The CIP Advisory Committee and the Future of the Crozet Elementary Expansion

Thanks, Joe, for taking the time to write the following. For some quick background, here’s the last CCAC meeting. I highly encourage, ask, implore all to read this to understanding how funding our schools works – costs, timelines, voices. It’s a lot to digest, and hopefully you can read it before next important CIP meeting on 22 October.

By Joe Fore

On Tuesday, October 15, the Albemarle Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) Advisory Committee held its first meeting to discuss which capital projects—long-term infrastructure investments, like buildings, roads, and new equipment—the Board of Supervisors should fund over the next five years. 

I attended the meeting because I was interested in one project in particular: the expansion of Crozet Elementary. Both the School Board and Board of Supervisors have prioritized the project a way to alleviate the severe overcrowding at Brownsville and Crozet Elementary. The Crozet Community Advisory Committee (on which I serve) also recently adopted a resolution urging officials to fund the project. I was eager to see whether the Crozet Elementary expansion would continue to get the same level of support it’s received so far. I was also hoping that there would be an opportunity for public comment so that I could share the CCAC’s resolution.

But before I give my thoughts on the meeting, it’s important to give just a bit of background on the CIP process and how we got here. (Those interested in a TL;DR version of the meeting can check out my Twitter thread summarizing the meeting in a shorter format.)

The CIP Process and the Advisory Committee’s Role

Tuesday’s meeting was just one part of a much larger budgeting process to decide which of the County’s capital projects get funded over the next 5 years (FY21-25). Here’s a flowchart/timeline of the full process:

The CIP Advisory Committee is represented by that green box in the middle. As you can see, there’s a lot that preceded this meeting and a lot that’s yet to happen after the Advisory Committee finishes its work. But the Advisory Committee is a crucial gatekeeper in the process because the committee will recommend the final slate of projects that will then go to the Board of Supervisors for approval. 

Again, though, the Advisory Committee’s work comes in the middle of the process; it’s not just dreaming up projects and funding amounts out of thin air. The Advisory Committee relies on inputs from the Board of Supervisors and the School Board. More specifically, the Advisory Committee has two key constraints that it’s working with: (1) the total amount of money available, and (2) the list of possible projects that the Advisory Committee can choose from.

The Money: $55 million for FY21-25

The first key constraint, of course, is money. After all, if there were an unlimited amount of money, there’d be no need to pick and choose among various projects; they’d all get funded. But that’s not the case. And where does the money come from? In Albemarle County, around 2/3 of the County’s revenues come from property taxes. So if the County wants to spend more to invest in infrastructure projects, it has to raise property taxes—specifically, real estate taxes.

In May 2019, the Board of Supervisors met to consider several scenarios for CIP funding levels and the corresponding real estate tax increases that would need to happen to generate those funds. The Board of Supervisors ultimately settled on the “Level 2” scenario: a 4.5-to-6-cent property tax increase, which would generate an extra $61 million in CIP funding from 2021 to 2027. The current Albemarle real estate property tax is 85.4 cents per hundred dollars of assessed value—meaning that a property assessed at $300,000 pays just under $2,600 a year in real estate taxes. So a 4.5-to-6-cent increase would mean around a 5-7% increase in real estate property taxes. 

As I learned at Tuesday’s meeting, though, the actual amount that the Advisory Committee can use to build its list of recommended projects is only $55 million—not the full $61 million. Why? Because the Advisory Committee is only looking at projects for 2021-2025, not through 2027, as the Board of Supervisor’s funding scenarios show. As a result, the Advisory Committee can only recommend a slate of projects that totals $55 million or less. 

The List of Potential Projects

Because there’s a limited amount of money available, the CIP Advisory Committee must select certain projects to recommend for funding. Where did the list of possible projects come from? Over the past year or so, the Board of Supervisors and the School Board each independently created its own list of capital improvement projects that those groups wanted to see funded. 

