McDermid in the Running for White Hall School Board Seat

Joann McDermid, candidate for the White Hall district School Board seat. Photo by Lisa Martin.

Crozet resident, scientist, and former educator Joann McDermid announced her candidacy for the Albemarle County School Board’s White Hall District seat in April, and said her campaign will focus on academic achievement, budget accountability, and community-derived input. An epidemiologist who conducted research on HIV and tuberculosis in West Africa and taught at Cornell University and the University of Virginia, McDermid said she believes that using data effectively can both answer key questions about student and administrative performance and point out which questions to ask next.

“If I want to know what’s happening in the core courses that schools are responsible for teaching, I look at Standards of Learning (SOL) pass/fail rates because those are an indication of the minimum learning that should be going on,” said McDermid. “When you examine the 2021-22 data in the Virginia Department of Education’s School Quality Profiles, you see that, for example, across the board, 49% of students taking Algebra I at WAHS failed to meet this minimum expectation, as compared to a 20% failure rate statewide. There is a multi-year pattern [of decline] in White Hall District schools, and it’s a pattern that this School Board and this Superintendent are not being held accountable for.”

McDermid has served on numerous boards in her career and says that the job involves attentive oversight and questioning the status quo. “One of the important roles of the School Board is oversight of the Superintendent,” she said, “and to understand how an executive board functions and doesn’t function. The people of White Hall District need someone representing their interests, not a rubber stamp. The status quo will argue that ‘we’re not rubber stamping, we’re just all in agreement,’ but look at how many times they voted unanimously with no dissent. Look at the things they are agreeing to in the consent agenda that are not discussed at all.”

Taking the issue of recovering learning loss from Covid as an example, McDermid said each decision must be evaluated for its costs and benefits. “The patterns of decline were happening before Covid but were exacerbated by Covid, so now do we say to students ‘you are going to lose your recess at Henley because we need to take those 15 minutes each day to recover learning loss?’ If so, what will be the impact on their mental health as a result of decisions administrators made? 

“These are difficult questions, but they are what we pay the Superintendent and his staff to do—to come up with day-to-day procedures that solve the learning deficit without adding to classroom management problems,” she continued. “My issue is, how do we hold them accountable? You have to have metrics and goals, and we have to say, ‘if you achieve them, these are your rewards, and if not, these are the consequences.’”

Accountability for outcomes is sorely lacking in the school division, McDermid said. “If you’re looking at the division as a board member would, then should we allow continually failing results from a CEO, especially in conjunction with an annual budget that’s just under $260 million? We have a duty to our stakeholders, and those stakeholders are the students.” 

McDermid said one vital group in the system is not even being listened to by administrators—the teachers. “They have access to all the classroom teachers who are experts on the front line,” but it seems they don’t take advantage of that knowledge and experience, she said. “If there is a communication issue, then as a board member, you have to use policy and oversight decisions to ensure that this is sorted out. Again, we want metrics, and we want to see this employee engagement level change.” 

McDermid was referring to an “engagement survey” given to all school division employees last spring and again this year, which showed in 2022 that 53% said they were “not engaged” and 16% were “actively disengaged” with their jobs. The survey’s 2023 results were almost identical—53% not engaged, 14% actively disengaged. Employees’ scores for Overall Satisfaction with their employment put Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) in the 9th percentile of school employee satisfaction (meaning 91% of respondents were higher than ACPS) compared to school divisions that also participate in the Gallop survey nationally. 

As she does with other issues, McDermid frames her view on employee collective bargaining as a cost/benefit question. “I answer to teachers as stakeholders, but also to students and parents,” she said. “In addition to teachers, I have to evaluate whether collective bargaining is better for the students, the parents, the taxpayers in the White Hall District. I’m not in on the current negotiations, but I’m not sure if these school stakeholders are being consulted during this process. I will say that when some commenters come before the board to speak about other issues, there are people behind them booing, hissing, or holding signs, and that’s a way to intimidate public dissent. I don’t know if teachers who disagree with collective bargaining would feel comfortable speaking in that environment.” 

Superintendent Matt Haas in February announced that the division is retaining consultant Bellwether Education Partners at a cost of $131,000 to perform an “instructional audit” and recommend what ACPS should do to close the “achievement gaps in reading and math between students of color and their peers and other demographic groups.” McDermid wonders about the approach. “It would seem to make more sense to be asking successful teachers in our division and here in Virginia what they do that’s effective,” she said. “There are successful teachers in the surrounding counties that are getting positive results with fewer resources, so perhaps we could ask them, rather than hiring a company from outside Virginia to come in.”

Regarding the division’s anti-racism policy and culturally responsive teaching (CRT) training for all teachers, McDermid said she would seek clear evidence of its efficacy. “If that training allows teachers to be more effective in teaching the subject matter and helping students meet their SOL pass rates, then I am for it,” she said, “but there needs to be some measurable change in the metric to show for it. Virginia law requires quality public education in the core subjects—that’s our most important goal—and so if we don’t have sufficient evidence that these trainings help us meet that objective, then we have not solved the academic achievement problem.

“You only have so many minutes in a day to educate a child, and only so many minutes for teachers to engage in professional development,” she continued. “What if we let teachers decide what they need to best do their jobs? They might choose professional development to go deeper in their own subject area, or they might acquire micro-credentials in another area, like a social science teacher getting a math micro-credential to support social science and math learning in a complementary way rather than only teaching math in isolation. This could give teachers a fuller toolbox, in essence, to let them pull out just the right tool for individual children.”

McDermid said she intends to approach her School Board role like a scientist—questioning everything, thinking about options, analyzing hard data, and actively seeking out the perspectives of her White Hall District constituents. “[The board] is not a social club,” she said. “These things are far too important to go in with the attitude of ‘I’ll just go along and make the same decision as everyone else.’ To me, that’s the sign of an ineffective board member, and in my experience, board members have a duty to dissent in order for the board to arrive at the most suitable decisions.”

For more information on McDermid, go to Next month the Gazette will profile the other candidate in this race, Rebecca Berlin, whose website is 


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