In her candidacy for a fifth term on the Charlottesville School Board, Leah Puryear says she brings her experience and commitment to empowering children
Leah Puryear was a member of the Charlottesville School Board for over 15 years.
She decided to run in 2006 after an unsettling encounter at a school council meeting.
“There was a presentation I wanted to hear,” Puryear recalls. “A group of children came out and they knew who I was. They approached me and said, “Miss P, what’s wrong with us? “”
Puryear was taken aback by the question. She looked the children up and down, trying to figure out what they were talking about. Nothing was wrong.
“I was like, there’s nothing wrong with you,” she said. “And they said, ‘Well, why do they always talk about us like something’s wrong with us? “”
The question hit Puryear like a punch in the stomach. She recalled recent conversations she overheard about some children in the city of Charlottesville school who were late in reading or were not doing as well on standardized tests as students in other districts.
The focus always seemed to be on what was wrong, she said.
Puryear looked at the faces in front of her and knew that these children needed to hear a different – more positive – message.
“I said, ‘There is nothing wrong with you and never let anyone tell you that there is something wrong with you. You are bright and intelligent and you have as much to contribute as I do. ‘ And I came home that night and told my late husband that the next time there is a position for the school board, I will be there, ”Puryear said.
“That’s what really drove me to show up to the school board, not just this time, but every time I showed up.
Puryear – who is the director of the University of Virginia’s Upward Bound program, which works with high school students interested in attending college – is running for her fifth term on the Charlottesville School Board.
If elected, she said, she will continue to look for ways to celebrate student and district successes.
She also pledged to continue the division’s fairness work, simply calling it “the right thing to do.”
The division recently hired an Equity and Inclusion Supervisor, whose job it is to organize training and professional development with teachers and staff. The office also engages with parents, Puryear said.
We need to “continue to support the work and this department and develop it as needed,” she said.
Puryear is also committed to finding ways to support the health and well-being of the children at Charlottesville City School – especially after the massive upheaval they have experienced from the COVID-19 pandemic.
One component of this is physical health and safety. The division has worked hard to find ways to get children back to in-person learning safely, she said. They did this not only by demanding masks and social distancing, but by buying outdoor picnic tables and finding ways for children to have lunch – and sometimes learn – outside.
But the mental well-being of children is also important, Puryear said.
“We also hired our social and emotional workers,” she said. “So if our students have issues or concerns or trauma around COVID or trauma around back-to-school or just general trauma that there is someone else, there is a additional support in the building other than our school counselor, so that these concerns are addressed.
If elected, Puryear also pledges to complete the $ 75 million reconfiguration of Buford Middle School and Walker Upper Primary School.
The division has been talking for years about modernizing and reconfiguring the two schools, Puryear said.
“Some things happened that we had no control over,” she said, “But now it’s happening!
“We will have a new building, we will have 21st century equipment and beyond. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to rest on our laurels. We will continue to improve and bring everyone in academically. “
This is something the division is already doing, she quickly added. This year, the four-year graduation rate for schools in the city of Charlottesville reached an all-time high of 96.4%. The statewide average rate is 93%.
“We are doing something right,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we’re doing everything right. But we have to celebrate our successes.
Part of the reason for this success could be that the city’s schools have a “very high cost per student,” Puryear said. This comes from the investments the division makes in things like social and emotional support workers, school counselors in each building, student support staff and tutors, special education programs and staff, educational programs. performing arts, advanced placement programs and more.
“Of course that’s going to drive up the costs,” she said. “But it’s well worth every penny.”
In the coming year, Puryear said, the school division could face tough times once school divisions stop receiving federal money from the CARES Act.
School divisions in Virginia are primarily funded by local taxes, which were affected during the COVID-19 pandemic, Puryear said. Federal money through the CARES Act more than made up for the difference, she said.
“We have been, since I was on the school board, in lean times,” Puryear said. “And there may be lean times ahead. And because I’ve dealt with this before, I feel like I’m in a position to do it again.
“We need someone behind the wheel with a firm hand, we need someone with institutional knowledge. This does not mean that by having institutional knowledge you cannot be up to date and you cannot change. It means that by having this institutional knowledge and understanding certain things, we can be prepared for what is going to happen. “