On a recent Thursday, Julian Waters was giving blood while answering a magazine reporter’s questions—a typical morning of multitasking for a busy politician. But Waters isn’t your typical politician. The Western Albemarle High School senior is running for the Samuel Miller District seat on the Albemarle County School Board. The youngest person ever to do so, he says his desire to seek elected office kicked into high gear when his father asked him two questions several months ago: Have you thought about taking a gap year? And what would you do if you did?
Waters says the idea of running for school board began to percolate a couple years ago when WAHS administrators wouldn’t allow him to start a model aviation/drone club. “It was frustrating that I couldn’t bridge the gap between my personal passion and an extracurricular at school,” he says.
When a new principal took the reins at Western, Waters made his case again, this time with more success: “We got on track with the rest of the school’s clubs, and started flying that fall,” he says. “Being able to go to school and fly during lunch made [high school] so much more valuable to me, and I want to give the people who feel left behind because they can’t do what I did the same options—we lose value in education when everyone doesn’t have the same opportunities.”
Waters, who shares his passion for model aviation with younger students during a weekly club at Henley Middle School, is a two-time participant in the Tom Tom Founders Festival’s Youth Summit, where this year he was on a panel devoted to changing education. In 2016, he addressed educators and administrators at the World Maker Faire’s Education Forum in New York, and locally, he’s helping craft High School 2022, an initiative aimed at making work-related learning part of Albemarle County’s high school curriculum. Waters says his school board campaign currently has two main focuses: perspective and preschool.
His perspective comes from being in the classroom and working every day with students and teachers. “I understand how learning standards can positively and negatively affect everyone,” he says, admitting that he has sometimes struggled as a student.
“We need to move away from the standards model and expand out of the classroom by offering experiential opportunities that allow students to work in communities, which would provide a more well-rounded educational experience.”
As for preschool, Waters says he feels lucky to have attended a good one. “And I think we do ourselves a disservice by not having a district-wide preschool, which would create equity, reduce academic deficiencies and help enormously with social barriers.”
Because he’s only 17 (he turns 18 in September), Waters is legally required to be accompanied by an older family member or friend when he’s collecting the 125 signatures he needs by June 13 to get on the November 7 general election ballot (he currently has about 100). When he knocks on doors, the people who answer are “very positive, and they’re more curious than anything else,” he says. “A lot of them are open to having a younger perspective, and they want to know how they can help.”
Waters, who’s running against incumbent Graham Paige, a retired WAHS science teacher who took office in 2015 after winning a special election, has put together a small team made up of high schoolers plus his mother, who serves as the campaign’s treasurer. “We’ll really ramp up once I officially announce my candidacy in June—or maybe sooner,” he says.
If he wins in the fall, Waters plans to attend college locally so he can fulfill his four-year term. “It’s been such a great, positive experience so far,” he says, adding that his hope is to “offer fresh perspective that further strengthens the [county’s] thriving community of lifelong learners, and broadens learning opportunities to engage each and every student.”