The School Board’s list was generated by the School Board’s Long-Range Planning Advisory Committee, which spent 18 months analyzing the County’s long-term school needs and issued a final report in July 2019. That report recommended an ambitious slate of 10 CIP projects—totaling more than $100 million—for the School Board to present to the Board of Supervisors for funding. The report singled out the tremendous growth and overcrowding at Brownsville and Crozet Elementary and recommended a $20.4 million expansion for Crozet Elementary as a way to alleviate the overcrowding at both schools. Although other projects relating to safety, technology, and accessibility were ranked higher overall, the Crozet Elementary expansion project was the School Board’s #1 capacity-related project. (In terms of Crozet-area projects, renovations at Western Albemarle were also recommended—though they were given lower priority.)

Then, last month, the School Board and Board of Supervisors held a joint meeting, to discuss the priorities that each group had developed and to create a combined list of priorities. During that meeting, the members of each board arranged themselves into three smaller working “teams.” Each of these teams created a ranked list of ten projects that included projects from both the School Board and Board of Supervisors list. County staff then arranged the projects based on which had received the highest rankings from the three teams. 

When the results were tallied, four projects received consistent, high rankings from all three teams: 

  • Transportation leveraging
  • Economic development funds for public-private partnerships
  • Cale Elementary expansion project
  • Crozet Elementary expansion

Below this “Top 4” were an assortment of other projects—including school technology, environmentally-conscious initiatives, water-related projects, and other school renovations—that received widely varying levels of support.

The CIP Advisory Committee’s job, therefore, is to take this list of projects and—within that $55 million funding cap set by the Board of Supervisors—present a list of recommended projects to the Board for discussion and approval. 

The Advisory Committee’s First Meeting

That brings us to Tuesday’s meeting of the CIP Advisory Committee. Here are my impressions of the meeting and how things look moving forward—particularly for the Crozet Elementary project. The bottom line is that the Crozet Elementary expansion is certainly being recognized as a critical project. But its relatively large cost compared to the available funds make it a potential target to be reduced in scope. And, more generally, I think the meeting revealed important, broader points about the County’s overall level of capital funding (it’s not enough) and the timeline for public participation in the process (it started way before this meeting).  

1. This meeting was planning and overview; next meeting (October 22) is the crucial one. I’ll be honest: even for a budgeting meeting, Tuesday’s meeting was a bit boring. Informative, but boring. No real decisions got made. Instead, the meeting was largely about (a) reviewing the budgeting process, (b) explaining the Advisory Committee’s role, and (c) devising a plan for the group’s subsequent meetings. The discussion generally avoided mentioning specific projects, although there were comments that provided some insight into members’ thinking (as I’ll explain in #2). The next meeting—Tuesday, October 22, 2-4 pm, County Office Building—is where the rubber will meet the road. 

2. The Crozet Elementary expansion is being taken seriously, but it may be in danger of being reduced in scale. Here’s the good news: the Crozet Elementary expansion is nestled safely among the Top 4 projects that were clearly set apart as the highest priorities by the Board of Supervisors and School Board. And, at Tuesday’s meeting, it seemed like members of the Advisory Committee generally agreed that their recommendations should reflect the rankings that were generated by the two Boards at their joint meeting.

Now, if they really wanted to remain faithful to the School Board/Board of Supervisor rankings, the Advisory Committee members could just start at the top of the list and work their way down—funding projects until they hit the $55 million cap. Well, guess what you get if you add up the cost of the Top 4 projects? $54.9 million. So the Advisory Committee could make its next meeting a short one by signing off on those four projects and calling it a day. But it may not be that easy.

Two of the “Top 4” projects—Transportation leveraging & Crozet Elementary—would take up $45.4 million out of a possible $55 million. And during the meeting, some members asked about whether the larger projects were “scalable.” I interpreted that as, essentially, asking whether the Crozet Elementary project could be adjusted in scope—funding the project, but at a reduced level—as a way of freeing up some money for some of the smaller (and lower-ranked) projects. I don’t know how “scalable” the Crozet Elementary project is, but if it is, I suspect some committee members may be interested in recommending that. 

