Press "Enter" to skip to content

Petition to replace Albemarle school superintendent garners more than 1,600 signatures

School bus routes have been cut due to a lack of drivers, an achievement gap is growing between White students and students of color, schools have been renamed in spite of vocal opposition and some parents have had enough.

A petition calling on the Albemarle County School Board to replace Superintendent Matthew Haas has accumulated more than 1,600 signatures as of Friday.

While not requesting Haas’ immediate dismissal, the petition does ask the board not renew his contract with the school division when it expires June 30, 2025.

“My petition is not to try to immediately fire him, because I don’t think there’s been anything that’s been an immediate fireable offense,” Paul McArtor, the petition’s author and the father of two children in the school division, told The Daily Progress. “The plan is for him to still be around to finish off his contract, which we’re looking at 18 months or so. I would hope that he takes that feedback and can improve those areas that get pointed out.”

McArtor said he drafted the petition after filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the county and finding that Haas’ contract expires in roughly two years.

Haas signed his current contract in September 2017 and officially stepped into the position in July 2018 after serving as deputy superintendent. An addendum was approved by the school board adding an additional three years to his term that was first set to end in June 2022.

“So I figured the last time there was no public input that I ever saw prior to them making the decision to renew him, and with a lot of the different issues going on I thought now was the right time to put that out there to at least make sure that the school board knows that there’s some people who don’t want him to just automatically be renewed as superintendent,” McArtor said.

McArtor’s petition hosted on change.org began circulating on Aug. 20. As of Friday, there were 1,636 signatures and a goal of 2,500.

The school division says it welcomes the feedback, but the information presented in the petition is “misleading” and “one sided.”

“Regarding the petition, the board received it recently and will take the time to consider its points and the comments that have been made,” School Board Chair Judy Le, who represents the Rivanna District on the board, told The Daily Progress via email. “We understand and appreciate how passionate people are about their children and schools. We welcome feedback from our constituents; we take it seriously and will take it into consideration.”

Ellen Moore Osborne, who represents the Scottsville District on the school board, came to Haas’ defense and urged parents — both those who did and did not sign the petition — to consider the circumstances.

“While I was not a member of the school board when Dr. Haas was hired, he and all superintendents have served during a time of unprecedented challenges for school divisions across the nation these past few years,” Osborne told The Daily Progress. “He has met these challenges head-on and made tough decisions that are consistent with our values. That’s what leaders are expected to do.”

School division spokesman Phil Giaramita was more blunt.

Negative feedback comes with the job, Giaramita told The Daily Progress. It’s an “experience that goes with managing a large school division involved in a lot of important issues every day.”

However, he said the information in the petition is “simply not accurate.”

“To make your case of whether you support the superintendent or not, I don’t think it’s necessary for you to exaggerate or to be inaccurate in what you present,” Giaramita said.

Causes of concern

McArtor, however, said it is not an exaggeration that Haas has “lost the confidence and trust of the public, including parents, teachers, bus drivers, staff, administrators, and students,” as his petition puts it.

At the top of his list of concerns: the bus driver shortage.

As is the case in many other school divisions, a shortage of bus drivers in Albemarle County has resulted in the loss of bus services for some students.

At the start of the school year in August, the school division announced that roughly 1,000 students who had requested service would have to go without this year. The school division has been driving that number down by increasing the number of drivers and adjusting routes — Haas himself has even started driving a bus route. Just days into the school year, that 1,000 had already been reduced by about 300, according to Giaramita.

Solutions are not something that happen overnight, Giaramita said.

“We had the results of the survey in June asking for service for 10,000 students,” he said. “We spent all of July mapping out 550 bus routes, and it took some time to do that. Only when that process was completed at the end of July were we able to say, ‘There are 12 open routes and you live on one of those routes,’ and we let people know Aug. 4 when all our work had been completed.”

McArtor argues that the national bus driver shortage is just part of the problem; Haas bears some of the responsibility locally.

“According to a former bus driver at the School Board meeting on Aug 10, 2023, bus drivers feel unheard by and don’t want to work for the current administration,” McArtor’s petition says.

That has been backed up by current and former bus drivers who have spoken with The Daily Progress in the past.

McArtor has been clear, however, that while the driver shortage is at the top of his list literally, it is not the chief priority among his and other parents’ concerns.

“This is not just about the school buses,” McArtor said. “That happened to be the most recent thing, but there’s been for years issues with communication, poor decision-making and failure to think of the ramifications of decisions. Yes, the school bus issue has those, but this isn’t just about the school buses.”

The “issues with communication” was a motif of McArtor’s petition.

The petition describes the school-renaming process as “riddled with problems.”

