Updated: Oct 1
I'm sorry! It’s a click bait title - but, a big development in my campaign this week has been my pending resignation from School Board. You can not serve local and state office at the same time and so my last official School Board meeting will be October 12th. You can watch the announcement of my departure here. Please ignore my tears…but in case you really want to see them….The Daily Progress made sure to publish an up close photo. What can I say? Supporting public education is what got me involved in politics and saying goodbye is hard.
There is much to be proud of during my time on the School Board. For starters you might have seen in the news this week that Albemarle County has been named the 7th best school district in Virginia out of 132 districts. We also have managed to keep our classroom teachers staffed during a time of nationwide employee shortages. We are also only the 7th in state to agree to collective bargaining - an arduous task with little state guidance that few localities have been willing to take on.
I was elected in November 2017 right when our country and especially our community began grappling with a deep and needed cultural reckoning. I remember knocking on doors on August 12th and passing by groups of jeering men waving guns and confederate flags. During my time on the board we banned confederate imagery from our school, adopted the first in the state Anti-Racism policy, and embraced LGBTQ+ inclusive policies. Schools are meant to be welcoming of all students. Parental control does not mean that the parents of a few should dictate the educational experience for all. History lessons should not be cherry-picked to fit political agendas. The list goes on.
Oh yeah…and the pandemic. I was a dissenting vote to open back up our schools to those most in need (our younger learners) as early as safely possible (once a vaccine was available). As we navigated the uncharted waters of the pandemic, School Board meeting attendance went from 2-5, sometimes sleeping, attendees to 1,000+ concerned citizens per zoom. I scrambled to find professional looking spots in my kid-centric home and failed. I became the giraffe lady. I also accidentally yawned during a zoom once and thanks to the joys of online meetings got a nice meme made of my “woke” agenda apparently not being enough to actually keep me awake. I chuckled at that one.
Going virtual also means I have hundreds of hours of recorded school board meetings that show who I was, who I am, and where my heart lies. I am proud of my work and my growth and am ready to bring that experience to Richmond. It turns out this isn’t really a goodbye. - Education is and will always be a core part of my focus and I am bringing it with me as I move forward.
The Challenges Ahead
This past week I met with a UVA Professor at the Curry School of Education and we discussed the looming issue of the teacher shortage in Virginia. JLARC released a report this September about our K-12 Teacher Pipeline. In short, the study found that we need many more teachers than are entering the profession. There were 4,304 unfilled teaching positions at the start of the 2023 school year. This can create widely disparate educational experiences across the state. Danville City had a vacancy rate of 40.4% at the start of the school year. Albemarle was 3.7% and Charlotesville was 7.7%.
No teachers means overcrowded classrooms, increased disciplinary issues and decreased teaching time, and waning job satisfaction for those teachers left holding it all together. Even if we maxed out our participation in all our state teacher prep programs we can not meet the need. Schools are having to expand their reliance on provisionally licensed teachers and unfortunately they have proven to not be as effective unless there is a careful and deliberate growth model…usually involving teacher mentorship and co-teaching (the model I was licensed under in Massachusetts).
The good thing is there are many solutions to consider. Check out Page 11 of the report. One particularly compelling solution to me is the concept of a scholarship or loan forgiveness for those who enter the teaching profession and fit certain criteria. This would allow us to better direct limited financial resources towards more controlled directives (encouraging teaching in high needs areas, high needs subject matters, increasing duration in the profession, and supporting diversity recruitment). This is the work that I am diving into now as I transition off of School Board. I am so eager to bring myvoice as a former teacher and school board member to discussions at the state level around supporting our students and teachers to create a world class education for students across Virginia.
With Heartfelt Gratitude.
I will always be grateful for having had the opportunity to serve my community as an Albemarle County Public School Board member and will miss working beside colleagues like Judy .
“On behalf of our entire Board, I want to offer our deepest appreciation to Ms. Callsen for her strong support throughout her tenure of equal educational opportunities for all students, the exceptionally high performance standards and accountability for which she was such a consistent advocate and as a school parent as well as School Board member, for her focus on meaningful family engagement with schools and teachers.”
Judy Le, Chair of the Albemarle Country School Board.