Arlington, VA

Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Elaine S. Furlow

A while back, I was tutoring a young Afghan refugee when the time came for a statewide election. For that week’s real-life lesson, I dutifully collected campaign literature from both sides and used it for an invigorating session (I thought) on how Americans choose their leaders and vote.

“And in five years when you become a citizen, you can vote, too!” I concluded.

My friend recoiled in her chair — “Never!” — and instinctively clutched one arm over the other.

“But why?” I asked.

“Because they cut your fingers off if you vote!” came her quick reply.

Indeed, in her homeland there had been a few instances of the Taliban doing this, and rumors and fear had spread through the countryside. She at least had cause for her worry.

Today in the U.S., the reasons registered voters give for not voting are usually less drastic. Research from Pew shows non-voters mainly say, “My vote doesn’t matter,” “I don’t like these candidates or issues,” or “I’m too busy.”

Not good enough. You deserve to have others hear your voice. And your neighbors and family need to have your voice counted. Yes, turnout ratchets up in a presidential election year, (82% in Arlington in 2016), but still doesn’t reflect all our voices.

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Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Maya Jones

At five, I cast my first ballot for president, during an elementary school mock election.

In that moment, I felt I was making change, but that feeling was fleeting. I soon learned a hopeful child’s voice did not matter, and voting is a privilege. Frustrated, I vowed that at 18, I would exercise this privilege.

Seven years later, in 2008, I witnessed the world change as I watched the votes tally in favor of the first Black president. Being a young Black girl in Atlanta, I prayed my voice would matter someday. On my eighteenth birthday, keeping my childhood promise, I registered to vote.  Despite being excited and empowered, I was consumed with worry as I walked up to cast my first ballot. “Did I have my driver’s license?” Because without it, I could not vote.

Now, with the October 13 voter registration deadline approaching for the 2020 election, we must ensure every voter knows they matter. We must resist voter suppression tactics and register all eligible citizens. We must empower voters regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation to be the change they want to see in the world.

In July, there were only 434 net new registrations, in Arlington, compared to the 1,645 net new registrations in 2016. The pandemic’s reduction of person-to-person interaction is partially to blame. However, some Arlingtonians remain unregistered due to the limitations of Virginia’s Online Voter Registration (OVR) system. These eligible citizens may not have access to the internet, possess a Virginia identification card, or simply are new to the area.

That’s why I and many others spent many hot summer Saturdays, standing in front of places like the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC), Shirlington Library Plaza or Penrose Square on Columbia Pike, registering voters (with our faces covered) hoping to encourage community members to join the electorate. Our efforts to help close the gap paid off and, in August, we saw 1,300+ net new registrations in Arlington, keeping pace with the upward trend in Virginia.

Our guiding principle is every person registered is a new voice being heard. A quick glance at history reminds us of the struggles we endured to obtain the privilege of voting and why we must keep fighting the good fight.

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Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the authors’. 

By Josh Kaplowitz

At this perilous crossroads for our democracy and our planet, Arlington County’s $50.8 million stormwater bond on November’s ballot is probably the last thing on your mind. But how we tackle Arlington’s growing stormwater problem has an awful lot to do with our current reckoning over equity and climate change.

The County is asking us to approve this stormwater bond to fund upgrades to the mostly-unseen system of concrete pipes and culverts that siphon rainwater from our roofs, streets and parking lots into its streams — and eventually the Potomac River. And it is indisputable that such upgrades are badly needed. Our infrastructure, which was largely built in the 1940s and 1950s as single-family suburban subdivisions consumed Arlington’s farmland, cannot handle more extreme weather fueled by climate change.

I have a personal stake in the issue as the owner of a house near Westover, one of the neighborhoods that was devastated by catastrophic rain in July 2019. Our house was spared flooding by mere inches, but our neighbors were not so lucky.

I am concerned, however, that this bond simply addresses the immediate problem without considering it in the context of our larger challenge: shaping a 21st century Arlington that is more equitable and more climate-resilient. Specifically, the County must do better on two fronts: who pays for these stormwater upgrades and who benefits.

At present, the stormwater bond would likely be repaid through stormwater fees, which are currently a flat percentage of a property’s value. That means the owner of a $1.5M surface parking lot, $1.5M McMansion, $1.5M townhome, and $1.5M condo all pay the same, despite contributing to the problem to wildly differing degrees.

