I recently posted my interview with Arlington County School Board candidate Tannia Talento. Yesterday, I had a chance to sit down with another Democratic candidate, Michael Shea. Here’s what we talked about, edited for clarity and length.
I asked Shea about the recent story about the Talento campaign. Shea said he didn’t think it’s “relevant to the race.”
- Why did he decide to run for School Board and why now? He said he wouldn’t be running if it was only the incumbent, Nancy Van Doren, up for reelection. He added that he’d thought about running a year ago, but it wouldn’t have worked with his job at the time. Running now is “the culmination of having been involved with fiscal affairs, the budget side of the county…on schools…I see the need for us to have a new kind of conversation, to make equally-compelling needs work. I don’t think we have to say, yes schools, no to parks…we can find a way to make it all work.” He said he worked on workforce development and education issues at US AID and comes from a family of educators.
- Should there be any specific requirements for School Board, such as an advanced degree in education or having kids currently (or previously) in the school system? Short answer: “no.” “I think you need to know something about the schools, but I think you can get that without having kids in the schools.” “Actually, we’ll be a stronger school system…if we include more people who don’t have that necessarily.”
- How important is diversity on the School Board? Should Emma Violand-Sanchez be replaced by a woman, person of color, etc? “Diversity is very important…we should look at it broadly…I value diversity but I don’t think we need to necessarily make it feel like it’s a rule…I think what’s far more important is that people of different communities don’t just feel that they have a voice on the School Board, but they have voices on the School Board.” He didn’t have any specific examples of working with the Latino or African-American communities in Arlington.
- Has he been endorsed by anyone at this point? Who are his supporters? “I guess I have not been endorsed by anybody.”
- Has he been an active Democrat in the past? He said he has “not been a consistent attendee” at Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) meetings, that he “put some time in” on the Alan Howze for County Board campaign and that he volunteered back in the 1992 presidential race. He said he’s a Bernie Sanders supporter and definitely a “progressive, liberal, left Democrat,” that he becomes “disaffected as a a Democrat…when the party moves too much to the center.”(Note: he also asked me to mention that his wife “was active in past presidential campaigns” and “did a turn as a precinct captain for ACDC a few years back”)
- What are the major issues facing the Arlington school system? “Capacity is the major issue.” More broadly, we “need to be very sure that we make decisions that are based on what’s good for education…We can find ways to save money…to save space, but we make sure we do it in a way that is educationally sound.” He also mentioned closing the achievement gap, putting more school facilities in places like Rosslyn and Crystal City by “building up” and consider multi-use facilities.
- Are the schools getting approximately the right percentage of the Arlington County budget? “The place where we have to push to get a higher share is on the capital side…that has to do with debt capacity…there we need to focus on getting a bigger share over the next 5-10 years.” “I’m optimistic that we can get that per capita spending [on our students] down, but it’s going to be a net effect, because there are some areas where we do need to spend more money,” like “new technology.” “We need to do a better job of evaluating our programs,” which can save money. Overall, “right now [school spending as a share of the budget] is about where it should be.” “I don’t think that schools always trump everything, I think the affordable housing and the parks…are all very much important values.”
- He said he had thought about running for County Board because he wants to contribute to the “overall debate.” He said he didn’t see the School Board as a stepping stone to higher office, and in fact only wants to serve for one term on the School Board. He said there are plenty of people in the community who would be great on the School Board, which is part of why he feels that there’s no need for him to stay longer than a single term. He added that there’s a value to coming in with a new perspective, someone who doesn’t know how everything works, avoiding the trap of “we’ve always done it this way.” He definitely sees the School Board as a full-time job.
- He’s a big advocate of progress-based learning as a way to “reach a lot of students that otherwise we wouldn’t reach…and to achieve based on their own strengths.” “That’s why I’m supporting the Arlington tech expansion.” He doesn’t envision going immediately to 100% progress-based learning, but to start working it in. He doesn’t see any conflict between progress-based learning and ensuring that students have what they need to do well on the SOLs.
- On testing, he believes that we DO need to evaluate students, but we should have smaller tests more frequently, so there’s less incentive to teach to a specific test. He believes that standardized test results can reflect economic and other factors more than school performance. So the schools might not be broken at all, but they take the blame for broader problems in the society, economy, etc.
- On the use of technology in schools, he believes that “on balance it’s a good thing,” we “need to do it in a better way than we did with this personalized device initiative…we should be very clear and very careful about how we’re going to evaluate its impact.” The key is to “augment the other forms of learning” with technology. Also need to give a certain level of technology to everyone, regardless of their family’s income.
- On making schools more energy efficient/green, he supports doing that but says it should be part of an overall county effort, with the county covering the up-front costs. He agrees that greening the schools can also provide a learning experience for students.
- He talked about his support for open data. Among other advantages, he feels like making data more open will give the public more confidence in the budget. “I’m convinced if our transportation data was out there…our students would actually come up with apps.”
- Why should people vote for him and not for other candidates? He said he has a lot of respect for Nancy Van Doren, that she’s “incredibly diligent, incredibly hardworking,” that “the School Board benefits greatly from her presence,” although avoided giving a direct “yes” or “no” answer to my question, “do you want her to be reelected?” He also said Tania Talento “has been great on working to advocate for the career center…and the master planning working group…I give her kudos for all that kind of work.” He had kind words for the other Democratic candidate, Chaz Crismon as well, although he doesn’t really know him. As for why people should vote for him, he said, “I’m probably the only one who’s pushing [an open data policy.”