(Updated at 11:35 a.m.) Arlington’s School Board race is starting to take shape.
With School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen’s seat up for grabs, a few hats have been tossed in the ring so far.
Wednesday marked the end of the filing date for the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s endorsement process, which has a few changes this year in light of calls for a broader reform that were ultimately defeated.
Two candidates are seeking the Democratic endorsement in the otherwise non-partisan November school board election. A four-day voting process to determine the endorsee will be held in June.
Bethany Sutton is hoping to get the endorsement over Brandon Clark, the first person to qualify to run for school board through the Voter Registration and Elections Office. And James Vell Rives IV has also qualified for the November ballot.
Sutton is a certified leadership coach, executive search consultant and a former PTA president. She has lived in Arlington for more than 20 years and has a background in governance, strategic planning, staff and leadership development, and nonprofit management, according to her profile in the ACDC announcement of candidates.
Sutton served on Randolph Elementary School’s PTA board for seven years, three of which she was president of the board. Since spring 2020, she has led the Randolph Food Pantry, a community-based volunteer effort to support families affected by the pandemic.
For her work at Randolph Elementary, she was awarded the APS Honored Citizen Award in 2021 and the Distinguished County Service Award in 2020 from Volunteer Arlington and the Leadership Center for Excellence.
She also serves on the Arlington County Food Security Task Force and is chair of the APS Advisory Council on Teaching and Learning, which she has been on since 2018.
“She has a passion for excellence in student learning and a deep commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” according to the ACDC writeup.
Sutton grew up in the Philadelphia area, attended college at the University of Mary Washington and graduate school at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She also completed a graduate program in leadership coaching at Georgetown University.
Clark, a Gunston Middle School teacher, says he wants to bring a needed employee perspective to the school board, while pushing to improve the school system’s communication and engagement efforts.
While Clark is seeking the Democratic endorsement, he expressed displeasure with the party over the weekend. He told ARLnow via email that he left ACDC’s Blue Victory Dinner, held at a Ballston hotel Saturday night, miffed at the choice of vodka offered given the ongoing war in Ukraine.
“I briefly attended an event hosted by Arlington Democrats as a school board candidate… I left early and before the event started, when I saw that Russian named vodka, originally started in Moscow, was being offered for purchase,” he wrote. “I am confused and appalled by this and would like to say that this is an oversight and greater symptom of a larger problem in Arlington politics.”
A day after the initial publication of this article, Clark clarified that the vodka issue was not the only reason he left the event early, while adding that it “speaks to being out of touch on what our community might regard as tasteless and, although seemingly insignificant to others, [and] represents tacit support for Russia.”
Rives, meanwhile, is not seeking the Democratic endorsement, and is running as an independent. He is a psychiatrist and serves as co-chair of Arlington Public Schools’ School Health Advisory Board.
Rives has lived in Fairlington with his wife Carmen since 2003, and their children attend Wakefield High School and Claremont Elementary.
As a physician with a background in mental health, he said he can bring a unique perspective to the board. He particularly wants to help as schools recover from the effects of the pandemic, keeping schools open so students can catch up on lost skills and ensuring the school system retains its teachers.
“Restarting has been bumpy,” he said. “I want to help get back on track.”
The Arlington branch of the NAACP, the pro-open-schools group Arlington Parents for Education and a group of self-identified Democrats have separately called on ACDC to end or reform its endorsement process. The groups claimed that white, wealthy Arlington residents are overrepresented in the caucus, and that it discourages election participation while making nonpartisan officials beholden to a political party, among other concerns.
But a vote on the issue upheld the process. The party instead made some changes to this year’s caucus, including an extended voting period.
“We incorporated a lot of community feedback, adding more voting dates with a broad community outreach effort to make the process more inclusive and equitable,” ACDC Chair Steve Baker said in a press release. “We want the best process possible and the County Committee will continue to invite feedback and assess alternatives.”
A candidates forum will be held on May 14.
All registered voters in Arlington County who are Democrats are invited to vote in the caucus, according to ACDC. The times and locations are below.
- Saturday, June 4: Lubber Run Community Center from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
- Sunday, June 5: Drew Elementary School from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
- Tuesday, June 7: Campbell Elementary School from 7-9 p.m.
- Saturday, June 11: Washington-Liberty High School from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
The deadline for candidates to qualify to have their name on the ballot in the general election is June 21 at 7 p.m.
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