The County is conducting a study that may result in stormwater being funded through fees on the amount of impervious surface (meaning buildings, streets and parking) attributable to your property — and thus the amount your property contributes to storm runoff. (The interim study is here.) But the bond was rushed onto the ballot before the study could be finalized. The County should, at minimum, ensure that the public pays the $50.8M under such a more equitable funding system.

But the County should go further. Single-family residential areas are expensive to maintain for an obvious reason: fewer taxpayers per square mile of infrastructure that needs to be maintained. This means that majority of Arlingtonians who live in high-density housing – including renters – pay more than their fair share for streets and sewers, subsidizing the lowest density (and wealthiest) areas. One way we could promote equity is by creating special tax districts so single-family residents with the biggest stormwater problems — such as within the Westover and Spout Run areas that will benefit most from the $50.8M spend — can more directly shoulder the burden of much needed infrastructure upgrades.

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Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the authors’. 

By Arbora Johnson and Doug Snoeyenbos

The coronavirus pandemic, and the associated impact on every level of the economy, has put a tremendous strain on small businesses in Arlington.

These businesses are the lifeblood of the local economy, and a large part of what makes Arlington and its different neighborhoods so special. They provide goods and services tailored to the needs of our communities. And many are owned and staffed by women, people of color, and immigrants — groups which have been particularly impacted by the pandemic and its economic fallout.

Progressives should do all we can to keep small businesses afloat during these difficult times, and to help them to recover as the economy starts to improve.

The Arlington County Board has taken steps to reduce the economic impact of the virus on local small businesses: providing grants of up to $10,000 to almost 400 Arlington small businesses, waiving signage restrictions to allow more advertising, easing parking regulations to help restaurants provide takeout, and approving Temporary Outdoor Seating Arrangements (TOSAs) so restaurants can provide safe spaces for diners.

Mehmet Osman Coskun, the owner of East West Coffee Wine (in Rosslyn and Clarendon), said that the County’s flexibility on outdoor seating has been especially helpful. His customers are more comfortable outside, where they can maintain safe social distancing. Mostly, though, Mehmet is grateful for the community members who have proven loyal customers. “I love Arlington,” he says, “this County is a special place.”

The Board’s steps are welcome and reflect the type of measures — and flexibility — that should be a permanent part of County leadership’s approach.  But Arlington needs to do more. Businesses across the board are hurting. Ashley and Cuong Vu, owners of Nova Pharmacy in the Dominion Hills neighborhood, have kept their doors open throughout the pandemic but have seen a drastic drop-off in business — with little formal help. They are not looking for a handout, but how about a County program to connect small businesses like them with retirement homes or families in need to provide prescriptions? Like Mehmet, Ashley and Cuong are grateful to their customers and sincerely hope to stay in business but worry for their future.

“We don’t have that many customers,” Cuong said, “but those we do have feel like family.”

Arlington is blessed with many active community groups and highly engaged citizens. Let’s work collectively to support a thriving local economy that works for all. How can we rebuild the economy so that it works for everyone? Are there ways to help small businesses without directly offering government cash — which will be in short supply for a while to come?

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Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Cragg Hines

I’m old and fat. That’s two strikes in the era of novel coronavirus.

But that may be far from the worst problem for many seniors in this plague-like period, especially those who are taking seriously the suggested safety precautions, including social distancing or self-quarantine. The pandemic has only sharpened one of the biggest mental — and, yes, physical — issues that confront older Americans. An ABC report cited “the unspoken COVID-19 toll on the elderly: loneliness.”

The pre-COVID-19 answer for some older Arlingtonians was one of the in-person senior programs at a County-run Community Center. But these are on hold because of the pandemic, and at least one was under the knife before coronavirus hit. Under the current budget, the Lee Community and Senior Center, Lee Highway at N. Lexington Street, is already scheduled to close at the end of the year. Programs are slated to be moved to other centers. Who knows, however, what the stringencies of County budget review will mean to the remaining senior centers?

Well before the novel coronavirus emerged late last year, the National Institute on Aging noted that “research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.”

It’s been five months since Susan Kalish, who works in Arlington, has seen her 92-year-old father, Jack Kalish, who is in an assisted living center in the area, although they speak by phone almost daily.

“He lived through WWII and the Depression and he says this is difficult in a totally different way,” his daughter said.

