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

By Josh Kaplowitz

This middle-aged corporate lawyer, with a family of five and a recently renovated single-family home deep in suburban Arlington, is here to tell you that my neighborhood — and probably yours — needs more housing and density.

This issue landed at our doorstep recently when Arlington County presented scenarios that might allow roughly 5-to-7 story mixed-use development along my stretch of Lee Highway (which is likely to soon be renamed the more friendly Langston Boulevard) and smaller multi-family dwellings, including duplexes, triplexes, and townhouses, on the surrounding blocks.

I believe it will make my street just off Lee Highway — and all of the County — a better place to live. And I call on my friends and neighbors to consider what we would gain from spreading gentle density across the county, and what we would lose if we acquiesced to the status quo.

Change can be daunting, especially when it affects your home. And I know folks have concerns about the impacts of increased density on parking, traffic, schools, and noise. But in a growing region like ours, change is a constant. We can either decide to manage the change, or we can allow it to overwhelm us in unwanted ways. The Lee Highway Plan and the Missing Middle Housing Study are both examples of how we can thoughtfully manage the change and growth that is already coming to Arlington, while being welcoming to a range of newcomers.

A thoughtful increase in density will benefit our neighborhood in myriad ways. A lively, walkable commercial district would replace the auto-oriented mix of strip malls, parking lots, and gas stations that has remained mostly unchanged since the 1950s.

In exchange for allowing taller buildings, the County can require developers to include public green space, green roofs, and other stormwater mitigations that will mitigate the climate-fueled floods that increasingly inundate the surrounding neighborhoods. More density results in more people, and as density increases, the likelihood of using public transit increases, supporting the case for more rapid bus service along Lee Highway and other corridors. Such amenities could be attractive to an increasingly climate-conscious generation who will — ahem — buy our houses when we age out of them.

A more diverse housing mix, which could include dedicated affordable units, could make our neighborhood and schools, and those across the county, more inclusive, as people of varying incomes might be able to afford to live here — including teachers, police officers, firefighters and small business owners who serve our community. In so doing, we can also begin to undo Arlington’s racist legacy of exclusionary land use policies. And diverse housing options allow more older adults to right-size and age in place.

New market-rate apartments, condos, townhomes, triplexes, and duplexes could still be relatively expensive. Yet maintaining the status quo, where 73% of the residential land in the county is zoned for single-family, is almost guaranteed to result in extremely expensive housing. Arlington is desirable, and its original modest housing stock is quickly being swapped for enormous 6+ bedroom homes that sell for more than $2 million. If we fail to allow more diverse housing, most of Arlington will likely become an enclave for the uber-wealthy.

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

By Arbora Johnson and Victoria Virasingh

Numerous studies, including one by the Federal Reserve, show that women, especially women of color and immigrant women, have borne the brunt of economic pain during the pandemic.

This “she-cession” is the result of female job loss at a higher rate than that of men, and, simultaneously, the need to care for children not in school. So where does Arlington County stand on childcare assistance and support for working moms with school-age kids?

The plight of working moms is dire, with public K-12 schools completely closed for in-person learning for a full year and open since March for just two short days per week. Childcare for younger children, always expensive and hard to come by in the County, is out of reach for too many households. This is hitting women across Arlington from all socio-economic backgrounds and neighborhoods. It is even becoming a barrier to getting vaccinated.

“Maria” and her husband work minimum wage jobs in the restaurant and cleaning industry, with no work from home option. As restaurants started reopening, her husband picked up shifts — but they were still far behind financially. When cleaning jobs recently came her way, Maria had to make a choice. At the “brink of losing our apartment that we rent and needing money for food,” Maria decided to take the job and leave their young school-aged son at home doing virtual APS classes.

When asked about childcare options, she broke it down: Minimum wage paid $7.25/hour, while the cheapest childcare she can find in Arlington costs $13.00/hour. On May 1, after interviewing Maria, the minimum wage in Virginia rose to $9.50.

Andrea is a mother of two young elementary school age kids who, for the first time since graduating from college, reached the point where holding down her full-time job was no longer workable.

“I want to be working,” she said. “But it became untenable. We have no family nearby and Covid eviscerated the community and the other day-to-day supports that we previously utilized to keep our household functioning.”

Anyone trying to keep elementary schoolers on track in virtual school knows the challenge; those who can afford it hire tutors (which requires space) or make the choice to step back from their jobs.

A single mom of a 1-year-old, Vilma needed help getting to her appointment for the Covid vaccination. With no car and a 1-hour public transit route, she got help from the Rides to the Vaccines team. When she got a text from the woman giving her a ride asking, “Is there a car seat available or can you get childcare for the baby?” Vilma panicked because the answer was “no.”

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

By Cragg Hines

The past two sessions of the General Assembly have been the most progressive in the more than 400 years that Virginia has had a legislative assembly.

