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Interviews to be held Thursday for vacated Albemarle School Board seat

On Thursday night the Albemarle County School Board will begin interviewing six candidates to replace Katrina Callsen.

Callsen, who is running unopposed to represent the 54th District in the Virginia House of Delegates, announced her resignation from the board on Sept. 14 due to “the time constraints of a state election,” according to an Albemarle County Public Schools statement.

Interested locals who were qualified voters and lived in the Rio Magisterial District were encouraged to apply by the Oct. 13 deadline.

The six candidates will be interviewed during a special meeting of the board at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, which will be open to the public and streamed live online. Callsen’s successor will be named at a Nov. 9 meeting.

The list of candidates consists of Luke Harms, Kellie Washington, Gail Lovette, Jim Dillenbeck, Karen Combs and Charles Pace. The first three currently have children or grandchildren in Albemarle County Public Schools, while Dillenbeck and Pace used to. Combs is the only candidate who has not had any children enrolled in the school.

In his application, Pace pointed to his 29 years as an administrator and teacher in the district.

“After retirement I continued to teach and coach, which left little time for anything else. Now I have the time to serve on the School Board,” Pace wrote.

The bulk of Pace’s resume consists of his 11 years as a science instructional coordinator for the school division, which included designing and implementing staff development for teachers. He also served on the team that developed the Albemarle County Mathematics, Engineering and Science Academy, or MESA.

Dillenbeck has been a financial adviser for the past 21 years but taught social studies in Lynchburg for three years and then taught at Albemarle High School from 1990 to 1997.

He served on the planning committee that designed the athletic facilities at Monticello High School in 1996 and wrote that he has experience “helping teachers plan and implement their educational field trips.”

The application asked candidates to choose from a list of 17 “areas of expertise and knowledge,” such as school construction, budget analysis, research and finance. Most of the applicants checked off between three to eight of the options, but Combs selected 13. She was the only candidate not to select “Education/Curriculum.”

According to her four-page resume, Combs was an urban planner for nearly two decades in Kingsport, Tennessee. She’s lived in Albemarle County for two years, easily the fewest of all the candidates.

“My planning degree combined with training and experience has provided me with a great foundation of knowledge and skills,” Combs wrote in her cover letter. “I learn new processes quickly and I’m good at process improvements, goal setting and program implementation.”

Harms currently has two children in the school system, both of whom entered in kindergarten.

“While the experience has not been perfect and there have certainly been challenges, I have never encountered an ACPS employee or teacher who did not put the health, well-being, education, and social/emotional development of our students first and foremost in every discussion,” Combs, a disabled veteran, wrote in his cover letter. “I believe in public education, and I want to be a part of empowering our educators to give our students the best public education they possibly can.”

Washington, a parent of three Albemarle public school students, emphasized her nine years as a school bus driver, which she said put her in an “underrepresented category in the school board.”

“I have a strong ability to represent these employees and speak up for them as a former peer,” she wrote in her cover letter, which may be enticing for a school district that has struggled to find an adequate number of bus drivers.

Washington was also an instructional assistant with Indianapolis Public Schools and is the owner of Vocelli Pizza.

Lovette has a Ph.D. in reading education from the University of Virginia and wrote on her resume that she is “Deeply committed to improving literacy and numeracy outcomes for all children.”

Her long resume includes a list of her published research papers, many focused on reading comprehension.

“My extensive background as an educator with over 23 years of experience working in and with public K-12 public schools demonstrates my expertise in the field of education,” Lovette wrote in her application.

She argues that having three children enrolled in Albemarle schools gives her “a deep personal connection to our division’s success and challenges.”

Whichever candidate the board selects will only serve temporarily. The seat will be on the ballot during the November 2024 election, and the winner will serve one year to finish out the remainder of Callsen’s term, which expires on the last day of 2025.

The public interviews will be held in Room 320 of the Albemarle County Office Building at 401 McIntire Road.


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