As of early August, he was not allowed to leave his floor nor allowed to eat with friends there, but restrictions will be lightening a touch. Visits can now be reserved ahead, so when we spoke, she had just been tested for the virus so she could get on the approved list. She booked one of the 45-minute visits — outside with masks, no touching, no food.

Kalish said her father is longsuffering but once did ask: “Can you remind me what I did to live in solitary confinement.” She told him that he had voted for the wrong presidential candidate.

Even as segments of society have started, often unadvisedly, to “re-open,” most seniors seem to stick pretty close to home. So the pressure on senior services – including opportunities for socialization – remains acute. Locations for congregate meals – with food and interpersonal contact – are still closed, and requests for popular services such as Meals on Wheels remain at high levels, even given the difficulties now with deliveries.

Lucy Theilheimer, an Arlington resident and chief strategy and impact officer for Meals on Wheels America, described the big jump in demand for food assistance and the need for fast adaptation of delivery models. The daily deliveries Monday-Friday and in-person visits have largely disappeared, replaced with fewer deliveries of frozen and shelf-stable food and a safe wave of the hand instead of a chat. And there has been a consequent decline in “eyes-on” checks on seniors. Daily check-in calls by new volunteers and paid staff have helped fill some of the gap.

Rob Swennes, an Arlington civic volunteer, a retired federal employee, and admitted extrovert, said it takes creativity to remain connected. He and his wife began walking regularly and have expanded their range. Activities like that “mentally engage a person and keep you from feeling lonely.” As a sponsor of non-profit farmers markets in Arlington, Swennes has been happy to see an uptick in attendance, with “a lot of people we’ve never seen before,” including more seniors. Yet Swennes knows not everyone can get out and that inability can lead to loneliness.

Arlington County government is battling this loneliness by offering virtual experiences and programs. The Department of Parks and Recreation, which ran a robust group of in-person activities under the 55+ brand, has launched new virtual programs over Zoom. Segments have included how-to tips, such as “Get Organized While You’re at Home,” and entertainment, such as an “Acoustic Hour Online” with rock n’ roll, ballads, folk and blues.

Arlington’s Aging and Disability Services Division is working to make certain that residents who were taking meals at the Social 60+ cafes are getting meals delivered.

Yet protecting vulnerable older adults against social isolation and further health problems doesn’t seem like a job solely for Arlington County.

Many people have a parent, grandparent or older neighbor whose social connections may have frayed during the pandemic. What can you, your company or organization do to knit our community fabric a little stronger?

Investing our time, resources and innovative ideas can protect a vulnerable population. It also helps build a lasting spirit of community in Arlington, and that seems a worthy endeavor.

Cragg Hines is a longtime journalist and former member of the Arlington County Commission on Aging. Photo via Cragg Hines/Facebook.

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Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s. 

By Maurine Shields Fanguy

“What if next year school could be like a role-playing game and we could see avatars of our friends online?” my rising fifth-grader asked.

In that moment, I realized I was so mired down in fall logistics, I had not considered new possibilities opened with distance learning (DL). In business, disruption leads to innovation. Perhaps we will find the silver lining of a fundamental transformation in delivering K-12 education in this pandemic, and beyond, if school administrators, teacher, and parents throw out the old rules and ask, “what if?”

What if:

School administrators and parents reimagine the school calendar?

With a fundamental change in learning delivery, we have a unique chance to shift from an agrarian-based calendar to a modified year-round calendar. Two-week Fall, Winter, and Spring breaks would allow for intercession learning for students who need strengthening or optional enrichment. Breaks offer a respite for families who must be hands-on with DL. Quarterly breaks also allow time for deep cleaning schools or to re-quarantine.

School administrators also open enrollment countywide in some online elective and enrichment courses?

Could some unique offerings be opened to any Arlington Public School (APS) student, similar to Outschool? Imagine elementary art with recycled materials, middle school yoga, or high school history through a musical theater class open to any APS student regardless of zoning? We might approach discussions on boundaries and equity differently if geographic barriers are sometimes taken out of the equation to allow students from across the county to come together to explore their passions and maximize the impact of teachers with unique expertise.

Teachers transform the school day with bite-sized microlearning and the use of “Agile” principles?

“Agile” is commonly used in software development to improve quality, transparency and flexibility in achieving transformational outcomes. In a school, Agile could encourage regular student-led, teacher-coached reflection on work completed, identifying lessons learned and determining improvement areas for the next sprint. Agile could help bridge the achievement gap with teachers able to customize learning, offer more frequent feedback, and provide interventions earlier.

