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Three candidates join the Arlington School Board race

Four School Board hopefuls are now jockeying for the endorsement of Arlington Democrats this May.

Kathleen Clark, Larry Fishtahler and Zuraya Tapia-Hadley launched their School Board bids during the Arlington Dems monthly meeting at Lubber Run Community Center on Wednesday night.

They and Chen Ling, an APS parent who threw his hat into the ring last month, will face off in the School Board caucus process in May.

While School Board races are non-partisan, the Democratic party picks a candidate to endorse in the general election and those who lose agree not to run in the general election. The designation generally is a strong predictor of victory in November, when voters will pick who will replace outgoing Chair Cristina Diaz-Torres and Vice-Chair David Priddy.

Clark, the vice-chair of the 2024-30 Arlington Public Schools Strategic Plan steering committee, kicked off with her summary of what roughly 4,000 APS school community members said were their hopes for the system.

“Every student deserves to achieve academic success. Every student has the right to feel safe and included at school,” she said. “Every teacher wants and deserves to feel heard, supported and appreciated and our community wants high-quality schools and a school system that is operationally effective and sustainable.”

Clark served for six years on the Special Education PTA and has spoken out in other media outlets about bullying of students with disabilities, including her son, who has autism.

An APS alumna whose children attend Cardinal Elementary and Swanson Middle schools, Clark is an internal auditor with Gap, according to APS.

“Arlington deserves a School Board member who prioritizes instruction while developing long-range plans, ensuring that there are seats available where our population is growing,” she said. “My experience as an internal auditor has taught me to ask the right questions around priorities and budget.”

Fishtahler, who once led the Advisory Council on Instruction and County Council of PTAs, returns to the School Board race after two failed School Board races in 2012 and 2003. He says he is concerned about waning confidence in APS.

“The Covid experience and the return-to-school have done significant damage to the confidence that our schools are providing the best value,” he said.

“The most valuable asset that we have in our schools are our teachers and school-based staff. It is here that confidence in the leadership of the central administration and the School Board itself continues to decline,” he continued. “The improvements that parents see happening because particular teachers particularly have taken on increases in workflow and additional stress.”

He pulled out of the 2012 race against candidates Noah Simon and incumbent Emma Violand-Sanchez in a two-seat race, including one seat vacated by Libby Garvey, now serving her last year on the Arlington County Board as its Chair. He said at the time he saw his chances were slim.

He previously ran for School Board in 2003 but lost to incumbent and Republican Dave Foster.

Tapia-Hadley, who was born in Mexico, raised in D.C. and has lived in Arlington for two decades, says she is uniquely suited to help ensure the School Board hears from everyone in the APS community.

“Being a bilingual, bicultural mom, I believe, gives me greater access to the ideas, questions and concerns on the ground,” she said. “I think that we’re at a crossroads: Our school system has so much to be proud of but if we’re not vigilant, I fear that we can fall back in ways that will deeply hurt our kids, the quality of our schools and all our families.”

She is currently the senior director of public affairs for Spanish-language media company TelevisaUnivision and a Virginia Public Access Project board member. An corporate alumna of Facebook, she also served on the board of the Hispanic Lobbyist Association and the Virginia Latino Advisory Board.

In closing, she took shots at Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) for creating more challenges for local schools systems through unfunded mandates, including his decision to scrap an academic recovery and coaching program months ahead of schedule, saying the one-time federal funding for the program dried up.

“If you want a committed, engaged partner on the School Board working to ensure that you have a safe, valuable, challenging and connected school system, please consider joining my campaign,” she said. “I hope to earn your support and your vote at the caucus.”

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