School Board Primary Fight Brewing

by ARLnow.com February 4, 2013 at 11:50 am 1,869 32 Comments

Barbara KanninenArlington School Board member James Lander is facing a primary challenge this year.

Lander is being challenged in the upcoming Democratic Caucus by Barbara Kanninen, a Yorktown High School mom, children’s book author, environmental economist and Democratic National Convention delegate. The endorsement caucus is scheduled for May 9 and 11.

Lander is the only African American elected official in Arlington, where about 8 percent of the population is Black or African American. This has led some political observers to predict a racially-charged primary.

Kanninen plans to officially announce her candidacy at Wednesday’s Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting. Asked why she’s running, Kanninen released the following statement to ARLnow.com.

We have great schools in Arlington, from preschool all the way to high school. We prepare thinkers, entrepreneurs, and artists, and we prepare them well. But, the world is changing fast and we need to stay ahead of the curve. We need a School Board that is experienced, forward thinking, and, above all, passionate about educating kids.

Kevin and I have lived in Arlington for 20 years. We have been elementary school parents for 9 years, middle school parents for 6 years, and high school parents for 3.

I have spent years volunteering in classrooms, doing everything from one-on-one reading, to hands-on science, to gifted math. I’ve worked with kids of all ages and backgrounds and skill-levels.

I’m a math geek, a children’s book author, a Ph.D. economist with a business motto of “Good, Clean Data Crunching.”

I’ve worked on School Board committees. I’ve been on the ACI — the Advisory Council on Instruction. I’ve co-chaired the Early Childhood Advisory Committee, and I’ve served on the Math Advisory Committee.

I coached Odyssey of the Mind for seven years.

I am also, occasionally, a political activist.

All these experiences — but especially that of being a parent — have fed into and nurtured my core belief that all children are awesome human beings, they all deserve every opportunity to excel, and we owe it to them to pay attention, to push our own thinking in new and fresh ways, and to never, ever shrug our shoulders.

Here are three things I think we should focus on, going forward:

  • Strengthening our STEM programs — science, technology, engineering, and math. More hands-on science programs in elementary school, Mentoring programs for middle and high school science fair projects. Better utilization of the crown jewel of STEM education here in Arlington: the Arlington Career Center. We need to make it more accessible to more kids, including making summer programs more affordable.
  • The Arts. Young people are coming into a world where new ways to express yourself are cropping up every day — video, graphics, even music is changing. We not only have the opportunity to help kids take their talents to the cutting edge, but, if needed, we can help them use their talents and interests to buttress up their academics.
  • Finally, at the end of the day, kids are kids, and kids needs personal support. I believe every child in Arlington should be able to walk into their school building every morning and know that there is at least one adult who knows them on a personal level, who believes in them — exactly as they are.

Photo via barbarakanninen.com

  • novasteve

    No seat on any elected board should be reserved by race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or anything. However, voters have to make informed decisions and try to create diversity of backgrounds and opinions themselves–

    Translation, we can’t tell you you most vote for groups, but youhave to or else you are a bigot! More feel good moments for the left.

  • Rick

    “This has led some political observers to predict a racially-charged primary” – – –

    There you go bringing up “racial” into the issue! – what about sex – she is a woma! She seams to be a good candiate based on her expereince – not stating she should win. But then not every board member should be reelected.

    • novasteve

      Yes, if you don’t vote for her you hate women! If you don’t vote for him, you are a racist and don’t believe in diversity!

      It’s so sad when the left constantly uses the ploy to get what they want. How about this, vote for whomever you want to vote for, and dont’ you dare tell anyone else who they should vote for?

      • Hee-Haw

        How are things in make-believe land ? Its funny how you take 1 sentence and turn it around to support your own agenda.

  • DCBuff

    It would seem more accurate to say, “one political observer” (the “notLarrySabato.com” blogsite) has predicted. And, ArlNow should correct its headline, as the Dem Caucus is not a primary, and, further to the point, political parties can’t hold primaries for school board elections as the positions are supposedly non-partisan.

  • Mary-Austin

    This oughta be good.

    Seems like she would have a shot though. All she would need to do is get the North Arlington soccer mom crowd to turn out for her at the caucus.

  • yequalsy

    If she wants to win she needs to actually come up with actual issues rather than pablum. I’m sure Lander supports STEM, arts, and treating kids as individuals, too. Here’s a suggestion: Start cultivating the many parents who are still angry at the way the transportation change was handled. Why did the school board roll over on that? Or put Lander on the spot over rumored transition to block scheduling in middle schools. That will get you attention and separate you from an incumbent. If you really want to demagogue things lead the charge against building new elementaries at Williamsburg and Kenmore.

    My campaign consulting bill is in the mail.

    • Arl Dad

      Or press the board on why it did not act to address the capacity crisis sooner. Opposing the new elementary schools will net you very few votes. Calling out the board for why it is not already addressing middle school and high school boundaries and capacity is much more on the minds of Arlington parents.

      I, for one, am always glad to see competition for these seats. Incumbents have some advantages but they do not own their seat and the public is entitled to some discussion rather than unopposed confirmations. I don’t know where I stand vis-a-vis the two candidates but it will be good to see an actual debate over the many issues facing our schools.

    • BBMS

      A platform against building new schools would seem doomed from the start, given APS acknowledges their own overcrowding crisis.