Studies show bite-sized learning can be more effective than traditional lectures and better matches the human attention span. Khan Academy uses this approach to enable learners to go at their own pace and move on when they are ready.

Could APS use this microlearning model to present shorter, engaging learning blocks with teacher interaction to answer questions or explore content in more depth through the day? This flexibility is critical for families who struggle with providing supervision for learning during the workday, households with multiple children and limited bandwidth connectivity, or for students needing to revisit concepts for mastery. Microlearning could also be a foundation to better outcomes for special education students and English learners.

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Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Yassmina Hassoun

The good reputation of Arlington Public Schools was mainly why I moved to Arlington about five years ago.

But if we want to maintain that reputation, we have to be more inclusive. We have to do our best to include parents who don’t have the courage to speak up. It might look easy to attend a meeting or speak up for something that negatively affects you and your children, but it is not. Many of us feel helpless to make a change because we don’t have the right tools.

One of the most important tools is to understand “the system” — where to go, who to communicate with, say what we want exactly and how to find what we need. Many newcomers, limited-English speakers, and low-income families don’t have these tools. That makes it harder for them to advocate for their kids. This is where the community should play a bigger role to secure an equal education for all students.

I have not always been brave myself. Several years ago in another city, I went to a meeting at my daughter’s school. My English was not so good then. My daughter was having trouble because she didn’t understand the directions they gave her in class. For instance, if she was supposed to draw so many birthday candles to say how old she was, she would draw flowers on the page or something else, because no one explained.

So that night, I started talking. My voice was, you know, sort of shivering at first. But they listened and they started getting my daughter some help. I realized I could help my daughter and other people, too.

Since I moved to Arlington, I felt kind of lost until I was invited to an event called Roundtable, organized by Arlington County and the Community Progress Network. The purpose was to hear from people who usually are underrepresented. This event was unique because they made everyone feel welcomed and that their voice matters. They had translators for the most often-spoken languages to make sure that everyone could fully participate. They also documented participants’ concerns. For the first time since I moved to Arlington, I finally felt that I belonged and that I was included.

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Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Cheryl Moore

In times of tragedy and uncertainty, those of us who are part of faith community often turn to that community for comfort and support. But since mid-March, turning to your faith community often meant turning on your computer and logging into Zoom.

The staff at Mount Olivet United Methodist in Arlington began preparing for disruption in early February upon hearing news about the strange new virus. The initial plans to figure out contact-less communion went out the window on March 12 when large gatherings were banned for health safety reasons.

Moving quickly is not the norm for many religious institutions, but when Covid-19 hit, things had to change immediately. And that has had implications for faith communities.

Times of crisis can also be times of opportunity and growth. Faith communities that are willing to provide new points of connection, experiment with new initiatives, and build community partnerships will likely prove resilient and more relevant.

Prioritize communication and connection

Mount Olivet associate pastor Teer Hardy related that he and other staff were first inundated with questions about the virus. He said that seminary didn’t train him about what to do in a pandemic, but it did train him in “connectedness.” Keeping its members feeling connected became goal one.

Mount Olivet expanded its Sunday worship online, and added online Sunday School, youth activities, and email devotionals. Volunteers made weekly check-in calls to older members. Callers found many seniors felt isolated even before the pandemic, so this initiative will likely continue.

Worship attendance has been surprisingly high. Said senior pastor Ed Walker, “Even members who haven’t been very active have been attending.” And one Sunday School class reported that a class member who is temporarily working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, gets up at 2:00 a.m. their time to join the class via Zoom.

For some in the Jewish community, however, technology has its limits. Rabbi Lia Bass, of Congregation Etz Hayim, explained that Shabbat services in her Conservative congregation cannot be live-streamed, because it would entail use of electronics, which is not allowed on Shabbat. Services on Thursday mornings and classes on Sundays are now live online, offering new opportunities for the community.

Our Muslim neighbors had the additional challenge of celebrating Ramadan, the holiest Muslim holiday, from April 23-May 23. The observant fast all day, and a nightly gathering with food and prayers at the mosque is an integral part. Those communal activities had to be canceled.

Hurunnessa Fariad, the outreach/interfaith/media coordinator at ADAMS (All Dulles Area Muslim Society) Center, said that she and her colleagues realized that social media was the most effective way to connect with its members. They quickly ramped up daily communication, reminding people to stay at home. “In the Muslim faith, saving a life is even more important than communal prayer,” Fariad said.

