Pullen elected school board chair

Book review committee named

By Heather Michon

Andrew Pullen (Columbia District) and Andre Key (Rivanna District) will serve as chair and vice-chair of the Fluvanna County School Board for the next year.

The board spent the first half of its 90-minute regular meeting on Wednesday (Jan. 10) voting on appointments to regional and state educational committees. 

Board members named the members of the Learning Resources Advisory Committee, a group of citizen representatives that will participate alongside professionals in the review of books challenged by the community for alleged inappropriate content.

The committee was approved in November, with appointments originally expected in December. However, at the December meeting, three members said they needed more time to interview all the applicants. 

During public comments, Cunningham District resident Georgianna Joslin said “it appears at least one representative still hasn’t finished going through all of the applications as promised, or if he did, it was without interviewing all of the applicants. I know, because I am one of them.”

Joslin said it was behavior like this that fueled perceptions that the committee was just there to validate the views of the board members. If that was the case, she asked, “why not review the books yourselves and save the taxpayers the money from buying five additional copies of each book that is challenged?”

She said some in the community were already calling this “the book banning committee. I truly hope we are proven wrong.”

Each member had their own criteria for what they wanted in a representative. At least two of the appointees are librarians, and the majority are long-time county residents and alumni of Fluvanna County Public Schools.

Haley Tartaglino-Tompkins (Palmyra), Tia Brown (Rivanna), Amanda Mott (Cunningham), Nikki Sheridan (Fork Union), and Anne-Marie Parrish (Columbia) will each serve a one-year term on the committee. 

Director of Elementary Instruction Gemma Soares gave a presentation on the staff recommendation for new K-3 textbooks compliant with the Virginia Literacy Act. 

Passed in 2022, the VLA mandated that schools adopt core instructional programs based on “scientifically based reading research and evidence-based literacy instruction,” parental access and involvement in the development of their child’s reading program, and teacher access to “student-level data” on each student’s progress through the program.

Starting last summer, a committee of teachers, administrators, and parents worked through a set of VLA-compliant titles approved by the Virginia Department of Education.

Soares said the clear recommendation was for a program called ‘Core Knowledge Language Arts.” It was the best fit with the division’s use of phonics-based instruction and came with a robust set of online resources for teachers.

She estimated it would cost $180,000 to get all the print materials they needed, “but then we’ll have those forever,” she said. Over time, the program could cost around $10,000 per grade level for additional online resources. 

The vote to approve the program will be on the agenda in February. This would allow the schools to purchase the materials and begin getting teachers ready to implement them for the 2024-2025 school year.

New Fork Union representative Danny Reed said he was one of the parents who followed the committee’s work and had been impressed by the depth of their discussions over the merits of each program. “Kudos to you guys,” he said. “Because that was a big task.”

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