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School Board Candidates Respond to Follow-Up Questions from Recent Forum

This month, the three candidates for the Arlington School Board faced a series of questions at a forum hosted by the Arlington Committee of 100.

Like the three Arlington County Board candidates earlier this week, they then faced additional unanswered questions from the audience — due to time constraints — that ARLnow collated and emailed to them.

Two candidates’ unedited responses are below. (A third candidate, Mike Webb, did not respond.)

1. How do you plan to deal with the exploding student population in Arlington schools?

Alison Dough:

The simple and easiest answer would be to build more schools. If land is not available – build schools up. Ashlawn Elementary is an example of a school that recently and successfully built-up to address the increase in students.

I think that the school board needs to partner with the county board on this issue as it economically impacts both boards and together we should be able to work towards a possible solution that resolves the need for overcrowding in the schools and classrooms.

Monique O’Grady:

APS must get in front of its capacity crisis with better planning and a strategy on how to effectively provide seats for all of its students. As a member of the school board, I will work with my colleagues to plan with members of the county board to make best use of our limited dollars, limited space, and limited time. Through this collaborative effort we can reach decisions that will not only best serve our students, but also make efficient use of Arlington tax dollars.

2. Do you think a career teacher should be paid enough to afford to live in Arlington?

Dough:

Perhaps we need to consider housing-vouchers for teachers that make a very good case for the need to live in Arlington County. I work for a non-profit in Arlington and I know many of my coworkers would rather not commute in from Fairfax, Alexandria, Loudoun, eastern Maryland, Baltimore – but they do because they cannot afford to live in Arlington.

O’Grady:

Yes. Arlington should continue to find ways to support middle class residents who are at risk of being priced out of living in Arlington. This “missing middle,” as County Board candidate Erik Gutshall calls it, is an essential and invaluable component of our community and workforce. Teachers want to be able to live where they work. It fosters a closer connection between educators and their students as well as between educators and the larger community; this connection assists teachers with their work, making them even more effective in their jobs. Therefore, it makes sense to look for ways to attract the best and brightest teachers, including supporting policies that make it easier for our teachers to make Arlington home.  This will help recruit and retain teachers – one of the current strategic plan goals.

3. Identify the area of waste you would like to eliminate if elected.

Dough:

I propose looking at areas that do not directly impact the children. We should first take a look at administrative costs and other overhead.

O’Grady:

As a new member of the school board I would welcome an emerging practice that gives APS the ability to consider three different plans for new school buildings. Plans will be offered that show a design using the minimum budget, a mid-range budget, and maximum budget. This policy would seek avenues to eliminate waste, yet not at the expense of essential, quality services.

I also welcome more collaboration between the school board and county board. I think collaborative planning will help eliminate wasted time, eliminate wasted dollars with consultants and contractors, and will lead to more efficient use of our tax dollars and limited county- and school-owned land. 

4. If elected, would you support changing the name of Washington-Lee High School?

Dough:

I believe changing the name of Arlington’s first high school should not be a determination made by the school board.  This is a decision that should be made by the people of Arlington County. I would support moving this decision to a general election vote.

O’Grady:

As a strong supporter of community empowerment and the democratic process, I support the evolving process to review our Arlington school naming policy. The policy is actually up for renewal and the discussion is timely. Like the current school board members, I recognize that the tragic deaths that occurred in Charlottesville remind us that the presence and veneration of Confederate names and symbols can often serve as incubators of hate that divide communities. This process will give our community an opportunity to determine the impact closer to home, while also looking at our own history, which can help us set a path forward for the future.

I look forward to hearing from a variety of Arlington stakeholders on this issue. I will respect the process and garner input and guidance from those who will study the issue during this process. This process will also give Arlingtonians a chance to evaluate items like whether a person must be deceased at least 5 years before using that person’s name. This was a stumbling block for Discovery Elementary School which considered naming the school after astronaut and Senator John Glenn.

5. What would you propose to ensure fair school boundaries? 

Dough:

Realigning school district boundaries may not necessarily be the answer. Something that has surprised me about Arlington County is the lack of variety in immersion schools especially in an area that is so diverse in languages and cultures. We have Spanish immersion schools – what about French, Mandarin, Arabic, Hindi or others? If I had the opportunity to send my daughter to a French immersion school on the other side of Arlington – I’d take that opportunity in a heartbeat.  If we want to realign school boundaries – let’s give the parents a chance and desire to want to shift schools – so realigning boundaries isn’t the only option.

O’Grady:

I believe many items must be thought through to ensure that Arlingtonians feel the boundary process and results are fair.  That includes drafting boundaries that maximize traits that help our students and divisions succeed. Looking at items that will benefit instruction should have weight, along with other factors.

6. How would you manage school growth?

Dough:

Please see my answer to #1.

