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Three Arlington School Board candidates are vying for support of local Democrats this May

(Updated at 5:45 p.m.) Three Arlington School Board candidates are officially vying for the endorsement of the local Democratic party.

The candidates are Erin Freas-Smith, Miranda Turner and Angelo Cocchiaro, the Arlington County Democratic Committee announced today (Friday). They are running in a party caucus to determine who will advance to the general election and represent the party, though party affiliation is not shown on the ballot for School Board races.

Their filing deadline was earlier this week.

Freas-Smith and Turner, who has run for this office before, are mothers to school-aged children in Arlington Public Schools and are active in Parent-Teacher Associations. Cocchiaro is active in local and state politics.

Cherrydale resident Freas-Smith is a mother of three children, who attend Key Elementary School and Dorothy Hamm Middle School. She has spent many years working in the PTAs, serving as the Escuela Key PTA president during the pandemic and currently as a substitute teacher.

“As a substitute teacher and volunteer within APS schools I have seen first hand the crisis of this moment,” she says on her website, listing her policy positions and campaign promises.

“Students are acting out, falling behind educationally, and teachers/in-school staff are at their breaking point,” she continues. “We must commit to our students by supporting teachers, providing avenues for advancement, and listening to the needs of families.”

An acquisitions librarian for the Library of Congress, and thus a federal employee in the legislative branch, she says she can pursue public office as a Democrat without violating the Hatch Act. This conflict led former candidate Symone Walker to drop out and run as an independent.

Since her first bid for School Board, Turner has been focused on reversing learning loss she says stems from virtual instruction during Covid. Other top priorities include improving communication between the School Board and the community as well as mental health for students and teachers.

“We have students in our schools now who need more from APS. High expectations and equitable support are a must,” she said. “Mental health and safety in schools for our students and teachers is an urgent priority. We need a community-wide response with better coordination with the county.”

Turner is a lawyer who lives in Green Valley with her husband and three kids. She was a founding member of the Drew PTA and is involved with the Montessori Public School of Arlington PTA as well as the Early Childhood Education Committee for the Advisory Council on Teaching & Learning.

Cocchiaro describes himself as a Gen Z “former student organizer and free school lunch kid,” as well as a youth advocate. His résumé includes working for U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and was a convention delegate for the 2020 Democratic National Convention to elect President Joe Biden.

He tells ARLnow he plans to announce next Wednesday, March 1, the day of the next Arlington Dems meeting at the Lubber Run Community Center (300 N. Park Drive).

“As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, our students and our schools are at the epicenter of multiple swirling crises,” he said in a statement to ARLnow. “We need a plan. The place is here and the time is now for a generational change in perspective in school policymaking. I’ve spent the last six years as a student organizer, mobilizing peers on issues affecting us and fighting for progressive education values. I am prepared to advocate in just the same spirit for students now, to meet this moment and deliver the change that’s overdue.”

The three candidates will have opportunities to debate each other over the coming months, before the endorsement caucus, comprised of three days of voting in early May.

“The Committee looks forward to upcoming candidate forums where the public can meet and learn more about the candidates,” the organization said in a statement. “Arlington Democrats will also be reaching out to a diverse coalition of community stakeholders to ensure as broad as community participation as possible.”

This statement comes a year after accusations that the process privileged wealthier, whiter, establishment Democrats, levied by the Arlington Branch of the NAACP, the School Board watchdog group Arlington Parents for Education, a group of self-identified Democrats and later, School Board member Mary Kadera.

Although ACDC cannot technically nominate a School Board candidate, through the caucus it endorses one. Those who participate agree not to run in the general election as independents if they lose.

The voting process will use ranked-choice voting, which has also been authorized for primary races to determine candidates for the Arlington County Board.

The system, also known as “instant runoff,” prompts voters to rank candidates and a winner is selected over the course of many elimination rounds. Additional rules and information about the process will be available on the website for Arlington Dems.

Arlington Democrats says voting for the endorsement will be held at three different locations on the following dates:

  • May 7 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Drew Elementary School
  • May 10 from 7-9 p.m. at Campbell Elementary School
  • May 13 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Washington-Liberty High School

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