parents are the ones that should be making educational decisions,” Zackrisson said. “The parents’ rights don’t stop when the kid gets on the school bus.”
Zackrisson explained that he had heard from a number of parents about frustrations with the school board “listening to parents.”
An example he points to stems from over the summer during a policy discussion of outlining teacher and staff roles in working with transgender or non-binary students, such as pronoun use, parental involvement and bathroom access. Numerous policies were voted on in localities around Virginia to be in compliance with new state law. Albemarle County’s school board meeting allotted for 40 people to sign up for public comment with two minutes to speak.
“We’ve got a school board that is just in groupthink. Nobody debates things. They don’t listen to parents,” he said. “I tried to get on the school board calendar and I didn’t get my two minutes to talk to them.”
Overall, if elected to the board, Zackrisson said that his background as an engineer and consultant can help the board get to the core of problems it wants to solve for the district.
“I’ve done consulting with teams to help them focus on what the critical mission is,” Zackrisson said. A school board probably isn’t much like any corporation in the sense that over time they kind of drift from their swim lane. They get out of what they’re good at and what their charter is. Organizations do that all the time.”
In the meantime, he’s hoping his “back to basics” advocacy for learning and promise to listen to parents will inspire voters to “write in Randy.”