Albemarle County School Board Candidate Statements

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Traditionally, the Gazette has offered local candidates for office the opportunity to make an 800-word statement of their candidacy on our pages. This month we present statements from each of the four School Board candidates that the Gazette’s readership will be choosing among—two for the White Hall seat and two for the At-Large seat. We will print statements from the two White Hall candidates running for the Board of Supervisors, Ann Mallek and Brad Rykal, in our October issue. The candidates have affirmed on their honor to the Gazette that they composed their statements in their own words and that they are not written by someone else. The Gazette likewise affirms that it has made no editorial alterations. 

Early voting in Virginia begins on Friday, September 22, and Election Day is Tuesday, November 7.

School Board White Hall District Candidates 

Rebecca Berlin

Rebecca Berlin

I believe in high quality public education for ALL students.

I have lived in Albemarle County for over 20 years, including the last 15 in Earlysville. My children attended Broadus Wood Elementary School, Journey Middle School, and Albemarle High School. My daughter is currently a senior at AHS and my son is a junior at Georgetown University. 

In December 2022, I was selected by the Albemarle County School Board from a slate of nine nominees to fill the vacant White Hall seat. I am running for reelection in November. During my time as a school board member, I have supported collective bargaining for teachers and staff, advocated for increased special education, ESOL, and reading specialist staffing in elementary, middle, and high school, and have worked hand in hand with my fellow board members to bring an increased focus on student achievement for ALL students. 

I bring to the school board 25 years of experience in education and organizational management. I have worked in public and private schools as an early childhood teacher, an early childhood special education teacher, an autism specialist, and a school administrator. I hold a Ph.D. in education research, policy, and administration from the University of Virginia, where I later worked as a teacher preparation faculty member and researcher. I have experience as a leader in for-profit and not-for-profit education organizations focused on early childhood, elementary, and special education, as well as parent and community partnerships. I have worked with local, state, federal, and international education systems to improve systems for children and families as well as provided support for teachers and administrators. At my last organization, I led the Office of Head Start’s National Center for Parent, Family, and Community Engagement.

While my children were growing up and attending ACPS schools, my career took me across the country to support the improvement of educational systems in other divisions and states. As a working parent, I felt like I never had enough time to support our school system. When the White Hall seat became open, I realized I needed to give back to the system that gave so much to my children. Looking at the SOL scores across the county for the past 10 years, I decided the time had come to serve our system. The pandemic shone a light on the achievement divide that existed for years but has worsened due to the trauma and disruption caused by the pandemic. I knew I needed to step forward to support the academic and mental health needs of ALL students in the County. I owe it to our children, to our teachers, and to our division to use my expertise to better support our community. That is why I am running for reelection in November.

As a school board member, I believe:

All students, from preschool through post-high, deserve a high quality education that supports their unique circumstances.  Students deserve this no matter the color of their skin, their neighborhood, the language they speak, or how much their family earns. Students deserve this no matter what school they attend, what program they are in, what grade they are in, or what teacher they have.

To succeed in school and life, our students need more than just basic ABCs + 123s. Solid reading and math instruction are important at all grade levels, but high-quality instruction is vital across the curriculum. We need to stabilize our students’ foundational literacy and mathematical skills but also continue to go beyond the basics to support creative and critical thinking, experiential learning, problem-solving, and innovation to truly prepare students for their future successes.

To shrink achievement gaps in K-12, we need to invest in early childhood education, reading interventions, as well as students’ mental health and emotional well-being. The pandemic taught us that you cannot have achievement without a continuum of support for students beginning before kindergarten. Students deserve continued and expanded academic and mental health support in every one of our schools.

To thrive academically, students need family involvement and a safe, welcoming place to learn. Parents are their children’s first teachers, and they are also their lifelong teachers. They know better than anyone their children’s strengths, challenges, and needs. They must have simple and timely ways to communicate with their children’s teachers, administrators, and support staff regardless of their home language or the time of day they are available.

Teachers, staff, and administrators work hard each day for students and deserve our respect. We need to listen to educators and to parents, but also to the students. Only by working together can we ensure that our students thrive in learning and in life.

