Leah Puryear is seeking a fifth term on the Charlottesville School Board.
In her re-election announcement this past week, Puryear said she wanted to continue to support several initiatives started in past years that have more recently gained momentum. Those include the preschool program for 3-year-olds, the redesign of gifted education and the division’s equity policy and related efforts.
“We have been through a lot in the pandemic,” Puryear said. “I think we, as a board, as a community and as a school division have risen to the challenge. To open schools again, whenever that happens, to see some of our initiatives continue, and to give them a solid footing, is something that I want to see, and I would like to be a part of that.”
Puryear is one of four people currently seeking one of three spots on the board. She’s also one of two incumbents in the race. The deadline for candidates to file is June 8. The board has seven members overall and terms last four years. All candidates for school boards in Virginia run as independents.
Puryear is the director of Upward Bound, which is based at the University of Virginia. The organization works with high school students in Central Virginia who want to continue their education at the postsecondary level and to develop their talents.
She said there’s a need for consistency and institutional knowledge on the School Board, especially with a new superintendent and other new faces soon to join the division. Longtime board member Juandiego Wade is not seeking another term on the board as he is running for the City Council.
Wade and Puryear both first won their seats in 2006, when School Board elections were still held in May. Schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins, who is retiring next month, joined the division in 2006.
“Consistency at this point is very critical with our school division,” Puryear said. “We are going to have a new superintendent. I am confident that the person we hire is going to be that individual to take the school division to the next level, and I want to be a part of that.”
In Puryear’s campaign platform, she pledged to continue current efforts to understand the roots of inequities in the division and to place equity at the center of decision-making. She also highlighted the recent effort to change the approach to teaching social studies to include more diverse perspectives.
Puryear said that in conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion, her focus is on inclusion.
“It’s one thing to say we have equity; it’s another thing to say that we are inclusive of everyone in the school division,” she said. “Our voices have to be heard. Our voices are heard, and I feel that we have a seat at the table. So it’s not equity for equity sake.”
A more inclusive process would involve more people making decisions or discussing partnerships for the good of all students, “because our school division represents many cultures and ethnicities, and I feel strongly that those cultures and ethnicities have to be at the table because those voices need to be heard because they are the recipients of what we are attempting to do.”
Looking ahead to a potential fifth term, reconfiguration is a top priority. The project includes moving the fifth grade back to the elementary schools, adding sixth grade to Buford Middle School and converting Walker Upper Elementary into an early childhood center.
“Reconfiguration is happening, because those of us on the board want it to happen and the community members want it to happen,” she said. “It’s something that needs to happen. The purpose of reconfiguration is to allow everybody the maximum academic experience.”
Puryear said the selection of VMDO Architects to lead the reconfiguration design work was a positive sign that the project would move forward after years of discussions. The City Council has included $50 million in its five-year capital improvement program as a placeholder for the project and will discuss whether and how much to spend on reconfiguration this summer.