      But I agree, her “why I am running” speech seems more of just a auto-bio piece. The linked article says she’s being put up by “activists” associated with some current board members apparently just to unseat Lander because he rocked their boat last year. If that is the case, she might not have any unique agenda to run on, she’s just going to be a rubber stamp for the incumbents. And from what I see in Arlington politics, once you have the establishment behind you, you are pretty much a lock. Well, except for Bondi, but I think Zimmerman actually carries a bit of negative baggage at this point, at least when the streetcar can be invoked as an issue.

      • Arl Dad

        James doesn’t exactly rock boats. He’s been pretty uninvolved actually for some time. He announced for a delegate seat last year and then didn’t run. He’s just not that engaged, which is probably why he’s now gotten himself a challenger.

        • Beth M.

          he’s been a disappointment on the school board — comes across as very weak. With so many members of the Patrick Murphy fan club on the board, we need someone who is strong. however, if this new candidate was chosen by the Patrick Murphy fan club, I don’t have much hope.

  • Marie Antoinette

    Occassional Political Activist. GAK!

    Read: To the extent possible carpet bomb the curriculum with lefty ideology. Progress! or Forward! Or whatever it goes by today.

    • drax

      Wow, you’re reading meaning that’s not there into words more than usual today.

      • DCBuff

        No teaching our kids about progress, especially when it comes to the core subjects in which this candidate professes interest! Science, technology–no to progress! Really, “lefty ideology” math? This one of those anti-southpaw things?

  • Gymmyray

    Teachers have been screwed under Murphy. Hope you’ll support a decent
    salary increase for teachers!

  • Clarendon

    “children are awesome human beings”

    What are the rest of us , chopped liver ?

    • DCBuff

      Feeling left out, are we? She’s running for school board and schools are about educating kids.

  • Don’t expect any real changes

    Don’t expect too much to change if she wins. Kanninen can’t really run against the status quo on school policies because she was recruited by school board members trying to oust Lander for failing to go along with them. They are still sore over last summer’s racism charges when they tried to pass Emma over for chair. Kanninen is a good person, but be used by others for their own personal political ambitions. Other activists were approached to challenge Lander, but they knew what was really going on and said no.

    • Rabble Rabble

      Lander has utterly failed to do his job since the very first month he took office. This has nothing to do with racism and everything to do with Lander’s refusal to even show up when he’s supposed to.

    • Alan

      They are still sore over last summer’s ‘racism’ charges? And so the response is to try and oust Lander?

      Just a thought — maybe the challenge has something to do with something other than race.

  • mickey_

    Who cares whether someone is black, green, orange or purple? QUIT counting! We don’t care! We care that the best man or woman is voted in…….THAT’s what counts!

    • novasteve

      Nope, feel good moments are more important, equality of outcome is also more important than equality of opportunity.

      • drax

        Only one person has apparently raised the issue of race, steve.

  • Central Arlington Mom

    Lander gets a bad wrap. The man has to work for a living. He has started his own company and travels a lot. School Board work is intended to be part time. The nitty gritty management should be done by staff, not by the Board. He does provide oversight and does ask good questions. He did do a good job trying to negotiate the Board split last spring. And Lander does represent South Arlington well. He always asks great questions about how parents access the system and its resources. He does push STEM. He ensured last year that the Hoffman Boston school became a STEM school, pushing all his fellow members to do so.
    Lander may stumble a bit when he speaks publicly but that happens to some folks. Talk to him one on one and its a different story. He has a really good handle on what kids who come from less advantaged families need to succeed and what they are not getting from our system. We need that voice at the school board level.

    • Alan

      Lander doesn’t understand what kids need. He’s all about “data” and “results”. I don’t know about you but I don’t want my child analyzed as some number on a chart. Learning is to complicated and too nuanced to be reduced to such folly. We need someone who understands what kids need, a rich learning environment that encourages close relationships with adults who care. Not numbers and data.

      • Libby

        So let’s elect someone who has “good, clean data crunching” as her motto. Go figure…

  • Ashton Heights

    I’d like to hear the candidates’ (especially the PhD economist’s) take on population projections. Some people claim Arlington population is trending down; some people claim the Arlington school population is exploding. My observation (not scientific) is that the population is increasing, mostly young adults are moving in, and school population is declining. Someone should be able to make sense of all this, before we spend a ton of money on new schools that might not be needed.

    • Arl Dad

      Someone has. There is only one study that predicts declining population for Arlington and it is from out of the region and does not consider building permits and revitalization plans for the Crystal City/Columbia Pike region. The school system has actually become very sophisticated in its population projections of late, using census data, capture rates, home starts and other factors to predict enrollment. And for at least the next 10-20 years (beyond which data cannot be reliably assessed) we are looking as at significant and lasting increase in school populations.

      • Wayne Kubicki

        The projections look sophisticated – but as I recall, hasn’t this methodology been in place for some years now, and didn’t the projections fail to foresee the enrollment increases that have occurred in the last several years?

  • JT

    The Crown Jewel is the Career Center? Then why did the school board vote to merge Arlington Mill there next fall and merge high school kids and adults? My daughter wanted to take a class there next fall and then I learned adults will attend school there in September. Do you think it’s appropriate for 16 year old kids to go to school with adults? No screening, no background check, I’m sure. Just put adults of any age in a building with high school kids every day of the week? No thanks.

    • speonjosh


  • Alan

    “This has led some political observers to predict a racially-charged primary” – – –

    Actually it should say, “this has led ONE political observer to predict a racially charged primary”—

    Then if you go and read that article the author says there is no racial motivation, but still concludes this is a racially charged race.

    This journalists and ARLNOW seems desperate to make something of nothing.


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