I humbly ask for your vote on November 7 or in early voting, which begins September 22.

The Gazette published a profile of Rebecca Berlin in our January 2023 issue. 

Joann McDermid

Joann McDermid

I appreciate The Crozet Gazette offering this platform following cancellation of their 09/11/23 Candidate Forum. Although I confirmed my attendance, my opponent, your appointed representative, did not.

I have never run for public office. I am a parent, moving to Crozet in 2015 when our child started at Henley. I am also a research scientist and spent decades in the fight against HIV/AIDS. First in Montreal, where HIV was harming the gay community, Haitian refugees and people using intravenous drugs. I moved to sub-Saharan Africa, a region devastated by AIDS, to continue this work. Later, as a professor at Cornell and then UVA, I taught students in the US and Africa. I mentored students to use science and data in their fight against HIV and other infectious diseases. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when many were leaving teaching, I obtained my Virginia teaching credentials.

My life experiences have taught me to stand for things I believe in, even when the challenge seems daunting. Now, I refuse to look away as White Hall District students struggle to receive the high-quality public education they are promised; the public education we struggle to pay for. You only need to examine annual Standards of Learning data to realize too many White Hall District students are in academic trouble. It’s not new, but continues unresolved. It impacts these children now, and far into their adulthood. It impacts us all. 

White Hall District voters: You have a consequential election decision. Make no mistake, we are where we are because of the decisions—and lack of decisions—made by this Board and your current representative. If you are uncertain, examine your representative’s voting record and priorities. It is very closely aligned with all other Board members. I have enough national and international board service to understand that a pattern of unison voting is not the sign of an effective board. It is a board needing new ideas. 

Effective representation also requires the ability to scrutinize information on behalf of constituents. Failing to do so has consequences. For example, did you feel underserved by school transportation last year? You should’ve. My own analysis of Transportation Update Reports (Jan-May 2023) revealed White Hall District families were overburdened. Crozet, Brownsville, Henley and Western Albemarle bore almost half of the Student Impact for Albemarle County (average=46%; range:33-67%). This year? I calculated we are again overburdened with 25% of students lacking buses living in White Hall District (222/900 ACPS, as of 08/11). Knowing this would help make better decisions.

There are other examples, impossible to summarize in 800 words. Finding better solutions requires unbiased research and robust discussion—not curated sound-bites and clickbait. This is why I declined to respond to a ‘Voter Guide’ questionnaire from a local activist group. 

It is also the very reason why I’ve invested my most precious campaign resource, time, to personally knock on over 3,500 household doors, and counting. This requires dedication, but residents tell me there is no substitute for in-person dialog. No other candidate can honestly claim to know the first-hand perspectives of so many families and public-school stakeholders living in White Hall District.

What I gain from this effort is invaluable. I can verify I am accurately identifying and prioritizing issues that matter most. I can talk through the viability and potential outcomes of my solutions with the people most impacted. I can identify those having a wealth of wisdom and experience willing to enrich our local public schools, an effort that may help repair community relations so damaged in the recent past. I will actively continue my voter engagement during my elected term. Face-to-face interactions foster accountability and trust; those handshakes on the doorstep are my promise to represent you faithfully.

What you will get, if elected: My record demonstrates that I work hard and have the expertise and time to learn issues, independently analyze data, critically evaluate evidence and consider multiple stakeholder viewpoints before reaching conclusions and proposing solutions. Once a public servant, I will meet any individual or group to learn their perspectives and ideas to advance beneficial student and staff outcomes, but my bottom line is that I am foremost a representative of, and answerable to, the people of White Hall District. I will act in their stated interests.

What you will NOT get, if elected: Virginia School board positions are nonpartisan. I am not beholden to nor ever belonged to any political party, political special interest or activist group. I make my own decisions. My campaign donations are (and will continue to be) from local individuals, not politically-dominated organizations. Your vote is the only endorsement I seek or will accept. 

This is a consequential election. Vote for change. Vote for better. The time is now.

Voting begins Friday, September 22. 

The Gazette published a profile of Joann McDermid in our June 2023 issue.