(It’s also possible that the Advisory Committee could reduce the amount earmarked for transportation leveraging, since that’s actually the largest single project—$25 million out of $55 million. But because funds allocated for that get matched by the state, it seems they would be somewhat less eager to take from that pot.)

3. The County needs more money for capital projects—which, realistically, means a higher real estate tax rate. For me, one of the clearest takeaways from this process is: there’s simply not enough money for the important capital projects that the County needs. And the tax-rate increases that the Board of Supervisors is willing to support just aren’t going to get us there anytime soon.

The prioritized list of projects created by the Board of Supervisors and School Board totaled $121 million—roughly twice the amount the Board of Supervisors was willing to raise to cover capital projects over the next seven years ($61 million). And that list is only a partial list of the broader range of capital projects that the School Board and Board of Supervisors want to fund. For example, remember that the School Board’s full list of suggested capital projects—just for the School Board—was over $100 million. I suppose it’s possible that some of these projects are just plain-old wastes of money. But looking at the list that the Advisory Committee is working off of, I don’t see a lot of vanity projects; I see basic infrastructure—roads, schools, drainage and water quality, waste-management facilities, greenways—that is necessary to support a clean, vibrant, and growing community. 

Realistically, it seems the only way to generate the money to fund these projects is to increase real estate property taxes. Look, no one likes to pay more taxes. But, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.” 

And here’s the thing: it wouldn’t cost that much more to take care of our needs—or, at least, more of our needs. For example, if the Board of Supervisors had chosen the highest funding scenario, “Level 3,” it would have generated over $100 million for capital funding over the next seven years, rather than the $61 million currently available. That would be enough to take care of almost all the projects on the prioritized list (except the high school renovations). How much would that have cost homeowners? An extra 5.5-7 cents in tax rate. For someone with a $300,000 home, that’s an increase of around $180 a year. $15 a month. 50 cents a day. 

Ultimately, when it comes to infrastructure, you get what you pay for—in the form of taxes. And right now, Albemarle County residents aren’t getting as much as we need.

4. It’s probably too late for the public to have much meaningful impact on this round of CIP priorities. One frustrating thing happened at the very beginning of the meeting: the audience was told that there would be no opportunity for public input. This was particularly irksome, since I was specifically there to share a resolution passed by the Crozet Community Advisory Committee expressing our support for the Crozet Elementary expansion and urging the County to fully fund the project. Our White Hall supervisor, Ann Mallek, helpfully pointed out that members of the public could provide written input, and I did take the opportunity to present the CCAC’s resolution supporting the Crozet Elementary project to the staff in attendance.

I’m a huge believer in public participation in local government. And I certainly don’t want to discourage people from attending meetings and making their voices heard. But, at this point, final CIP priority list has largely already been set by (a) the amount of CIP money available, as set by the Board of Supervisors and (b) the priority list decided upon by the Board of Supervisors and the School Board at September’s joint meeting. Each of those things was decided at least a month before Tuesday’s meeting, and those decisions were based on input and discussions that took place even earlier.

Now, to be sure, if the Advisory Committee goes off the rails and jettisons the Crozet Elementary project altogether or slashes its funding drastically, then the community should certainly object loudly and often to the Board of Supervisors. But it seems unlikely that the Board of Supervisors will be willing to do much tinkering with the nuts and bolts of the CIP recommendation—not after the Advisory Committee’s coordinated with County staff to do the hard work of considering all of the various scenarios and making a final recommendation.

So just like with the funding point, there’s a larger takeaway here: The time to advocate for capital projects is EARLY. For example, let’s say, hypothetically, that you wanted to push for a new elementary school in the Crozet area, rather than expanding Crozet. When should you have done that? Not at Tuesday’s meeting. Too late. Not at last month’s Board of Supervisors/School Board meeting. Too late. You’d have had to probably start advocating for that before the School Board’s Long-Range Planning Advisory Committee sometime in 2018 (18 months ago), when that committee started its own planning process that then filtered up to the School Board and then to the joint Board of Supervisors/School Board meeting. But at this point—when the Advisory Committee is sitting down to do its work—we’re simply too late in the process to have a meaningful impact on the capital projects that will get funded for the next few years.