As the House of Delegates and Senate met in 2020 and 2021, they abolished the death penalty;  marijuana possession by adults was legalized; voter rights were expanded, including same-day voter registration; and gun-safety laws were strengthened, including background checks for private gun sales. The state minimum wage was increased; conversion therapy for homosexuals as adults was banned; and the age-old problem of racial discrimination based on hair, including its texture and type, was outlawed. The proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was finally supported — four decades after Congress sent the measure to the states.

These actions were not happenstance, nor were they strokes of luck, and certainly not inevitable. No, each was the result of electoral choices across Virginia that produced partisan swings in the Senate and, especially, in the House of Delegates, albeit narrowly. Democrats today lead the Senate 21-19 and the House of Delegates 55-45.

As each landmark measure was enacted, I took to social media to remind: “Elections matter,” because they do, and elections will matter again this fall as common-sense Democrats defend their hold on the three statewide offices — governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general — and their majority in the House of Delegates.

Similarly, the Democratic edge in the State Senate will be on the line when all 40 members are up in 2023.

Elections matter locally, too. Longtime Republican John Vihstadt, calling himself an independent, first won an Arlington County Board seat in a quirky special election in 2014. But when Democrats focused laser-like in 2018, Vihstadt was swept right back out by a determined Democrat, Matt de Ferranti.

Democrats across the Commonwealth this fall will need a similarly tight focus on the progressive, common-sense nature of their reforms, almost all of which have public support gauging by recent statewide polls. The main task for Democrats is getting their voters to the polls.

None of the common-sense measures that passed in 2020 and 2021 would have been enacted without the legislative elections in 2017 that cut into Republican control of the House of Delegates and the one in 2019 that put Democrats in control of both House and Senate. For the first time in 25 years, Virginia voters produced a Democratic “trifecta” — Democratic majorities in the House and Senate to add to a Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, elected in 2017.

Early in Northam’s term, he proposed election reform, but Republicans with legislative majorities “just dismissed it,” Northam has recalled. When Northam called a special gun-safety session in the summer of 2019, after a mass shooting (13 dead, including the shooter) in Virginia Beach, Republicans dug in their heels and adjourned after only two hours.

Such Republican intransigence was a red-meat talking point for many Democratic legislative challengers in the fall campaign of 2019. It was one of many issues (including the shambolic performance by Donald Trump) that worked to Democratic advantage, especially in the vote-rich Washington suburbs.

There were historic leadership shifts as well. Democrats running the House of Delegates elected the first woman speaker, Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax, and the first woman — and first person of color — as majority leader, Charniele Herring of Alexandria. In the Senate, the job of President Pro Tem went to Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, also the first woman and first person of color to hold that post. Yes, elections matter.

Democratic candidates were clear about what a legislative majority would mean, and delivered much of their program.

This year’s elections could continue along a common-sense path, or Republicans, if victorious, could begin to roll it all back. Year after year, and not just in presidential contests, elections matter.

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

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

By Wesley Joe

I ran [for governor] to get off the school board. That’s the worst job I ever had.”

–Former U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers (D-Arkansas)

A remarkable feature of this year’s Arlington School Board election was the last-minute drive to recruit candidates for the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) endorsement.

More troubling was the absence of more candidacies among our best prepared Arlingtonians — those who have led in unglamorous roles on the school advisory groups, such as Advisory Council on Teaching and Learning, Budget Advisory Council, County Council of PTAs, and Joint Facilities Advisory Commission.

Arlington Public Schools (APS) needs knowledgeable, experienced decision-making and oversight. APS is a complex $670 million per year system that helps to shape the lives of our 28,000, highly varied children. Its services range from preschool to career training to mental health and more. It is one of the county’s largest employers and maintains dozens of substantial physical plants. The leadership problem is even more urgent now, as Arlington seeks to recover learning losses sustained during the pandemic.

Can we do anything to encourage more of our best prepared leaders to join the School Board? To answer this, I asked several people who have served in the roles I identified above.

Some barriers, such as work and family commitments, are well known. As one long-time leader said:

[Beyond regular meetings and work sessions], the work…also includes attending events at their assigned schools, participating in the work of school board citizen committees…[and] thousands of hours informally meeting with and talking to parents and community members. It is more than a full-time job.

Another was more blunt:

“The job has crappy pay, long hours, and huge responsibility.”

We ought to enable Board members to serve full time and pay accordingly.

Nearly all of the long-term community leaders I talked with cited public incivility as a reason — often their top reason — for not running. This predates COVID-19, but the pandemic has only intensified this deterrent. Here, “incivility” means what one person referred to as “a lot of caustic, coarse, uninformed, nasty behavior” and personal attacks on School Board members’ values and character. The public should observe workplace norms with board members.

