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Albemarle School Board incumbents expound on why they're seeking another term

The three Albemarle County School Board members up for re-election will be uncontested in November.

Graham Paige, of the Samuel Miller District; Kate Acuff, of the Jack Jouett District; and Katrina Callsen, of the Rio District, are all seeking another four-year term on the seven-member board.

The deadline for candidates to qualify to be on that ballot in November was June 8. All candidates for school boards in Virginia run as independents.

Other than the one at-large seat, board members are elected by magisterial district.

Samuel MillerPaige, a retired science teacher, was first elected to the Albemarle School Board in 2015 in a special election. In 2017, he sought a full term on the board and won, beating then-Western Albemarle High School senior Julian Waters.

Paige became chairman of the board in June 2020, leading the panel through the twists and turns of the pandemic and reopening schools.

As for seeking another term, Paige said: “The main reason would be that we’ve made some great strides and some great progress in the county over the last few years, but there are still a few other things that I’d like to try to see accomplished within the county.”

Paige said he is looking forward to continuing to work on the implementation of the division’s anti-racism policy; establishing an education foundation to support strategic initiatives; and building out more career pathways for students beyond the three current academies and Center 1.

“As soon as they graduated, they’d be ready for some type of career, so implementing those academies would be extremely important,” he said.

One project that was largely paused during the pandemic was reimaging high school and expanding the number of academies. The centerpiece of that effort is the planned high school center near Monticello High School. Construction funding for the $27 million school has not yet been approved.

Paige added that having more career pathways would benefit students for whom college is not the best next step.

“The career pathways could give all of our students a good start in a career without necessarily having to go to college,” he said.

For Paige, one highlight from the last year was the progress made regarding wages for classified staff and teachers, which includes a $15 minimum pay rate for full-time employees that will go into effect July 1. Still, he said there’s more work for the division to do to be more competitive.

Jack JouettAcuff, who has a background in law, public health, science and policy, was first elected to the board in 2013 and is the longest-serving current board member. She ran unopposed for the Jack Jouett seat in the 2013 and 2017 elections.

Acuff said her tenure on the board has helped to provide historical perspective and institutional knowledge to other board members.

“I think it’s the most important local policymaking that is done,” she said of the School Board. “I mean, we’re 60% of the budget, right? Even if most people don’t have kids in the schools right now, I would guess a huge percentage of the people have had kids or have been those kids in schools. So, it’s tremendously important, and it’s very gratifying when you get something right, which isn’t all the time.”

In her third term, Acuff said she would focus on a commitment to equity, which includes implementing the anti-racism policy, improving student achievement and providing needed supports for educators so all students can thrive.

“I think it’s even more important coming out of the pandemic that we are seriously focused on our student achievement,” Acuff said. “Beyond catching everybody up, which is important, some of them weren’t caught up before.”

She said the division needs to closely monitor student learning, so that schools can provide the necessary interventions to help students recover from the pandemic.

As part of the focus on achievement, Acuff said she wants to know which programs and approaches are working and the long-term benefits of those investments. To that end, earlier this year, she requested an evaluation of the division’s differentiated staffing model, which allocates additional funding to schools based on the percent of low-income students and has been in place for 20 years.

“I am concerned that in the time when I’ve been on the board, our achievement gap has not changed,” she said.

Providing support for educators includes having productive learning spaces and tackling longstanding capital needs.

“We need a strategic plan for capital projects,” she said.

The division has worked to expand schools in recent years but officials have said that approach has reached a saturation point. The division’s long-range planning advisory committee is expected to recommend construction of new schools in its annual report that will be released this summer.

Acuff, who helped to promote a bond referendum in 2016, would like to see the county get on a cycle of referendum votes to help move projects along. The 2016 referendum was the first since 1974 and passed with 73% of the vote.

Acuff is also concerned about the increasing number of trailers at county schools, which have been used to address capacity issues.

As of February, the division had 26 trailers, providing 50 classrooms, space for specialist programs or rooms for storage. For next school year, the division is planning to purchase and install another four eight-classroom units.

“But my concern with the trailers is that it’s expensive and alleviates short-term problems, but it’s much easier to install them than to get rid of them,” she said.

Rio DistrictFor Callsen, who was first elected in 2017, another term is a way to serve the community and help the division move past the pandemic, as well as keep working on a number of projects that were sidetracked in the last year.

“I thought it was pretty important to have someone on the board who had experience with what was going on before COVID and experience with what we had to go through with COVID so that the recovery efforts could be kind of streamlined,” she said. “I think it would have been difficult to have a new board member come in to that.”

Callsen, who taught with Teach for America for two years, is a lawyer with the city of Charlottesville.

Her immediate focus in a second term would be on learning recovery and achievement.

“I think sometimes that’s been lost during the conversation,” she said of student achievement. “So I think I’m going to be really focused on learning recovery and making sure that all children are graduating with the skills and competencies they need to be successful in the adult world.”

She’d like to also see all third-graders passing their state reading exams.

“At a bare minimum, that needs to happen,” she said. “And at this point, we’re in the dark. We don’t know.”

Callsen said she learned in her first term the importance of listening to the community and staying informed.

“One of the reasons I think it’s important is just an understanding of the various things we have going on, because there’s a lot of competing concerns that come in front of the School Board on a lot of different issues that a lot of people are very passionate about,” she said.

A highlight of serving on the board has been hearing students speak at public meetings, she said. In the last year, as the vice chair, Callsen has overseen the public comment portion of meetings.

“You realize how articulate they are, how intelligent they are, and know that they are going to go and do great things after they graduate, and that’s the goal,” she said.


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