There’s a new Albemarle County School Board candidate pushing for academic achievement. Joann McDermid burst onto the scene Wednesday morning with complaints about student performance in her White Hall District.
“I feel a real sense of urgency about this situation,” she said to the crowd of eight gathered at her campaign launch on the steps of the Albemarle County Office Building. “The objective data underscores widespread problems.”
McDermid provided several recent pieces of data that she said showed that academic performance is slipping.
She said 49% of the students taking Algebra 1 at Western Albemarle High School failed to meet the state’s SOL, or Standards of Learning, math test.
“I think of Standards of Learning,” she said, “as an agreed-upon contract between the public — who are the stakeholders in our public education system — and the public school educators, the administrators and the school board who are legally obligated to provide a high-quality public education.”
McDermid said that nearly one-third of that school’s students failed the earth science SOL, that almost a quarter failed the World History 1 SOL and just under one-fifth failed the English writing SOL.
“And the results were even more heartbreaking for students with economic disadvantages or disabilities as well as Hispanic students,” McDermid said.
“This kind of reminds me of the story of the blind man and the elephant and the fact that where you land on the elephant determines what you find,” said Phil Giaramita, spokesman for Albemarle County Public Schools.
Giaramita said that most district students take Algebra I in middle school and the ones taking it Western Albemarle are ones struggling with math. He further noted that Western Albemarle routinely outperforms state averages on SOLs and on the percentage who obtain an advanced studies diploma.
“I wasn’t there and don’t know what the person was trying to prove, but if the person was trying to say there were serious performance issues at Western, nothing could be further from the truth,” Giaramita said.
A researcher and scientist with interests in tuberculosis, HIV and West African malnutrition, McDermid has held faculty appointments at Cornell University and the University of Virginia, according to the biography on her campaign website. Before the end of her seven years at UVA’s School of Medicine, McDermid earned a Virginia teaching license in 2020 and currently works as an independent research and academic consultant.
McDermid says she has no interest in higher office, and not just because she’s a naturalized citizen who grew up in the province of Alberta in Canada.
“It’s not about boosting my ego or advancing my career,” she said at her announcement. “I felt compelled because I refuse to look the other way.”
In Virginia, school board elections are nonpartisan, and McDermid says she would push only for academic quality and “clearly-defined metrics.”
As her campaign materials indicate, McDermid said she would push for A, B, and C: accountability, budgets that support the academic mission and community input. To aid her decisions, she said that she would establish an advisory board from her White Hall district, which includes Crozet, Free Union, Brownsville and parts of Earlysville.
“This will not just be a listening tour held during an election season,” said McDermid, who said it would guide her board decisions.
Among McDermid’s supporters gathered on the steps of the Albemarle County Office Building in downtown Charlottesville was John Masselli, who said his children benefited from the public schools.
“I don’t think these kids are getting the same education that was afforded to my kids,” said Masselli. “We’re going in the wrong direction, and it’s time to try something different.”
McDermid announced that she would convene a pair of casual community meetings over complimentary coffee next Wednesday. One is slated for 10 a.m. at Piedmont Store in White Hall, and the other is set for 1 p.m. at Grit Coffee on Old Trail Drive in Crozet.
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