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Albemarle School Board members assess the state of the division

The Albemarle County school division is a work in progress — that according to the 2019 State of Division report.

“This year’s report highlights growth worth celebrating, but it also reveals deficiencies,” officials wrote in the report’s introduction. “We embrace both. With every failure comes a focused effort on discovery and improvement, while each achievement inspires a more ambitious target.”

The State of Division report lays the groundwork for schools Superintendent Matt Haas’ funding request for 2020-21, which will be presented in January. The division is currently operating on a $195.7 million budget.

During a work session Thursday, the School Board reviewed the annual report, titled “A Work in Progress;” assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the division; and brainstormed ideas to expand opportunities and reduce barriers.

“So, I really want to see much more ownership from the board, and that’s what you’re doing today,” Haas told board members. “And I really appreciate it. This is great leadership work on the part of the board.”

Board members said they want to see an expansion of the division’s afterschool program; a pilot program to extend the school day for elementary students; better access to Advanced Placement courses for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds; and salary incentives for minority teachers.

This school year, 90% of the division’s teachers are white, according to the annual county human resources report. About 64% of the division’s students are white, per state data.

“Closing this gap is and will continue to be a great challenge as competition among school divisions to increase the diversity of their teacher workforce grows,” staff members wrote in the report.

Topping many of the board member’s lists was finding a solution to transportation issues, especially as the division looks to transport students from high schools to high school centers and internships.

“I would like to see a robust transportation solution that allows for maximum student participation in the centers,” board member Jason Buyaki said.

Board member David Oberg said he appreciated the two-hour work session.

“Because this is the first time in four years I really feel like I’m getting into it,” he said. “This is great.”

Their ideas will be incorporated into the division’s funding request. Next month, board members will review preliminary budget proposals and have the chance to create their own.

The annual division report included data from the recent equity report, other assessment data, department snapshots and school improvement plans.

Division staff members are planning to review and update the State of Division report twice a year, a change from previous years.

Board Chairman Jonno Alcaro advocated for more mental health counselors.

“This is the No. 1 issue in every school that I have been to recently, all 13 of them,” he said.

Board member Katrina Callsen said she wants the division to look at current spending.

“I would like to dial back funding on initiatives that are not directly tied to our priorities,” she said. “… I think we spend a lot of money on technology without necessarily tying it to results. I could be wrong.”

Haas said he found the board’s conversations energizing.

“It kind of takes away the guessing game for me as to what you will see as beneficial for the school system,” he said of when he presents his funding request.

The School Board will meet twice next month, on Dec. 5 and Dec. 12, and Haas is expected to present his proposed fiscal year 2021 budget on Jan. 23.


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