School Board At-Large Seat Candidates (All County Residents May Vote for This Seat)

Meg Bryce

Meg Bryce

From the first day of my campaign, I have been very clear about my goal: I intend to get our school district’s focus back on education. Horace Mann, the great champion for public education, famously referred to public education as “the great equalizer.” We all know this to be true, and that is why the public school system exists: to give all children access to a good education. Sadly, I fear ACPS is no longer an effective school system because the School Board has neglected three of its primary responsibilities.

First, the School Board has a responsibility to ensure that the district is properly run. People want accountability, and it’s important to understand where that responsibility lies: with the School Board. The role of the School Board is not to be a rubber stamp for everything that the Superintendent requests. On the contrary, the role of the School Board is to hold the Superintendent accountable for running the district—or for failing to do so. The Standards of Learning (SOL) tests from the 2021-2022 school year (the most recent data available as of this writing) revealed that 35% of our third graders did not pass the reading test. I think that is a crisis. I think we’re not talking about it enough. I think it is the result of years of a School Board shirking its duties to the public. If you truly want accountability, elect School Board members who won’t simply serve as a rubber stamp for more failing policies.

Second, the School Board has a responsibility to oversee the budget. Our budget for the 2023-2024 school year is almost $260M (~$19K per student). That is a lot of money! We can do a lot of good with that money… if it is well-managed. So, is it? Many people are surprised to learn that we have a Department of Community Engagement with a budget of over $2M. Do you feel engaged? Not many people do, which suggests this is a very poor use of millions of dollars. I’m sure our teachers could think of a much better use for that money. Furthermore, the Transportation Department has a budget of over $16M, $9M of which is for salaries. Yet almost 900 families were recently told they would not receive bus service due to a driver shortage. If the district will no longer be spending all of that $9M on salaries, where will the unspent money go? We need School Board members who will make sure the budget is managed wisely, and that the $260M will go towards the essential goal of educating children.

Lastly, the School Board has a responsibility to listen to stakeholders—especially parents. Like many of you, my husband and I moved to this area specifically for the school district. We sent our oldest two children to Murray Elementary, which was every bit as wonderful as I could have dreamed. At Murray our girls were loved and taught well. However, I became deeply concerned about our district as I began to watch School Board meetings in the summer of 2020. I watched every meeting over the next year, and what I saw was shocking. I saw a School Board that didn’t listen to parents, and worse, didn’t seem concerned with its primary job: to educate children. That’s why, after many failed attempts to engage with the School Board, my husband and I lost trust in the leadership of our district. 

We decided to remove our children from ACPS because we were so disillusioned by the School Board and Superintendent. We are not alone in that decision: since 2020, over 1000 students each year have left ACPS. When so many families are choosing to leave, we must ask, “Why?” The answer is simple: Trust. People have lost trust that this school district’s priority is to educate children; they have lost trust that this school district is willing to listen to concerned parents, teachers, staff, and community members; they have lost trust that their voices matter. Whether it is about buses, special education, reading intervention, school renamings, school safety, or any myriad issues, the leadership of this school district has shown a persistent refusal to listen to the community that it serves. That needs to stop.

We have everything we need to once again be an excellent school district. We have a generous budget, dedicated teachers, and a caring and involved community. In a sense, this is an easy fix: all we need is new leadership. If you, like me, are concerned that our school district has lost its way, then elect School Board members who will get us back on track. I am ready to listen. I am ready to learn. I am ready to work. I would be honored to represent you on the School Board.

The Gazette published a profile of Meg Bryce in our April 2023 issue.

Allison Spillman

Allison Spillman

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

I am deeply honored to present myself as a candidate for the Albemarle County School Board At-Large seat. I am a resident of Crozet, a former small business owner, a nonprofit leader, and a devoted mother to five children, who are all enrolled in our public schools. My candidacy for the School Board is driven by a commitment to collaborate with teachers, parents, and community stakeholders, ensuring that every ACPS student receives the essential support and resources required for a transformative education within our county schools.

My journey as a parent, combined with my professional background and profound dedication to education, uniquely positions me to serve our community effectively. All five of my children currently attend ACPS, spanning the elementary, middle, and high school levels. This has provided me with a comprehensive perspective on our education system, including its strengths and weaknesses.