O’Grady:

Proper planning that involves the community and the county board will help us get in front of our capacity crisis. This planning should value instructional focus as much as it manages construction.

7. What are your views on the common core standards?

Dough:

I think the common core standards are important.  People need to be able to move to another state and know that similar core standards are in place state to state and county to county.

O’Grady:

Virginia does not use common core standards. It has created its own standards of learning to evaluate our students’ comprehension of important material at different grade levels. Fortunately, that gives our school district more opportunities to weigh in on whether the testing (and how that testing is administered) meets the needs of our students.

I believe testing requirements can negatively tip the scale, resulting in teachers testing so much that it gets in the way of actual education. I support evaluating the amount of state-mandated testing, which can increase anxiety among our students and hinder why they go to school in the first place – to learn.  I also support a path the state is now investigating which includes evaluating new ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge on important subject matters.

8. Do you promote inclusion in Arlington Public Schools?

Dough:

Yes, inclusion is my #1 priority. The state of Virginia has adopted an inclusion policy of 80-100% of the day spent in a general education setting for special needs children.  Arlington is significantly behind in implementing this policy.  I constantly struggle to keep my son included on his IEP. Students coming out of isolated programs cannot function in a normal society or learn a vocation that interacts with the general population. Studies prove that general education students rapidly adjust to learning how to accept special needs children as peers.  This benefits all students empathetic and socioemotional development. In many counties, this has also shown to save money by schools not needing to support two educational systems in the same school.

O’Grady:

Yes. I look forward to APS’ new process to promote inclusion in our classrooms. I think there is much to be gained by having students of different abilities working together. I believe if we want this to be successful we must be willing to provide teacher training and be open to pushing support staff into the classroom instead of pulling students out of classrooms. We must also give our teachers the tools they need to administer more individualized instruction, which will benefit all students.

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Candidates Face Tough Questions in Latest Forum

With Election Day less than a month away, candidates for the Arlington County Board and School Board are honing in on their final pitches to voters.

And at a forum Wednesday night at Marymount University hosted by the Arlington Committee of 100, the six candidates clashed on a range of issues, from how to engage more millennials in county government to closing the achievement gap in Arlington Public Schools.

The format varied from previous forums, as each candidate was able to ask a question of their opponents before taking further questions from the audience.

Erik Gutshall and Monique O’Grady, who were victorious in the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s caucus earlier this year for County Board and School Board, respectively, both touted their experience in county issues.

Both agreed that while Arlington is largely on the right course, it can do better. Gutshall, who is the current chair of the Planning Commission, said the county must not make too many concessions to developers on proposed site plans.

“If we don’t stick to our plans and our negotiations… and we don’t stick to our values, then we’ve lost,” he said.

Independent County Board candidate Audrey Clement pointed to her regular attendance at the body’s monthly meetings as relevant experience.

And fellow independent Charles McCullough II said that beyond his involvement in the South Arlington Working Group among others, he would represent a fresh face with new ideas if elected to the County Board.

“We need to have other ideas, other experiences,” he said.

On the budget, Clement criticized the Board’s practice of spending closeout funds from higher tax revenue than anticipated. She said that the money should be paid forward to the following year to relieve the tax burden, rather than directed to “pet projects to satisfy its particularized constituencies.”

McCullough argued that developers in Arlington must pay their “fair share” to help make up budget shortfalls, while Gutshall said that rising property values must not be treated as a “blank check” for increased spending.

Among the School Board candidates, there were some sharp differences. O’Grady and fellow candidate Alison Dough agreed that the Arlington Career Center represents a “good opportunity” for a fourth comprehensive high school. But Mike Webb, running for School Board after an unsuccessful tilt at Rep. Don Beyer’s (D-Va.) seat in the U.S. House of Representatives last year, disagreed.

Instead, he said, School Board members should focus on ensuring instruction is as good as possible, and that no students are left behind.

“Before we build another high school, we have to think about the achievement gap that affects all our students,” Webb said.

And on the subject of the upcoming boundary changes in Arlington Public Schools, Dough said that more immersion schools where classes are taught in more than one language could help relieve the capacity pressures on other buildings.

Dough, who said her special needs child inspired her to run for School Board, suggested more language programs, like immersion in Chinese, French or Russian to help APS students embrace new cultures.

“Let’s look at the boundary issue differently and give our parents a reason to switch schools,” she said.

And with the nationwide opioid epidemic also touching Arlington, O’Grady said parents and students alike must be educated on the risks and solutions.

“It’s in our neighborhoods, it’s in our communities,” she said. “Let’s come together to learn how to deal with this.”

All six agreed on the need for elected officials to encourage more county residents to get involved, and help uphold the so-called “Arlington Way.”

“We need to be opening that door,” Webb said. “We have to build that pathway to leadership.”

The candidates will face off in another forum Sunday (October 15) hosted by the local chapter of the League of Women Voters at Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street).

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