Albemarle County school officials look to students to participate at meeting

ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- It's back to business for the Albemarle County School Board. Members will hold their first meeting of 2019 on Thursday with a full agenda of items to tackle and they're also encouraging students to participate.

For the initial meeting, school officials are taking a different approach by moving public comment up on the agenda to allow students to join the conversation.

"We are really hoping to hear more from students because they know what's going on in the classroom," Kate Acuff, school board chair, said.

During previous meetings, public comment followed the business agenda, which typically isn't until 9 p.m. The school board hopes an earlier time slot will encourage students to attend the meeting and share their ideas with the board. Ten students will have priority, followed by anyone else who signs up to speak.

"We've been extraordinarily impressed with students who have come last year presenting on the mental health initiatives, the anti-racism policy, as well as the other many students who have," Acuff said.

She said school officials have tossed around ideas for some time on how to get more student voices, possibly adding non-voting student members to the board.

School officials will also hear from middle school students, through a new career cluster survey.

About 3,000 middle school students across the county completed a survey, which sheds light on what careers students are most interested in. Acuff said some of the top choices were arts, STEM and law.

"I think it's accomplished two things. One it made students and their parents think concretely about direction as far as school and career. But it will also get us ahead on crafting electives and maybe what our new student center should look like," Acuff said.

School officials will reveal the full results of the survey during the meeting. They also plan to give an update of the $35 million referendum projects. Acuff said the county is ahead of schedule and under budget, which is something she considers an accomplishment.

The funds have allowed schools in the county to be updated and transformed such as new science labs at Albemarle County High School and the major renovation of Woodbrook Elementary.

"We were able to add 40,000 square feet, 16 classrooms and modernize the rest of the entire school," Acuff said.

The school board will also elect a new chair and vice-chairman.

Public comment is slated to start at 7:18 p.m. If any student would like to speak, they must sign-up prior to 6:30 p.m. If more then 10 students sign up, a second public comment period will be conducted following the business agenda.

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