Arlington, VA

Two Democratic hopefuls for the Arlington School Board want to see full-time in-person learning and more consistency across Arlington Public Schools.

Miranda Turner, who made a name for herself calling for a quicker return to in-person learning, and Mary Kadera, the vice president of the Arlington County Council of PTAs, are looking to fill the void that will be left when Board Chair Monique O’Grady steps down. They are the only two to have met the March 1 deadline to be considered for an endorsement from Arlington Democrats.

O’Grady follows two other members who opted not to seek re-election in 2020: Nancy Van Doren and Tannia Talento, who were replaced by Cristina Diaz-Torres and David Priddy.

These races are non-partisan, but Arlington Democrats will select a candidate to endorse over the course of two days of caucus voting in May. The winner will run in the Nov. 2 general election.

Turner, a mother of three young children, tells ARLnow that she started following goings-on within Arlington Public Schools when she enrolled her kids in 2015. Despite Superintendent Francisco Durán’s regular updates and the plethora of information APS publishes, Turner said she is frustrated with the return-to-school conversation among elected officials, who should be more laser-focused on five-day, in-person learning.

“Every kid deserves an option to go to school full-time at this point,” she said.

APS has been returning students to their classrooms in phases since November, but most students started to return for a two-day-per-week hybrid schedule last Tuesday after concrete dates were announced in February. The recent phased return followscalls from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to make a hybrid in-school option available to all students by March 15.

Secondary-level special education students and sixth- and ninth-graders returned yesterday and the final cohort of middle- and high-school students will start hybrid instruction next Tuesday.

Although the logistics conversation will have played out by Election Day, Turner predicts learning loss and mental health deterioration among students will persist. She said her kindergartener at Montessori Public School of Arlington has struggled with virtual learning over the past year. Her family made the decision to transfer her oldest, a third-grader, from Drew Elementary School to a private school because online school was not working for her.

“I am running for school board because I want our schools to open five days a week, safely, so my daughter can have an appropriate full-time education available at the school she wants to go to,” she said.

Beyond the pandemic, Turner said she wants to see APS more actively handle curriculum decisions across the school system, particularly around literacy.

“Some differences are entirely appropriate, but there should not be so much variation depending on where your child goes to school,” she said.

Kadera, a mother of two middle school-aged children, ​is also channeling the impact of the pandemic on parents, teachers and students as part of her campaign.

“We’re tired, uncertain, and worried,” she writes on her website.

In response to the dip in student performance, she said some of her areas of focus include attracting and retaining teachers, creating more authentic community engagement between the school system and individual school communities, and incorporating equity into all decision-making.

“APS educators have moved mountains this year to teach and take care of our kids — and we need to take care of them, too,” she said.

Kadera led the McKinley Elementary School PTA for two years, mobilizing and stewarding her community through the controversial school swap last year. During the pandemic, she organized volunteers to get groceries, books and school supplies to McKinley families in need, as well as families in other school communities where PTAs have fewer resources.

Inequities among PTAs are now an area of advocacy for her.

“I’m working to improve inclusion and representation in school PTAs and advocating for more equitable fundraising and spending by PTAs across the County,” she said.

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