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Meet the four candidates joining Charlottesville City School Board

For the first time in 20 years, four positions are open on the board

Virginia state and local elections will be held Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Virginia state and local elections will be held Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Candidates Amanda Burns, Shymora Cooper, Chris Meyer, and Nicole Richardson are currently running unopposed to fill the four open seats on the Charlottesville City School Board in the upcoming Nov. 7 election. For the first time in 20 years, more than half of the Board’s seven seats will be filled by new members. 

Virginia state and local elections will be held Tuesday, with polling places open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Duties of the Board include setting policy for the school division, hiring and evaluating the superintendent, approving a budget to meet the financial needs of the school division and approving the annual school calendar and school operating times.

Current Board members James Bryant, LaShundra Morsberger, Sherry Kraft and Jennifer McKeever are not seeking reelection, leaving four open seats.

Amanda Burns

Burns, an administrator at Anchor Healthcare and parent of two — one who is currently enrolled in the Charlottesville school system and another who graduated recently — aims to use her expertise in project management implementation while on the Board.

The Charlottesville School Board currently faces challenges with hiring and retaining teachers, and is operating on a deficit of teachers now. The state average for teacher vacancy is 4.8 percent, while it is 7.7 percent in Charlottesville. 

Burns suggests establishing communication with the Charlottesville Education Association — the local teacher and school staff union — regarding working conditions and expectations. She has also mentioned increasing resources and compensation for staff, as well as a mentorship program for educators. In this program, teachers would work and receive compensation while being mentored by another high quality teacher, in exchange for a commitment to teach for a specified duration. 

Charlottesville also currently faces a shortage of bus drivers. The city needs 24 drivers to operate on all routes — at the start of the school year it had only employed 12. Over 800 students are on a waitlist for a bus seat and 1,300 have been denied a seat, with the city asking them to walk to school instead. 

To address this issue, Burns said she wants to give city schools control over school bus driver employment to increase accountability. Charlottesville Area Transit currently controls the hiring of school bus drivers. 

Achievement gaps are another issue facing Charlottesville Schools. In 2018, an analysis by New York Times and ProPublica found that Charlottesville has one of the widest achievement gaps in the United States. 

To continue addressing this issue, Burns suggests increased access to early childhood education, targeted tutoring and increased community engagement.

Burns did not respond to The Cavalier Daily’s request for comment. 

Shymora Cooper

Cooper, who works for a nonprofit organization that specializes in housing, also has two children who have graduated from and one currently enrolled in Charlottesville schools. 

“My interest in being part of the school board is being able to have a seat at the table to make decisions that impact children in our community, especially African American children and children that are considered as people of color, and working to make sure that marginalized community voices are being heard,” Cooper said. 

Cooper has echoed Burns’ statement regarding increased teacher compensation to resolve the issue of staff retention. She also supports increased professional development opportunities, increased housing support for affordable living and prioritizing diversity and inclusion. 

In order to address Charlottesville’s achievement gap, Cooper has also suggested increased early childhood learning programs and after school programs to provide homework assistance and enrichment opportunities, especially for students whose parents are unable to provide these forms of assistance. 

Another project that Cooper hopes to work on is the Buford Middle School reconfiguration.  Under the new system, fifth grade students who were formally included in the middle school will be regrouped with neighborhood elementary schools. Sixth, seventh, and eighth grade will be attending the centralized middle school. 

“[We] hope that it builds stronger relationships with peers and teachers,” Cooper said. “The reconfiguration will [also] open up Walker [Upper Elementary School], which could potentially have a large early learning child care center school.”

Chris Meyer

Meyer, a project developer for a renewable energy company in town, has experience in fundraising and hiring as well as two children who attended Charlottesville schools. 

On the issue of teacher retention, Meyer suggested that Charlottesville schools give back more control to teachers about what is taught in classrooms, and stressed the importance of total compensation — which includes factores like bonus, overtime and benefits along with base salary. 

“I want to make sure that Charlottesville City Schools is thinking about that total compensation number,” Meyer said. “When you think about how staff are compensated in general, unfortunately, it's not that great. I think we can work with our City Council counterparts to make the total compensation more interesting for our teachers and other staff.” 

Meyer has introduced the idea of an extended school year as a response to the achievement gap and lost learning residual from the COVID-19 pandemic and summer breaks. 

“I would like to explore with my School Board colleagues in the community an extended school year, which doesn't necessarily mean more school days, but reducing the summer months and thus hopefully minimizing the summer learning loss that happens for a lot of students,” Meyer said. 

Another recent issue for many schools has been Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s policy surrounding treatment of transgender students, which requires that teachers have consent from parents before calling students by their chosen name or pronouns, Burns, Meyer and Cooper have stated that they do not support the policy and aim to create an inclusive environment in Charlottesville schools.

Meyer also echoed Cooper’s statement on the Buford Middle School reconfiguration and said he hopes to see it completed during his time as a Board member. 

While discussing the main goals he would like to have achieved by the end of his first four-year term, Meyer said his focus is record enrollment for the district in addition to closing the achievement gap.”

Nicole Richardson

Independent candidate Richardson currently has two sons who attend city schools. She also works for the Haven, a local shelter, as an advocate for the homeless. 

Richardson has proposed an engagement survey which will focus on staff retention, as well as increased compensation, to address the hiring and retention challenges facing schools. Richardson also supports giving back control of the school bus system to Charlottesville City schools. 

“I think it will be a great idea to have bus drivers underneath the school system, so they can get the benefits that teachers and other staff receive,” Richardson said. 

Richardson said she supports a proposal that all students participate in gifted student educational programs to reduce the achievement gap. 

“A few years ago, it was certain kids that were chosen to be in the gifted program, but now that we eliminated that barrier, everyone is considered gifted, and everyone gets that one on one attention when they [participate] in the gifted program,” Richardson said. “I also believe early childhood development is very important.”

Richardson has agreed with other candidates’ statements surrounding Youngkin’s transgender policy. Although she connects with the desire to increase parent engagement, she ultimately does not support the policy. 

“I am 100 percent supporting of the transgender community, because I know that policy that is up in the air — there's just a lot going on with that” Richardson said. 

In response to increased violence and particularly gun violence in Charlottesville, each candidate has echoed similar statements surrounding increased mental health support in schools, school safety plans, and community outreach and engagement programs. 

As there are four open spots and only four candidates, all of them will be elected to Charlottesville’s School Board after Tuesday’s election. Once elected, members will serve a four year term. 

Charlottesville residents can locate their nearest polling place on the City’s website.

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