“The community and multiple committee members feel the decisions are predetermined and the committees are a farce which wastes resources and the time of parents, teachers, administrators, and community members. School stakeholders are routinely surveyed and the results disregarded if they don’t match the predetermined decision of the Superintendent,” according to the petition.

A recent example: In January, the school board voted unanimously to rename Meriwether Lewis Elementary School to Ivy Elementary School in spite of a division-directed community survey conducted late last year that found an overwhelming majority — about 85% — of parents, students, alumni and county residents preferred keeping the name of the famous explorer and native of Albemarle County.

But if there’s a fault in the renaming process, said Giaramita, it’s not on the superintendent. The renaming process is guided by the school board, he said; the superintendent is just following orders.

“When the school board directs you to do something, you do it,” Giaramita said. “It was not the superintendent’s idea and plan, and that’s simply inaccurate. It’s unfair for them to make that allegation or to use that as one of the bases for their objections to him.”

An area where Haas was intimately involved, however, was the discussion to relocate fifth-graders at Mountain View Elementary School to Walton Middle School.

“Parents learned of this when they attempted to sign their 5th graders up for the after-school program. Dr. Haas had the Principals of the two schools meet with parents to discuss the idea in which they stated the decision was not made yet. At the same time, Dr. Haas was talking to the Parent Representatives of the local PTOs and stated the decision was already decided. This had to be backtracked and a committee of parents was formed to review options and figure out a solution,” according to the petition.

The ultimate solution was a $1 million project to install additional classroom trailers to accommodate the students at their original school.

That’s exactly the correct response parents should expect of their superintendent, said Giaramita. The petition’s example of “lack of communication” is a sign of obvious communication, he said.

“They discussed this issue for several meetings and they came back to the superintendent with a recommendation that the students not be moved to Walton Middle School, and the superintendent accepted it” Giaramita said. “To bring that up in the petition as an example of poor leadership is disingenuous because in fact the superintendent did exactly the right action. He involved the parents in the decision and changed the decision based on what he heard from parents, and that’s exactly what a leader does.”

McArtor’s petition also points to the achievement gap between White, wealthy students and poorer students of color as a sign that the division is struggling under Haas. The petition notes the findings of an audit conducted by Bellwether Education Partners:

Instructional tasks do not consistently match the level of rigor required by SOL tests.

Adults do not have all the knowledge and skills necessary to meet the instructional needs of all students.

Gaps in the curriculum around K-5 interventions and Algebra I are serving as barriers for teachers and students.

The alignment of the division’s structural approaches to the goals in its strategic plan (thriving students, affirming and empowering communities, and equitable and transformative resources) is unclear.

Both internal and external stakeholders are not experiencing the level of engagement with the division that allows them to be valuable contributors to the closing of achievement gaps.

Instructional tasks do not consistently match the level of rigor required by SOL tests.

Adults do not have all the knowledge and skills necessary to meet the instructional needs of all students.

Gaps in the curriculum around K-5 interventions and Algebra I are serving as barriers for teachers and students.

The alignment of the division’s structural approaches to the goals in its strategic plan (thriving students, affirming and empowering communities, and equitable and transformative resources) is unclear.

Both internal and external stakeholders are not experiencing the level of engagement with the division that allows them to be valuable contributors to the closing of achievement gaps.

These findings, while significant, are not unlike audits of other schools in Virginia and across the country post-pandemic.

The Virginia Department of Education has even launched a pilot program called Bridging the Gap which has been billed as a “learning loss recovery program” in the wake of the pandemic. That program provides participating schools with individualized reports on students, personalized learning plans for students that are falling behind and comprehensive training for teachers.

Albemarle was not one of the 25 school divisions participating in the pilot last year — nearby Charlottesville was — but the state has expressed interest in expanding it.

And locally, Albemarle is already working on bridging the gap itself. In June, Haas discussed the division’s options, including increasing the number of standardized tests, upgrading instructional material — particularly Algebra I and middle-grade math — tutoring programs, summer camps and finessing how administrators and teachers provide feedback and input.

‘Nuts and bolts’

McArtor has been vocal that his petition is not political, but he concedes that certain “outspoken” parties have co-opted his movement and made it about “social policy decisions.”

To be sure, many of the most vocal proponents of the petition have been highly critical of the county school division’s LBGT-inclusive curriculum — not mentioned in the petition — and COVID response plan — mentioned only as an aside to McArtor’s primary concerns.

“There is an attempt to try to point this out as being due to social policy decisions,” McArtor said. “There’s a reason that this petition was focused on the nuts and bolts of running the school system. If you’re for or against the social policies, a lot of people can still agree that the nuts and bolts of running the school system is not holding up to the standard that we’d expect.”

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *