Here is School Board candidate Barbara Kanninen’s unedited response:
I am Barbara Kanninen, and I am running for Arlington County School Board because I believe that together we can make Arlington Public Schools the best that they can be.
Our schools and community face complicated issues right now, from meeting capacity needs, to budgeting, to achieving our most important goal: optimizing classroom learning and addressing the needs of our students. I bring an expansive set of experiences to the job of tackling these challenges. I have volunteered in schools and worked with children in Arlington and DC for over 20 years, and I have served on School Board and County Board advisory committees. I am a Ph.D environmental economist, children’s book author, and Democratic activist. These experiences have given me a deep familiarity with data analysis, hundreds of hours with kids and teachers, and a history of working at the community level on grassroots organizing and engagement. I will ask tough questions and dig deeply to find new, creative solutions to our budget and capacity challenges.
In the coming months and years, we’re going to have to make tough but important decisions. As we look ahead, here are my priorities for our schools:
- Promote critical thinking over standardized testing.
Our kids spend too much time in class prepping for and taking tests. Teachers tell me this takes too much time away from instruction. We need to take a hard look at the testing schedule and process to see which tests are essential to classroom learning.
- Tackle overcrowding with strong leadership, constructive community engagement, and transparent decision-making.
As we work to catch up with the growth in our school population, we need to create a long-term plan that considers instructional needs and programs first, work closely and collaboratively with the County Board and the community to consider the full array of potential school sites, improve community engagement to allow for true dialogue and transparency, and build a safety net of potential temporary solutions.
- Give teachers the support they deserve.
To create an environment in which every child can excel, teachers need support and resources. They also need the flexibility to adjust their teaching approach and pacing to their students’ needs as well as avenues for providing feedback to school principals and county administrators.
- Support children with mentors.
An adult mentor is a developmental asset that contributes to kids’ problem solving, self-esteem, and achievement. I’d like every student in Arlington to know that there is at least one adult in school who knows them, whom they can go to with problems, and who believes in them.
- Continue investing in the arts and strengthen STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs.
We should strengthen STEM skills through, for example, more hands-on science programs in all elementary schools and more accessible STEM programs across all schools, including the Arlington Career Center. At the same time, students need opportunities to express themselves creatively, so we need to give students at all levels access to a variety of art forms.
- Be budget-minded by prioritizing funding for teachers and classroom learning.
In this time of tight budgets, we need to be both disciplined and principled about spending decisions. My number-one principle is the need to focus on the day-to-day classroom experience and teacher-student relationships, so my budget priorities will be teachers and the resources they need.
This year, as part of my School Board campaign, I canvassed door-to-door in all 52 precincts in Arlington, engaging parents, teachers, and community activists and learning about our school issues neighborhood by neighborhood. These experiences have given me a holistic understanding of our diverse community. Collectively, we have the energy, the brains, and the will to do great things for our kids and our community. I’m excited about the possibilities, and I would be honored to have your vote.
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