Here is the unedited response from Symone Walker:
I am Symone Walker, an APS parent, and education activist, having served on various PTA and school committees for the past decade. I currently serve as Co-Chair of the Arlington NAACP Education Committee. As the parent of a gifted child and a child with special education needs, my passion for education activism stems from my own struggles in seeking equitable access to special education and differentiated instruction for my children. I am running for the school board to be an instrument of change because a lot needs to change. The opportunity gap has not closed in decades; our reading curriculum is leaving students further behind and widening the gap. Struggling students are graduating semi-literate; unable to read well enough to fully participate in our democratic society, and unable to write well enough to navigate the rigors of college-level writing without remedial classes or tutors.
For too long, the school board has mostly focused on capacity, boundaries, and buildings, and neglected curriculum and instruction to the detriment of our students. Our Black and Latino students’ academic performance stagnates at 20-30 points below their Caucasian and Asian counterparts, and they are performing below the state average, which is a low bar. For a school district as well-resourced as Arlington that spends almost 20K per pupil, far exceeding neighboring jurisdictions, APS’s inability to close the opportunity gap is incomprehensible. To still have no comprehensive equity framework in place in 2020 is unacceptable. And to have schools that are still segregated 66 years after Brown v. Board of Education & 61 years after desegregating Stratford Jr. High is highly problematic.
I am laser-focused on closing the opportunity gap which, as a result of COVID-19, will widen exponentially and require a multipronged approach to close it. To that end, we must screen for and identify learning differences and disabilities as early as Kindergarten, and every student beginning in elementary school must have access to an evidence-based, structured literacy curriculum that is rooted in the science of reading, a robust evidence-based writing curriculum, an evidence-based, multisensory math curriculum, and timely intervention for struggling students. Further, our schools need to become trauma-informed, depressurized, authentically inclusive, race-conscious, restorative rather than punitive, and reflective of the diversity of our community so that the whole child can flourish.
Having served two decades as a federal government attorney in a number of practice areas, I am prepared to overcome challenges that seem insurmountable such as the challenging times we are now facing with the impending reopening of schools. I am a strategic thinker, adept at forecasting risk, and implementing mitigation strategies to avoid catastrophes. I can handle curveballs and navigate steadfastly through uncertainty and unpredictability with sound judgment. My LL.M. in litigation and dispute resolution and 15 years of experience as a mediator have prepared me to effectively manage conflict, build coalitions, and find common ground. These are the leadership skills I will bring to the school board.
You should vote for me because I am the only candidate in this race with an equity focus steeped in curriculum and instruction, and in improving students’ learning experience. I am the only candidate in this race who has drafted state legislation to improve literacy because I firmly believe literacy is a civil right. I am the only candidate in this race with over a decade in the trenches of school advocacy. Finally, I am the only candidate in this race who has garnered broad, grassroots, community support and is not beholden to any political organization or special interest groups. I am not running for the school board to climb the political ladder on the backs of our children. I am running for the school board solely to be a voice for each and every student because I believe that when we uplift the students in the margins, all students will benefit. I am asking for your vote before or on November 3rd. Visit my website at symoneforstudents.com to learn more.