Another frequently cited concern is the ACDC endorsement’s influence over the general election outcome. ACDC’s endorsement provides a valuable information shortcut to the many general election voters who aren’t involved with the schools. In an overwhelmingly Democratic jurisdiction, the endorsement usually determines who wins the seat. That reality discourages some experienced Arlingtonians from running. ACDC has sound reasons for exercising its right to endorse a candidate. But as a lifelong Democrat, I think Arlington would be better off if independent candidates had a realistic chance of winning local elections.

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Arlington School Board candidates Miranda Turner (left) and Mary Kadera (right) (image courtesy Progressive Voice)

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

By Progressive Voice Editors

Progressive Voice editors recently talked with Miranda Turner and Mary Kadera, candidates for the Democratic endorsement for Arlington School Board. Here are excerpts from their answers to questions that probed their experience, new ideas and understanding of challenges facing the school system.

Disparity in Free and Reduced Lunch populations. Do you believe more efforts need to be made to distribute F/R lunch students more evenly across APS schools? If so, how would you approach this?

Turner: It’s surprising to many people that we have such disparity, with some schools at 83% and others at 2%. The disparity suggests economic segregation and that’s concerning. Historically, communities have tried to deal with this in various ways… that haven’t worked well… such as busing. I live in Green Valley and when low-income and minority kids were bused out of here [in the 1970s] as a way of integrating, that was hard on the community.

The way to approach is… maximize the walk zone around a school [safely] and… then look at the demographics. If there is a way to enhance diversity and bring schools closer to the mean of Arlington, that deserves a hard look. If we can, enhance diversity in a way that doesn’t disrupt school communities, doesn’t raise transportation costs, doesn’t disrupt walkability and still preserves the neighborhood character of schools.

Kadera: Historically, it most often has been students of color and low-income who get bused away from their neighborhood schools, to schools that often have excess capacity. Their neighborhood schools have set up supports to serve needs of those students like food pantries and tutoring programs afterschool. For all those reasons, it strikes me as problematic to propose a “busing and boundaries” solution.

I would concentrate on making every neighborhood school the best it can possibly be, and being sure students have equal access to opportunities and services.

Option schools are another way we can look at balancing demographics. I’d like to see APS double down on making sure all families are aware of options…and figure out ways of doing more intentional outreach to lower-income families and families of color. Read More

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

By Kathie Panfil, with the Abuelitas

“I feel like you really are my Grandma.”

The child who shared that thought with a retired Arlington teacher is an English Learner (EL). Her tutor is an “Abuelita” (grandmother) with both wisdom and special skills.

When schools went online, former Arlington teachers of English as a Second Language knew how hard distance learning would be. Acquiring skills and vocabulary from English-speaking peers couldn’t happen. Relationships would have to be developed remotely. Parents would have to figure out the technology, and support their children’s learning, while fearing job loss and illness.

While we knew our community would face overwhelming challenges during the pandemic, we did know one we could tackle in Spring 2020 — we knew how to teach. Identifying the children who would most benefit from our one-on-one tutoring was done through our networks. Old friends still teaching in our schools told parents about the Abuelitas, and soon we had waiting lists. The Abuelitas also needed a communication platform, so we learned to use WhatsApp, which most parents preferred, letting the children both see and hear us on their parents’/caretakers’ phones. Abuelitas had translators within our ranks when needed.

Abuelitas know oral language is critical for English learners, and that it develops both on the playground and in the classroom. So the Abuelitas ask questions, such as “Is there anything you want to talk about?” Some days the children tell about the lessons they are learning online from their “real” teachers, practicing new vocabulary. Sometimes, the Abuelita and the child talk about feelings. One child beginning hybrid classes said, “What if my friends don’t remember who I am?” His Abuelita reassured him, and phoned later to hear about his wonderful day. The personal connection is a gift to both the student and the Abuelita.

How do we know what to teach? “The scope of what the children must learn is huge,” one Abuelita explains. Sometimes we hear from the child’s teachers, but mostly, we use hands-on activities, and we follow the interests of the child. Sometimes we work on reading and writing, but often we read to the children, fiction and non-fiction, because they need listening skills. “Don’t stop,” the children say. Some of us have developed and published materials: on gratitude, on the coronavirus and more.

We’ve taken advantage of free resources in Arlington: we thank Arlington Library for its Take and Make Crafts which we sometimes send to our children. We got Mars Base Camp kits from Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, and some gooey slime kits from Arlington Parks and Recreation. The whole family often gets involved in craft projects.

We became strong advocates for internet access, because despite efforts within the schools and the community, some families lack sufficient connectivity. We joined broadband advocacy efforts. We know connectivity is as essential as water and electric services. We like ArlFiber.org.

In fall 2020, when schools continued virtually, we heard about pods forming in some Arlington homes. Our students lacked the space, strong internet and English-speaking supervision needed for a pod. We continued one-on-one tutoring but we also wanted to form pods for students who lived in Gilliam Place, affordable housing apartments.