Each of my children faces distinctive educational challenges, and all five of them wholeheartedly endorse my candidacy, encouraging me to share their stories. For example, my son, whom we adopted from the foster system, grapples with complex needs due to a genetic condition and autism spectrum disorder. Advocating for his special needs education has granted me firsthand insights into the challenges within our special education programs

Furthermore, my teenage daughter proudly identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community. Her courage motivates me to ensure that all students feel safe, supported, and embraced in our schools. Finally, one of my sons grapples with mental health challenges, exacerbated significantly by the pandemic. Many ACPS students are dealing with similar challenges, and I am wholeheartedly committed to advocating for the well-being of all our students.

In addition to my experiences as an ACPS parent, I bring a wealth of perspective from my professional background. As a former Chief Operating Officer and business owner, I was responsible for managing the company’s programs, initiatives, and fiscal responsibilities. This experience instilled in me a strong sense of fiscal responsibility and the importance of efficient resource allocation, which I intend to apply as a member of the School Board. My dedication to community service has led me to serve as the vice president of an active PTO and as a current member of the Board of Directors at Reclaimed Hope Initiative, a local nonprofit that supports families navigating foster care, adoption, and raising children with disabilities.

My unwavering commitment is to ensure that every student in ACPS possesses the tools and resources they need for academic, social, and emotional success. Here is my vision: 

  • 100% of Students Should Have Access to the Bus: In the short term, we should extend facility hours, expand EDEP, have senior administrators obtain CDLs and pitch in, and explore the use of passenger vans for student transportation. In the long term, we must prioritize fair wages and benefits for bus drivers.
  • Literacy Programs: Advocate for evidence-based literacy programs, focusing on phonemic awareness and phonics, with input from our teachers.
  • STEM Education: Promote STEM learning and engagement through hands-on activities, coding, and real-world applications, recognizing the link between literacy and STEM.
  • Mathematics and Reading: Increase instructional time for reading and writing, especially for 8th graders, and return to five-day math and reading instruction.
  • High School Programs: Expand innovative programs for high school students, such as the Community Lab School’s IB Program, and advocate for participation in the Blue Ridge Virginia Governor’s School for academically-motivated students.
  • Educator Empowerment: Advocate for collective bargaining for ACPS to empower our educators and staff members, providing them with competitive pay, benefits, and professional development to retain our world-class educators.
  • School Safety: Promote the BE Smart program on ACPS’s website, distribute information to families, provide free gun locks for securing firearms at homes, and collaborate with lawmakers to advocate for common-sense gun safety measures.
  • Support for SPED Programs: Improve communication, transparency, and support for families of students with disabilities.
  • Inclusive Environments: Foster safe, inclusive, and welcoming school environments where every student, staff member, and family feels valued.

I am grateful to have received endorsements from numerous community leaders and organizations, including Senator Creigh Deeds, Delegate Sally Hudson, Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Hingley, Clerk of the Court John Zug, former Congressional candidate Josh Throneburg, Amy Laufer, Kellen Squire, and Bellamy Brown. I am also proud to be endorsed by the Albemarle County Democratic Party and named a Moms Demand Action Gun Sense Candidate.

Early voting begins on September 22, and I would be honored to receive your vote. We would also be thrilled to welcome you to our grassroots team. Please sign up to volunteer at ElectAllisonSpillman.com. I eagerly anticipate meeting you on the campaign trail!’

Warm regards,

Allison Spillman

The Gazette published a profile of Allison Spillman in our May 2023 issue. 

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Lisa Martin joined the Gazette in 2017 and writes about education and local government. She also writes in-depth pieces about division-wide education issues and broader investigative pieces on topics from recycling to development to living with wildlife. Her Coyotes in Crozet story won a 2017 Virginia Press Association “Best in Show” award for the Gazette. Martin has a Ph.D. from the University of Texas, taught college for several years, and writes fiction and poetry. She co-authored a children’s trilogy about two adventuring cats, the Anton and Cecil series, which got rave reviews from the New York Times Book Review, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly and others.

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