The Right Note: Want to make a difference?

The Right Note is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington has seen its share of school board members come and go the past few years. It is not because the work is not important or extremely worthwhile. No, it’s because there is nothing more personal to people than their children, as Terry McAuliffe found out the hard way. And, there is virtually no decision of consequence that can leave everyone happy.

School boundaries can leave parents fuming after spending $1 million or more to move into their preferred Arlington neighborhood. Every school budget almost certainly leaves something popular on the cutting room floor. Curriculum and classroom policy decisions can quickly inflame passions on both sides. Even the names of schools now generate extreme controversy.

Right now, learning loss from COVID-based decisions not to teach full-time, in-person for five straight academic quarters is probably the leading hot-button topic. Studies continue to point to our kids falling behind because they were locked out of in-person learning.

Many parents who could afford it have removed their children from APS and are not coming back. Many more who could not afford to leave are still upset that teachers and administrators could not figure out a way to get kids back in the classroom in one of the richest school districts in America. And now they do not see enough progress being made to make up for lost time.

As an aside, if you are going to run for school board anywhere in America, Arlington is the easiest if for no other reason than money is no object. Despite all the protestations to the contrary, Arlington Public Schools have virtually unlimited resources. We will likely spend over $25,000 per child this year, and we have millions left over each and every year that we budgeted for and did not spend. One year we “shook the couch cushions” to provide thousands of extra computers for students.

And of course, there are decisions on school safety. Just this past year, APS opted to remove school resource officers. Fortunately for Arlington, we have not seen some of the same incidents that lead Alexandria school officials to reverse a similar decision. Let’s hope and pray it stays that way.

A lot of parents would give the entire board a low grade when it came to providing leadership through the pandemic. What we could use moving forward is someone on the school board who without question is dedicated to preparing our children to succeed in college or the workforce.

Arlington does not need to be a beta tester on our kids. Woke notions should never supplant things that work academically, and buzzwords like equity should never be used as an excuse for missing the mark. Moreover, how much more we borrow and spend each year, or even the number of new buildings, should never be the measure of how we are doing. The budget process should be approached with the idea we will identify what is working — and what isn’t — and spend only what we need to get the job done.

There is a natural constituency for someone who puts first things first when it comes to our kids. If that is you, maybe you should run for school board.

Mark Kelly is a long-time Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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