So if there are capital projects that the Crozet community really wants to see done (like Eastern Avenue, Western Park, the Crozet Park recreational facility, or an entirely new elementary school) it’s critical to really start pushing for those projects with the School Board and the Board of Supervisors now—not because they’ll be funded this go-round, but, rather, in the hopes that they will percolate up to future CIP funding cycles years from now. As the old proverb says: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.” 


Final thoughts from Jim

The timelines for this stuff are infuriating, but a key takeaway is that our government demands patience, persistence, and being present, at damn near every opportunity. Those who show up and advocate for the things are the ones who get the things. As was suggested somewhat offhand at the last CCAC meeting, maybe we need a Crozet lobbyist, to simply go to all of these meetings and push for more funding for our schools. I genuinely don’t know the answers, but I know that without proper funding for our schools, with a plan that looks beyond 5 years- and plans to fund the things that we – our community, our kids, our society – need, we are in a world of trouble.

Crozet Park Aquatics and Fitness Center?

Interesting things are found in Albemarle County agendas if you read and dig into them. I’m glad people like Joe Fore do so, and let people know.

From the Albemarle County School Board agenda for 8 August 2019 at 6:30pm (bolding mine)

Claudius Crozet Park is a 22 acre community non-profit recreational facility open to all. It is managed by Claudius Crozet Park, Inc., a non-profit organization managed by volunteers. Currently, the Park’s Board is in the planning phases of an expanded and updated facility to meet the needs of the growing community. The park is soliciting private donations but they will also be requesting partial funding from the Board of Supervisors later this month.

The new Crozet Park Aquatics and Fitness Center will feature a gymnasium, indoor walking track, fitness areas and community rooms. A key component of the facility is space for after-school and summer programming. Currently, the YMCA leases the existing building and offers programming to only 27 students as it is limited by available space. The new facility will offer space for a program that could serve as many as 300 students.

Affordable, quality after-school care is in great demand throughout the county including the Western Feeder Pattern. There are currently 123 students on the wait lists for the Extended Day Enrichment Program (EDEP) at the four western feeder pattern elementary schools. That figure does not include families who do not apply because they cannot afford the program. As documented in the 2017 program evaluation of EDEP and subsequent Board conversations since, increased access to after-school care opportunities is needed.

The Park Board is seeking a letter of support demonstrating the need for increased after school opportunities before it goes before the Board of Supervisors on August 21st.

Albemarle County Will be Redistricting Schools

At some point, Albemarle County will be redistricting schools, because the population is growing. Please take time to read this whole thing, courtesy of Amanda Alger. If you have comments or questions, please comment below, or email Amanda. Bolding throughout is mine.

If you don’t have kids, please get involved, as school quality and perceived school quality affects property values. If you do have kids, get aware and involved. Even if your kids are little now, they’re going to grow up. I’m happy to talk our schools’ perceived quality about property values offline.



via email –

If you’d like to provide any comments or feedback on this draft report, please do so by July 1 at 8 am.  The report will be presented to the School Board at their meeting on July 11th at 6:30, which is open to the public for comment. 

The Long Range Planning Advisory Committee (LRPAC) is tasked with putting together a yearly report for the Superintendent and School Board to assist in the development of long term facilities plans.  They meet monthly and Central Office staff puts together this report with input from representatives appointed by each School Board member and the Superintendent.


This year’s $180 million Capital Improvement Program (CIP) recommendation addresses four areas: Maintenance and Replacement, Capacity and Growth, Safety and Security and Renovation of Existing Facilities.  


Of particular interest to the White Hall District:


From June 26 Draft Report: “The top ranked capacity related project is an addition to Crozet Elementary School combined with redistricting Brownsville Elementary School students. Robust growth in the Crozet area has been on the radar for some time and the time for additional capacity has come.


