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School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen to step down in December

School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen during an in-person meeting in December (via APS)

School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen will not seek re-election after her term ends this December.

The chair said in an announcement on Sunday that she will “continue the hard work of serving our students, staff, and the Arlington community” for the rest of her term, which ends on Dec. 31, 2022.

Kanninen, first elected to the School Board in 2015, was re-elected in 2018. Before assuming the role of chair in July 2021, she last served as chair in 2017-18.

“It’s a tremendous honor to serve the Arlington community as Chair of the School Board,” she wrote. “I love this job and truly believe it’s the most important one in Arlington, especially at this time… I’m proud of everything we’ve achieved together to improve Arlington Public Schools during my eight years on the board, but it is now time to hand over the reins.”

Her announcement continues below:

It is my sincere hope that the 2022 Democratic endorsement process will be a positive, constructive one. Arlington’s children deserve leaders who care deeply about them and will work hard every day to ensure they have the supports and opportunities they need. The superintendent and my colleagues on the School Board are exactly those kinds of leaders, and I hope that equally caring individuals will step up this year to run.

Thank you so much for your support. I look forward to continuing the hard work of serving our students, staff, and the Arlington community throughout 2022, and I promise that I will continue to find ways to serve beyond this year.

The Arlington County Democratic Committee process of endorsing School Board candidates, who are non-partisan in Virginia, through a caucus has recently been criticized by a pro-open-schools group Arlington Parents for Education, a number of self-identified Democrats, members of the Arlington branch of the NAACP and the Board’s newest member, Mary Kadera.

She follows in the footsteps of her predecessor as chair, Monique O’Grady, who announced when schools were still closed to most students that she would focus her “full and undivided attention” on reopening buildings until her tenure ended Dec. 31. Kadera officially took over O’Grady’s seat during the Jan. 6 School Board meeting.

When Kanninen assumed her seat last July, she said some of her priorities included improving staff compensation and navigating a “very challenging budget season” with the aim “to bring APS back to being a fiscally healthy and sustainable school system.”

During the 2021-22 school year, APS upped wages for bus drivers and substitute teachers, and redesigned the pay scale for all staff to make up for lost pay increases.

Meanwhile, APS has in recent years faced multi-million-dollar budget gaps that — during the pandemic — were balanced in part by federal funding. The 2022-23 budget is still under development and will be voted on in May.

Kanninen has lived with her husband Kevin Wolf in Arlington for three decades, and put their two sons through the public school system.

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