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Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Del. Richard C. (Rip) Sullivan, Jr.

While Arlington continued to confront the coronavirus epidemic, County residents also were preparing for several elections: the Democrats’ May 30 School Board caucus, the Republicans’ June 23 Senate primary, the July 7 County Board special election, and the November 3 general election. Arlingtonians take their civic duty seriously and vote at above-average rates, yet no one can predict exactly when the virus will stop being an immediate threat to our health, when life will go back to “normal,” or whether there will be a second wave of the virus.

To continue our strong record of voter participation and to stay safe, Arlingtonians should prepare to use absentee voting by mail until the General Assembly passes legislation to create a comprehensive no-excuses, vote-by-mail system. Democracy thrives when more voters participate. Voting-by-mail presents that opportunity and also can save money in the long run.

Voting by mail is not only useful during an outbreak – it strengthens our democracy. First, the system increases turnout and does not favor any one partisan bloc. A new Stanford University study finds that universal vote-by-mail programs do not advantage one party over another, but instead increase overall voter turnout. The more people who vote, the better for our democracy.

Second, access to the ballot box on Election Day is often difficult for individuals who, for example, are caretakers, do not have available transportation or depend on low-wage hourly jobs. Lines at the polls can be devastating to their schedules and livelihoods. Receiving a ballot at home to vote by mail would give these Virginians much-needed flexibility. By expanding the number of registered voters who can practically vote, we would again increase turnout and make sure that their voices are heard in the democratic process.

Third, voting by mail is less expensive for voters and states alike. Voters who work hourly wages do not have to lose any earnings by taking time off to cast a ballot. There is no cost of gas or a Metro card to the voter in order to get to one’s polling place. There is no cost of childcare when a parent or caretaker goes to vote. Voters mail in their ballot when it is convenient, leveling the playing field in terms of the cost of participation for voters of all socio-economic backgrounds.

States ultimately save money because they no longer need to staff as many traditional polling places and invest in expensive voting machines at each location. Oregon, for example, reports savings of 30 percent since its transition from traditional in-person voting to exclusively by-mail voting. The price of mailing pre-stamped ballots to voters may seem high at first, but it is outweighed by savings for states and jurisdictions that have tried it.

The local elections held in towns and cities across the Commonwealth on May 19 marked the first time that Virginians faced a choice between voting in-person, voting absentee by mail, or not voting at all in the midst of a pandemic. The results are clear – when given the opportunity, voters want to cast their ballot by mail. In Fairfax City, for example, 74 percent of voters cast an absentee ballot by mail. Turnout also increased slightly across Virginia due to the increase in the number of absentee ballots cast.

Before Covid-19, we already had made great progress in the General Assembly regarding access to the ballot box. We passed a bill making Election Day a state holiday (and doing away with Lee-Jackson Day), changing Virginia’s voter ID law to allow people without IDs to sign an affidavit, and allowing for no-excuse early voting 45 days prior to an election. We also implemented automatic voter registration at the DMV.

While we are not likely to see a fully implemented vote-by-mail system in Virginia by November, we can get close by ensuring that every voter who wishes to vote does so by requesting an absentee ballot. The Covid-19 outbreak may be a threat to our personal and community health, but we can take steps to ensure that it does not interfere with the health of our democracy.

Richard C. “Rip” Sullivan, Jr. is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Virginia’s 48th District, which encompasses parts of Arlington and McLean. He practices law in Arlington with Bean Kinney & Korman, P.C.

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Progressive Voice is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Betsy Withycombe

Once upon a time, after trauma had stolen my health, I began to walk. But no matter how far I roamed the streets of Arlington, no matter how completely I exhausted my body, my mind continued to churn. It felt pointless. My tank of resiliency, normally full, was empty.

Among our family’s collection of books are several editions of dictionaries. I looked in each for the definition of “resilience.” Every edition included a primary definition which defined resilience as the ability to return quickly from hardship or adversity. Secondary definitions offered that resilience was a type of flexibility or elasticity. I prefer the latter definition. One’s ability to be resilient is not measured by the speed at which one addresses adversity; sometimes you have to be gentle with yourself as you adapt to the challenge in front of you and continue moving forward.