Brownsville and Crozet are currently over capacity and enrollment is anticipated to continue growing. Brownsville will utilize 8 mobile classrooms next year. At a capacity of 330, the Crozet site has room for expansion. A design for an addition and improvements is currently funded in the CIP with the assumption of redistricting students from the current Brownsville district to Crozet Elementary when the project is complete. With a forecasted 96% population growth over the next 30 years, expanding Crozet up to its maximum is a near-term recommendation, but a new western elementary school will also likely prove necessary longer term. An expansion of an existing school is recommended prior to the construction of a new school for several reasons including timing, cost, less redistricting, equitable size amongst schools, and staffing benefits. These reasons are elaborated on in the justification section of the Crozet Addition project page of this report. 

Continue reading “Albemarle County Will be Redistricting Schools”

Western Albemarle Crew Team Rows to SIX National Medals

Wow, WAHS Rowing!

Crozet, Virginia, May 28, 2019 – After advancing a record 10 boats from the Virginia State Championship to the Scholastic National Regatta, the Western Albemarle High School Crew Team rowed their way to six national titles.  The Western Albemarle High School team of 55 members was one of 156 clubs from across the nation to qualify and compete in the regatta held May 24-25 in Dillion Lake, Ohio.  

The second fastest boats in the nation were awarded silver medals, earned by the Women’s Senior Quad (Caroline Allison, Heather Deacon, Tori Sanborn, Clare O’Connell), the Women’s Lightweight Quad (Casey Callinan, Madison Reisch, Noa Kipnis, Adelaide Bragaw) and the Men’s Junior Quad (Lucas Farmer, Andrew Sime).  Bronze medals were earned by the the Women’s LIghtweight Double (Madelyn Abrahamson, Eva Massarelli), the Men’s Senior Double (Val Burguener, Cove Haydock) and the Men’s Freshman Quad (William Donovan, Jeremy Burke, Tate Kessler, Tilden English.)  

Additionally the team had four other boats which finished in the top ten: the Women’s Junior Quad (Lily Argenbright, Kate Landis, Mary Robertson, Mia Henderson, the Women’s Junior Double (Ellie Ward, Claire Helgerson), and the Men’s Senior Quad (Cooper Devito,Will Plummer, Tee Dickinson, CK Keller), and the Women’s Freshman Quad (Ravenna Barber, Emma Sexton, Haley Lenox, Meghan Byrne).  The Women’s Junior Single (Sloan Strong) also placed in the top ten.  Strong attends Staunton High School which does not have a team, so she trains with the WAHS team and was entered as the only Staunton HS rower. 

Head Coach, Craig Redinger says “The importance of this success cannot be underestimated.  To be able to compete, place among the top two boats in each event against the best competition from across the nation takes an enormous commitment of time, training, character and dedication that is nothing short of remarkable.  Our athletes and coaching staff embody those values on and off the water and generates an atmosphere in which our rowers excel.  This past weekend we got to prove that to the nation by leaving as the  most medaled sculling teams at the event”  

The team will now take a break before resuming their fall season in August.  If you are interested in learning more about the sport of rowing the team will host its learn to row program July 15-26. Please visit our website, wahscrew.org, for details on our summer programs and for those interested in joining the team.

Thanks, Kara Ward, for sending this in!

Albemarle’s New Dress Code

Good.

via email.

Dear Parents, Guardians and Students:

On February 28, I communicated with you about the enforcement of our student conduct policy and dress code practices to better meet our responsibility to provide an educational environment in our schools in which all students can fulfill their highest potential.

Our policy states that any clothing that interferes with or disrupts our educational environment is unacceptable. This requirement has always been present in our policy; it is not new.

Effective tomorrow, Tuesday, March 12, the wearing of clothing with imagery associated with organizations that promote white supremacy, racial division, hatred, or violence will not be permitted in our schools. 

