In just over two weeks (May 9, 11 and 13), Arlington Democrats will hold a “firehouse” caucus for both County Board and School Board. On the latter, there are three candidates running – incumbent James Lander and challengers Monique O’Grady and Maura McMahon. Yesterday, I had a chance to sit down and speak with Monique O’Grady, who I’ve found to be highly impressive, and who I’ve decided to endorse enthusiastically.
See below for highlights from my interview with Monique O’Grady. As for James Lander, my reasoning for not endorsing him for reelection is very similar to that of Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol, who pulled her endorsement of Lander (see Arlington School Board Member James Lander Apologizes for Remarks About Women, Domestic Violence) the other day, writing:
…I cannot continue to support James’ reelection campaign. When it comes to domestic violence, misconceptions and stigma can literally be life-threatening, making it harder for survivors to seek help. Working with agency, nonprofit and community leaders through Project PEACE, I know that families and young people throughout our community experience domestic violence, unsafe dating relationships and intimate partner violence. They deserve, and need, to know that they are supported and respected by their community. This issue is simply too important, and the stakes are too high, for me to equivocate when I say that these comments are unacceptable.
Bingo; I can’t say it any better than Katie Cristol did. With that, here are highlights from my discussion with Monique O’Grady, who I feel proud to support for Arlington School Board!
- O’Grady says she’s running because Arlington “is at a crossroads; it’s short on seats, it’s short on money and it’s short on time to fix the problem…I think sometimes we need to shake things up…I think I’m able to bring some fresh perspective…through my many years of advocacy and service.“
- O’Grady discussed her years of (extensive) experience and heavy involvement in the Arlington public school system. You can read about that here, but a few highlights include: Co-founder of the Arlington Montessori Action Committee; Co-chair of the 2016 School Bond Campaign and Arlington Arts Commission; APS South Arlington Boundary Committee, APS Early Childhood Advisory Committee, APS South Arlington Working Group, APS New Elementary School at Thomas Jefferson Building Level Planning Committee, APS Strategic Planning Committee, and APS Multi-Site Committee for School Facilities; Recipient of the APS Honored Citizen award; etc.
- She strongly believes in improving communications (in a way that people feel they’re being heard), “put[ting] instruction first” and “embracing diversity.”
- As for running to replace the incumbent, O’Grady explained (correctly) that “noone owns their seat; they are voted on by the community to represent their needs in the best way, so I’m happy to be part of the political exercise of giving people the opportunity to vote for the person they think best suits their needs.”
- “We are in a situation where people are frustrated…because we have not gotten in front of the capacity crisis.”
- On the recent controversy over Arlington public school boundaries and diversity, O’Grady said diversity is a strength here in Arlington, [but] it’s not as well seen in our classroom,” and “I think for children, when they’re able to grow up in a diverse setting, that gives them the ability to be successful in a very multi-cultural world…I think that we can do a better job with that…We say that diversity is one of our main goals…what are we going to do to ensure that our kids have access to it?”
- Also on diversity, O’Grady suggests that we can use the enormous resources of Washington, DC – for instance, the National Museum of African American History and Culture – to expose students to diversity. We can also bring people into the classrooms to discuss their own experiences with diversity.
- As for potentially busing students to ensure diversity, O’Grady said she’s very “sensitive to the African-American students who were bused out of their neighborhoods to fix diversity problems…I was parents alongside those kids who were bused out…that community has been wanting to come back; so busting up communities to create diversity I don’t think we have to do it that way; I don’t believe in forced busing, because I’ve seen what it’s done to a community.“
- “Giving parents the ability to be able to choose a different school…for instance there are people who choose to go to Wakefield for Spanish immersion and they live in other parts of the county...I think that we should look at the ability to be able to add choice programs in places and not displacing people…We should be looking at some choice to be able to try to handle this problem.”
- We could also address diversity at the pre-school level via highly diverse Montessori classrooms, not forcing kids to go back to their home school after three years. “That would offer diversity to that community.”
- “I also think that we need to think about what our kids are exposed to: who are the teachers who are teaching them? what are they reading? what are they writing about? who are they hearing from come into the school? what are there experience outside to also expand their diversity?”
- On “STEM” and “STEAM,” O’Grady said she supports those but “also likes the humanities…the writing, all of the other topics too.”
- O’Grady emphasized “respecting people’s communities…people love their neighborhood schools, they feel like they build community around that; I want to respect that — it’s a balancing act.”
- We talked a bit about the “controversy” (in quotes because it seems to have been mostly ginned up by right-wing talk radio and TV) over posters in the Arlington schools declaring things like “science is real” and “women’s rights are human rights.” O’Grady said she was at the school board meeting where students spoke on this topic, and she thinks “when we’re in a situation where teachers have to put signs on the wall because their students feel that they’re not safe…then we’re missing…what’s happening in our schools…why didn’t the administration know that, why didn’t the school board know that...was this the first time…did it just happen because of the election or was it happening before…what happened when they first heard about it…between that time and when the kids came out to support the teachers who put up the signs?”
- “I think that kids have to feel safe; if you don’t feel safe in your school, you can’t learn.” “Different things are happening at different schools…I wonder why there are differences…We need to have a better understanding – this is why I want the communication pipeline increased between students and teachers and the School Board – of what the culture is in a school, so if there is a problem we can address it a little better.”
- On the issue of kids feeling safe in school: “I think we should have a culture of respect,” where kids aren’t afraid of being “bullied,” “teased,” “harassed,” “called a name,” etc.
- On the school budget, “if you have more kids coming in, you have to hire more teachers.” “Growing 800 kids a school year is a huge increase every year.” “We have to balance [school expenses] with other things of course.”
Bottom line: Monique O’Grady is broadly knowledgeable and intensely passionate about the Arlington public schools. She would make a great addition to the School Board, I’m proud to endorse her and and I encourage everyone to vote for her on May 9, 11 and 13!