With the announcement (see below) a bit earlier this evening by Arlington County School Board member Nancy Van Doren that she will not be running for reelection, there will now be two open seats on the School Board. On November 17, Van Doren’s colleague Tannia Talento also announced that she won’t be running for reelection (so far, I’ve heard of one candidate – Cristina Diaz-Torres – who has announced for that seat). Thanks to Nancy Van Doren and Tannia Talento for their service!
Time to Pass the Baton
After five years of service on the Arlington School Board, it is time for me to pass the baton. I will not run for re-election in 2020. Still, I remain committed to the goals and priorities that called me to serve and will continue to work diligently through 2020 to see them through.
Since my 2014 election to the School Board, APS’ biggest challenge has been to meet our students’ needs in the classroom while increasing capacity due to our rapidly growing student population. This has required strong collaboration between the Schools and the County.
From my first days serving on the Board, I committed to improving outcomes for all students, particularly students with disabilities, English language learners, and students of color. To accomplish this, I focused on:
• Expanding the availability and use of reading resources, interventions, and staff training to better serve the needs of all students, particularly those students who historically have not become successful readers with our existing instruction,
• Increasing rigor in our curriculum and insisting on high expectations for students of all backgrounds. Our 2019 evaluations of services for English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities recommend we continue to build and strengthen these efforts,
• Supporting the 2015 launch of the Arlington Tiered System of Support, a framework and philosophy that provides resources and supports to help every student reach success in academics and behavior,
• Investing in the expansion of the number of psychologists and social workers to meet the mental health needs of our students, and
• Ensuring that our newest Strategic Plan incorporates all these instructional priorities, while focusing on equity, inclusion, and educational excellence.
These efforts have resulted in improved educational outcomes and well-being for all students.
To meet growing capacity needs due to our expanding student population, I focused on:
• Opening three new schools on time (Discovery, Fleet, and The Heights) with another opening in 2021 (Reed),
• Repurposing two existing buildings (Dorothy Hamm and the Ed Center) to increase instructional space for students,
• Renovating and modernizing three existing schools / offices (Drew, Montessori, Syphax),
• Increasing the capacity in three high schools and three middle schools through cost -effective internal space renovations,
• Developing plans to build-out the Career Center to add 800 high school seats,
• Launching a new high school program, Arlington Tech, which has a project-based learning approach that prepares students to succeed in college and the workplace, and
• Adjusting school boundaries every year since 2014, resulting in the reassignment of students at all grade levels to balance enrollment across the County.
These projects have met capacity needs by efficiently using existing space and building new facilities and programs where needed.
Schools – County Collaboration
I also committed to strengthen Schools’ collaboration with the County to address pressing facilities and transportation needs in our increasingly urban county.
• Together with County and School Board members, we created the Community Facilities Study and the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission to study and plan for long-term county-wide facility needs.
• To better coordinate transportation resources, particularly related to the Schools, we created the Arlington Committee for Transportation Choices, bringing our staff and citizens together to coordinate multi-modal transportation initiatives for students and staff members.
• We also worked jointly to establish Stratford Junior High School – now Dorothy Hamm Middle School – as a historic landmark of Virginia’s first desegregated public school.
This era of strong collaboration has been of great benefit to Arlington and its citizens.
2020: Strengthen Rigor, Interventions, and Student Supports with a Focus on Equity
In APS’ Strategic Plan, our top priorities are inclusion, educational excellence, closing opportunity gaps, and supporting the well-being of all our children. To move this work forward in the coming year, I will continue to focus on the following priorities.
• Ensure support for teachers and staff by providing competitive employee pay to keep our workforce stable in this high-cost region and increasing training and coaching to focus on our students and their specific needs in the classroom.
• Support efforts to ensure our children feel safe and supported as the mental health challenges of anxiety and depression continue to rise.
• Support the expanded use of interventions that decrease suspensions and discipline incidents. I will support APS’ partnership with the police and work with our new Commonwealth’s Attorney to reduce student involvement with our criminal justice system.
• Push to strengthen identification and early intervention of struggling readers and ensure our interventions are effective.
• Support the adoption of a School Board policy on Equity and Inclusion that commits our system to ensure students are provided the resources they need to thrive and achieve in our classrooms.
Going Forward: Prioritizing Each Student’s Educational Needs While Expanding Capacity
The greatest challenge for Arlington Public Schools will continue to be deliberately and methodically prioritizing the instruction and well-being of our children in our classrooms while also meeting the unrelenting demand for physical space. Our School Board needs to follow through on our Strategic Plan, which clearly lays out how to get this job done.
I thank everyone for trusting me to serve on the Arlington Public Schools Board for the past five years. I will continue to do so diligently throughout 2020. My laser focus will be to put in place concrete plans to achieve our Strategic Plan goals of closing the opportunity gap and ensuring our students are healthy and well-supported.