Continue reading “Albemarle’s New Dress Code”

CCAC Meeting – February 2019 | Schools, and Recycling

This should be an interesting meeting, seeing as how most everyone in Crozet benefits from having a great school system. I’ll reserve my cynicism for my in-meeting tweets.

#CCAC0219

Crozet Library 
Wednesday, February 13, 2019 from 7:00 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. 

Agenda 

1.    Introductions and Agenda Review (Allie Pesch – CCAC chair) 

2.    Approval of Minutes 

3.    Recycling in Western Albemarle (Trudy Brement, Emma-Caroline Avery, and Maren Eanes, Henley Middle School – 20 min) 

Due to illness, the recycling discussion will be postponed. Instead, our neighborhood planner Andrew Knuppel will be presenting the county’s new development dashboard and giving us an overview of Crozet developments currently “in the pipeline.”

4.    Western Albemarle Feeder Pattern School Capacity and Enrollment (Rosalyn Schmitt, ACPS Chief Operating Officer – 60 min) 

5.    Items Not Listed on the Agenda 

6.    Announcements 

7.    Future Agenda Items 
        –  Joel DeNunzio, VDOT (March) 
        –  Chesterfield Landing Phase III Review 
        –  Albemarle County Development Pipeline Dashboards (Andrew Knuppel) 
        –  The Square and Barnes Lumber Updates? 

WAHS with a Cause

via email. Great to see this kind of motivation from our kids.

The Western Albemarle High School Leadership Program is putting on the first ever “WAHS with a Cause,” which is our community service day.

In the past, Western Albemarle has put on service projects, but they have been contained within our school. The goal of WAHS with a Cause is to get our entire school involved in civic engagement not just in the school, but within the entire Crozet/Charlottesville community. We would love both monetary donations or supplies. Additionally, if you are aware of a local organization that could use a group of volunteers, please contact [email protected]

Thank you so much,

WAHS Executive Council

Upcoming Albemarle County School Board Meetings

Last week’s CCAC meeting yielded some interesting and, candidly, troubling, thoughts about the future of Crozet schools. If you haven’t read the linked story and tweets, please do so.

If you don’t have kids in the schools, you’re still impacted as property values are directly tied to (perceived) quality of schools. 

Economically, we would say that above average school quality as a flow of service is capitalized into value, just like an income stream. There is a broad consensus in the academic literature that school quality matters (Black, 1999, Brasington, 1999), and it seems that elementary school may matter even more than high school in driving locational preferences of home buyers with children. Empirical research has found that a one standard deviation increase in school quality (measured by test scores or school rankings) increases the value of a single family property by 1 to 3 percent. (source; bolding above is mine)

Get educated, and get involved

The next meetings (with the exception of joint Board meetings and meetings with Legislators) are September 27; October 11 & 25; November 8; and December 6 & 13.

Here is a link to the meeting calendar, that might be helpful, as it takes the scheduled meetings out further.

Related posts

Superintendent Listening Tour at Western Albemarle 31 July

via email (I changed some of the bolding to focus on Crozet)

Dear Community Members,

My summer listening tour is underway! I’ve already met with several groups of students and teachers. It has been very helpful to hear so many ideas about bright spots in our schools, opportunities for improvement, and your advice for me. I’m looking forward to my first community session this week on Wednesday evening, July 25, 6 to 7:30 at Albemarle High School.

If you’re planning to attend, please remember to register, which helps us with planning.

Last school year, our 14,000 students represented 89 countries and spoke 74 home languages! Demographically, our students were 10.5% Black, 12.8% Hispanic, and 65.4% White. Ten percent were English Learners; 30.4% received free and reduced price meals; 11.9% were identified for special education services; and 9.8% were identified as gifted.

Albemarle County Public Schools is becoming a more vibrant community, offering continued opportunities to be enriched by our diversity and to grow stronger together.

My summer listening tour is an opportunity to hear about the needs, challenges, hopes and ideas from community members who bring a broad range of life experiences to our school division.