In the last ten years I have experienced a clinically significant amount of change, loss, and heartache. The details aren’t important, but I’m sure those of you who saw me in the grocery store never suspected the depth of chaos framing the rest of my life. I practiced good self-care and did all of the things that promised my resilience would return. I sought calm in books. My family and friends did everything they could to remind me that I had grit and that my hardest days were behind me. I tried very hard to listen. I was as gentle with myself as I could be. I walked.

Renewed resilience finally came in the form of a flower (which was probably a weed). As I was dragging myself down the sidewalk thinking many unhelpful thoughts, I noticed a small flower. I took out my cell phone to photograph it. I suddenly noticed many unseen flowers and plants on the very street I had been plodding down every day. I was almost home when I realized something very important: Focusing on something outside myself, I had stopped the continuous loop of despair running on repeat in my mind.

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Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Maurine Shields Fanguy

For many Arlingtonians, a School Board election may be far from top of mind. So many in our community are struggling to hold down jobs or to keep businesses afloat. Others are facing unemployment–many for the first time ever. Families in dire financial circumstances are cobbling together a patchwork of meals for their children from Arlington Public Schools (APS) and groceries from generous community organizations.

Even before COVID-19, this was set to be a critical year for the Arlington School Board. Two Board members announced they would not seek re-election. Five contenders are vying for two seats in the Democratic endorsement process. The two candidates selected in November have an opportunity to fundamentally reshape our schools and drive innovative strategies to address a broad range of issues.

Now, more than ever, it is important for us to thoroughly question the School Board candidates and carefully decide who are the best leaders for a yet unwritten chapter for Arlington schools. Although COVID-19 may have curtailed in-person campaigning, here are the questions I would ask each candidate in a virtual meet-and-greet:

  1. What is the most pressing policy issue the School Board needs to resolve in the coming year? What legal or policy impediments or community reactions do you foresee? Does this issue impact most or all students, and why?
  2. What do you see as increased needs in the school system because of COVID-19, and how would you appropriately budget for those, as well as your top three budget priorities in what will be tight budget cycles during your term in office?
  3. Share your advocacy and leadership experience with an issue that affected more than one school, and how you interacted with people countywide who did not share your view. Did you change your mind or change anyone else’s, and if so, how did you accomplish it?
  4. How can we build on the current remote learning to drive a more robust school resilience plan? What instructional and testing practices should we preserve, in whole or in part, when it is safe to reopen schools? How would these practices support achievement for all students?

I hope the candidates will answer these questions and share their responses with voters.

Experienced, countywide experience in Arlington school issues is particularly crucial because of multiple tough situations that already were challenging School Board members.

Difficult decisions earlier this year to move three schools laid the groundwork for even more challenging community discussions on elementary school boundaries that will move thousands of students to new schools in 2021. When Arlington landed Amazon HQ2 in 2019, many Arlingtonians voiced concern about the strain on a school system that already had more students than seats and was expected to grow by 7,000 more in the coming decade.

The 2019 U.S. Department of Justice settlement over services for English language learners underscored the need for tangible action on inequities between schools, long-standing achievement gaps and closer supervision by the School Board to enforce accountability.

Former Superintendent Patrick Murphy announced his retirement in June. Interim Superintendent Cintia Johnson graciously stepped into the role, facing the challenge of leading through the most trying time for APS in decades. Every school is shut down until at least June and nearly 29,000 Arlington students and their families are struggling to adapt to learning from home because of Covid-19.

A schools’ budget that was already stretched has now been slashed by $54M in response to the economic uncertainties resulting from COVID-19. The cuts include hard-to-swallow teacher pay raises, class size increases, and dipping into reserve funds.

The challenging scenario was set in motion even before COVID-19 became our harsh reality and not a news story from another continent. So, who do I think should write the next chapter in Arlington schools?  I believe that when voting for new School Board members this month, it is time we choose sound, experienced and clear-thinking leaders who have a countywide perspective and vision, and who can resolutely approach decision-making.

The Arlington County Democratic Committee is going virtual with a mail-in endorsement caucus. Request your ballot by May 7. Ballots must be received by May 30.

Maurine Shields Fanguy, a parent of 4th and 7th grade APS students, has served as a PTA President, on APS advisory committees, and in other volunteer roles. An Army brat who attended 11 schools, she is proud to have adopted Arlington as her hometown.

 On April 24, School Board member Barbara Kanninen announced her candidacy for a seat on the Arlington County Board left open by the death of the Erik Gutshall. If she wins, a third seat will be open on the School Board.

This column has also been submitted in Spanish: Read More

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