School Board Candidate Launches Write-In Bid

Randy Zackrisson, candidate for the Albemarle County School Board seat representing the Samuel Miller district. Photo: Lisa Martin.

Randy Zackrisson has joined the race for Albemarle County School Board representative from the Samuel Miller District, and will face incumbent Graham Paige in the November 2 election. Zackrisson, a forty-year resident of Albemarle county whose children graduated from Western Albemarle High School and whose grandsons now attend the school, says it’s time to remind School Board members who they work for.

“After attending School Board meetings, hearing from concerned parents, and watching the policies that have been enacted over the past few years, I’d say to the board, ‘You need to listen to parents’ input—you work for them, you know,’” said Zackrisson. He said he was encouraged to run for the seat by families angered and upset by the board’s “limited discussion, quick votes, and a rubber-stamping of the superintendent’s agenda” on issues such as the division’s anti-racism curriculum, transgender policy, and decision to remove School Resource Officers from high schools.

With an engineering background and an expertise in manufacturing automation working for companies such as GE and Computer Sciences Corp., Zackrisson said his strength is getting to the core of thorny problems. “I like to get into the details of how plans will work and how much they will cost versus their benefit, but most of all, I think it’s important to answer the question, ‘What problem are we trying to solve?’” He posed that question to both Paige and Henley Middle School principal Beth Costa regarding Henley’s recently unveiled Courageous Conversations about Race, an equity-based, anti-racism curriculum piloted at the school last spring.

“I was told that ‘equity’ is not the same as ‘equality,’” said Zackrisson. “Equality is equal opportunity, but equity demands equal outcomes aiming for the least common denominator. But if the problem is systematic racism and that translates to low school performance for some kids, then let’s hone in on that—give those kids more funding, more focus, whatever they need. But don’t drop education for gifted kids and impose a CRT [Critical Race Theory] curricula that adds nothing to education. It’s distracting and divisive and they’re out of their swim lanes here. They should be teaching.”

Zackrisson also questions a policy advocated by Paige that replaces School Resource Officers (part-time police officers who work in middle and high schools to prevent and protect against delinquent activity) with new “safety coaches” who will have more of counselor role. “Again, what problem are we solving?” he said. “If the goal is to keep kids safe, then how does replacing police officers, which by the way will cost double what the old policy cost, do that? Why not do both—keep the officers to handle the fights in the cafeteria and have the coaches do what they want? The School Board doesn’t ask those questions, it’s just monolithic group think.”

On the recently passed division transgender inclusion policy, Zackrisson said it’s a sensitive subject but one that did not require a redundant set of rules. “For children who have gender dysphoria, they ought to be addressed on a case-by-case basis to see what they need,” he said. “We love them all of course, but we have a strong anti-bullying policy already in place and it’s working, so if safety is the issue, what does this new policy solve? You certainly ought not to hide information [such as a student’s transition status] from parents—that’s a violation of parental rights.”

Zackrisson is particularly concerned with what he sees as an unwillingness by the School Board to engage with parents on their concerns. “[The board members] didn’t ask a single question about the CRT curriculum before it was taught,” he said. “They gave out an email address to receive questions about the transgender policy and then didn’t publish all the answers, as they promised they would, and now parents have had to FOIA those emails at personal expense. I know thirty families who have pulled their kids out because of these policies—the unintended consequences of these decisions are having real impacts on people’s lives.”

Zackrisson denounced the board’s lack of focus on learning loss during the Covid-19 pandemic, calling it “mismanagement of our children’s education.” 

“At this critical time, you would expect that our school board would be focusing all their energies on developing creative solutions to try and recover the thousands of lost educational hours,” he said. “But instead, for the last year, where has our School Board been putting their energies and our tax dollars? Their priorities are focused instead on renaming schools and compelling ‘equity’ policies.

“The board goes to great lengths to keep stuff hidden that should be out in the open, making it more difficult for parents to understand what’s being taught,” he continued. “The Superintendent is hired by the board and is supposed to enact policies that the board, which answers to the citizens, decides on. But the relationship appears to be upside-down and the Superintendent is running the show.” Noting a recent board edict that limits public commenters at meetings to 40, he said the board should “listen all night,” if necessary. “You’ve got to listen to people before you can represent them.”

Zackrisson will be a write-in candidate in November, and he stresses that the race is neither political nor about personalities. “Graham is a very nice guy,” he said, “I just have a different focus. People often don’t even know what school district they’re in and who the representative is. I want people to get involved and understand what’s going on, and to know that they have a choice and a voice. Both Democrats and Republicans want their kids to be educated.”

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