I hope you can join me at one of the following Listening Tour opportunities:

  • Wednesday, July 25 | 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. | Albemarle High School | Register

 

  • Tuesday, July 31 | 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. | Western Albemarle High School | Register

 

  • Wednesday, August 8 | 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. | Monticello High School | Register

If you are unable to attend, I encourage you to share your thoughts and ideas through the Online Feedback Form. You also may follow the progress of my first 100 days as Superintendent online at www.k12albemarle.org/First100Days.

I look forward to working with you to shape the future of our school division!

Sincerely,

Matt

Dr. Matthew S. Haas
Superintendent of Schools

Letter from Western’s Principal

This is an important conversation for us to have in schools, at homes, in coffee shops, and pubs. Posting with permission.

via email 

Dear Western Families:

It has been almost two weeks since I issued a statement in response to a controversy over a student project related to the study of To Kill a Mockingbird in one of our English classes. This incident elicited many emotions, from anger among our visiting girls’ basketball team to surprise and then concern among our own students who were unaware of the situation. It is important for us to understand how our visitors felt about what was displayed on the student project as well as our own students’ feelings.

While the conversation began because of the historic images used in a student project, this situation has sparked a larger dialogue around issues of racial equality, respect, tolerance and inclusiveness in our relationships with one another in our community. We see this as an important opportunity which should be seized.

We are now at a point in time when, collectively, we can address, head-on, many of the issues that concern us. This is an opportunity to listen, learn and work together for the benefit of our community. We already have many mechanisms in place to support this discussion. We must use these structures and others to increase dialogue and build understanding.

Last year we created the Western Feeder Pattern Diversity Focus Group comprised of elementary, middle and high school teachers, parents and administrators. This group was formed to address issues within our own community around diversity and to help all of our schools provide a more supportive atmosphere for all kids.

We have an Equity and Diversity team of teachers and staff at Western who are focused on understanding biases in our school and in our practices and is working with staff and students for equality, equity and success for all of our kids.

Our school improvement climate goal this year is focused on empowering all kids to have voice and agency and to be comfortable in stepping up when they see things that are harmful to others. We want our students to develop and actively use bystander awareness strategies to support each other and a healthier school community.

As principal, I see our students achieving in many areas as part of our school and division. Academically, students regularly challenge themselves to take many of the most rigorous classes offered. On the stage and athletic fields, our students compete at the highest level and challenge themselves and their teams in competition.

We must remind ourselves that achieving these goals should never be in the absence of qualities that best exemplify us as learners and leaders: sportsmanship, character, and integrity.

I care deeply about each one of my students, as does every member of our staff. We have and will continue to accomplish great things. If we are to continue to move forward as a caring, supportive, high-performing community, we must work together to better understand the contributions each of us will make. We need more honest conversations about school culture and student experiences.

Such conversations often are not easy, but they are necessary if we are to ensure that racism, bigotry and all forms of harassment will have no place in our schools. I know we can create the most respectful and best learning environment for every one of our kids. In the near future, I will be reaching out with information on opportunities for parents, students, and community members to join us in this work. I hope that you will partner with us as we move forward.

We will continue to find ways to improve. For your child. For every child.

Best,

Darah Bonham

Principal



Background from the Daily Progress

A homework assignment depicting racist themes in the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” sparked controversy Monday when the English classroom at Western Albemarle High School was used that evening as a changing room for the Fluvanna County High School girls’ basketball team.

“So after our game we found a poster in the locker room we [were] in and it said ‘negros sit in the back of the bus,’” one player wrote on social media after the game. “That is very disrespectful and racist.”

The post angered others, including one parent who said that Western Albemarle should voluntarily forfeit the game it won, 45-34, to “voluntarily stand up to racism.”

Western Albemarle Principal Darah Bonham said the poster was part of a project on Harper Lee’s novel set in 1930s Alabama that asked students to analyze themes such as racial tension, injustice and poverty, and then draft written and visual depictions of them.