School board prepares for change amid redistricting process

School board prepares for change amid redistricting process

By Chris Teale (File photo)

Election Day on November 3 was the end of one process for those nine individuals who won election to the Alexandria City School Board, but it is just the start of the work they will need to do even before they are officially sworn in on January 7.

Current chairwoman Karen Graf, vice-chairman Chris Lewis and incumbents Bill Campbell and Ronnie Campbell will be joined by newcomers Cindy Anderson, Hal Cardwell, Ramee Gentry, Margaret Lorber and Veronica Nolan in the three-district board, with the budget and the ongoing redistricting effort at the top of the list of issues they will need to tackle immediately.

And while the incumbents bring a level of institutional knowledge sure to be helpful to those starting their first terms, the next few months are being seen as a useful period of transition.

“We’re a continuous body so the work’s going to continue,” Graf said. “It’s really important for me, and it was when I was a new board member, to feel empowered to make the decisions on day one. I plan to take as much as time as needed to make sure new board members are on-boarded so that we can serve the citizens and the school system.”

That process begins with fairly basic tasks like providing new members with official identification and email addresses, followed by meetings with Superintendent Alvin Crawley and his leadership team to discuss in detail matters like the budget process and redistricting. Member assignments as liaisons to parent teacher associations and both advisory and ad hoc committees will be up for discussion, and to ease that process, Graf has prepared a transition plan.

“Right now, I have a few things in the works like meeting all the executive staff and talking through the budget with Dr. Crawley and his team, so that when they take office, it won’t be like the first time they’ve seen the content,” she said. “I think that it’s just really responsible transitioning and I’m hoping to leave that document as a legacy for the next board transition and future board transitions. I want to make sure I help them discover what they want to do and what they’re interested in.”

In addition, both Graf and Lewis praised the newcomers for being pro-active in their approach to their new roles, attending a variety of meetings and already doing plenty of background research to help them get a strong footing.

“A lot of these candidates are really familiar with the data and the district already,” Graf said. “I’ve known a lot of them previous to this election, so they’re not coming in completely cold. That’s not a big worry for me, and I believe they’re all really bright, intellectual people and they’ll catch up on things they don’t know.”

“They’ve been doing work on their own,” Lewis said. “I see them at all of our meetings. Whenever we have a redistricting meeting, whether it’s the steering committee or the review committee or the community meetings, I have seen folks who were newly elected last week. They’re doing their homework and I’m encouraged by that.”

Graf said she plans to add a number of work sessions for the new board, especially with less than two months between now and its swearing-in.

“I want to try to educate them now while we have the time and [while] I’m not opposed to adding some [more meetings] if needed, I think it can be a balance, instead of stacking a bunch of meetings after January,” she said. “We want to make sure whatever materials they need to read and get up on, we’re providing that now for them and then if there’s an occasion for them to add some more discussion, we can do that together.”

Redistricting may well be one of the most challenging tasks facing the new board, especially with ACPS still seemingly on track with its original timeline of having new school boundaries in place for the start of the 2016- 2017 academic year. The redistricting steering committee’s makeup will change, with school board member Kelly Carmichael Booz failing to win re-election and committee chairwoman Stephanie Kapsis not seeking re-election.

Kapsis said in an interview that she would like to stay involved in redistricting in some way even after she finishes her term, and Lewis said that with so much set to take place on the issue between now and the new board taking their positions on the dais, there is still the chance for her and the current board to do a great deal.

“There’s plenty of work to do between now and the end of the year, so there will be multiple review committee meetings, multiple steering committee meetings and there’ll probably be another community meeting before the end of the calendar year,” Lewis said. “There’s plenty of work between now and then that will go on before the new board is sworn in.”