We looked for a location nearby and Arlington Presbyterian Church became a caring sponsor. A skilled parent volunteered to run our first pod in fall 2020, and a second pod was added in January 2021. Two nonprofits, Edu-Futuro and Our Stompin Ground, became strong collaborators. These pods worked well, with Covid safety protocols, Arlington Schools online, and everyone working together.

Throughout, we have been deeply impressed by the dedication of our former colleagues: teachers, other school staff and those providing technology. Abuelitas have touched the lives of about 40 learners, although there are many more children who need support. Each of us knows the strong contributions our former EL students made to American society, so as these children grow, we are eager to see what lies ahead.

Kathie Panfil is a former principal at Key and Randolph elementary schools. She is now a retiree active in Arlington community affairs.

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

By Maurine Shields Fanguy

The January attack on the United States Capitol reminds us of our duty to protect democracy and the importance of local civic engagement, especially as Arlington prepares for gubernatorial and local elections this year.

At the same time, a year in quarantine also has opened up new opportunities to support democracy–more important than ever to combat voter suppression efforts springing up across the country.

Virtual Citizen Comment.

In a historic first, Arlingtonians now may address the County and School Boards over voice and video conferencing. Commenting on this development, County Board Chairman Matt de Ferranti remarked, “We are able to hear from more citizens online, but it is also important to consider the Digital Divide.”

This allows people to make their voices heard from home, instead of sitting through lengthy board meetings to share opinions. Board members also foster engagement through virtual office hours. De Ferranti noted that although, “we miss the sense of community from in-person meetings, there could be benefits to retaining remote engagement options alongside in-person. At the very least, we must modernize the Arlington Way and make it much more inclusive. Allowing for online options is worth exploring as a step in the right direction.”

Voting Early and Conveniently.

November 2020 saw the largest voter turnout in Arlington history, with 63% of active Arlington voters voting early. More than 45,000 voted by mail and nearly 60,000 through early in-person voting – nearly a three-fold increase over 2016 early voting.

Arlington’s Democratic Committee demonstrated impressive alacrity by shifting to a mail-in caucus just a week after the Governor’s stay-at-home order in March 2020. A historic first, the May 2020 caucus resulted in over 5,700 ballots cast, nearly eclipsing prior county caucus records. Future caucuses, primaries and general election must allow the same flexible options for early voting.

Welcome to the Next Generation of Election Officers.

2020 marked an incredible response to calls for Election Officers who facilitate free and fair elections. The Arlington County Board of Elections reported a wait list of more than 500 citizens who offered to serve in 2020. Election officers are unsung heroes in any election, arriving at 5 a.m. and staying until the last vote is tabulated. (Disclosure: I served as an election officer this year and in prior elections.)

This year was particularly challenging with the need to implement new safety measures during the pandemic. Anyone who has served as an election officer or as an observer in our county has seen first-hand the stringent measures to ensure the integrity of the electoral process. If more people served as election officers or observers across the country, perhaps we might hear less “stop the steal” rhetoric and citizens would appreciate the beauty of our electoral process. It is important to encourage the newly minted election officers of 2020 to serve again in 2021 and future elections.

Candidates Embrace Virtual.

School Board Vice-Chair, Barbara Kanninen observes, “People in Arlington have traditionally liked to kick the tires when it comes to local candidates. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, so much engagement is on social media — not an ideal format to get to know how a candidate thinks.”

The COVID-19 pandemic forced candidates for elected office to change how they engaged with voters. Video conferencing allowed candidates to reach more people through virtual events. Advocacy groups promoted virtual candidate forums and debates, enabling participation by a wider audience. And voters could join all of these events conveniently from their homes.  Kanninen predicts that “…post-pandemic, I would expect to see a spectrum of campaign strategies, including those that rely heavily on social media and others that focus on old-fashioned, personal engagement at farmers markets and community meetings.”

Every Vote Counts.

Although Arlington did not experience close races in 2020, we saw across the country how even a hundred votes could swing an election. We must reach out to neighbors who have recently become U.S. citizens and those who recently moved to Arlington to keep their voter registration information updated. The acceptance of elections as free and fair depends upon broad participation in the process.

Maurine Shields Fanguy served as an election officer in 2020 and in prior Arlington elections. An Army brat who lived around the world, she is proud to adopt Arlington as her hometown where she works and raises two children.

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

By Rev. Jonathan Linman

A year ago, Resurrection Lutheran Church in Westover voted to call me as their pastor. Shortly thereafter, the global pandemic was declared and the congregation, in keeping with safety protocols, discontinued meeting for Sunday worship. Only once have I experienced this congregation as a people that actually congregates in the church building in person on Sundays!

Meanwhile, our entire nation entered into at least three intersecting crises – the pandemic, the economic upheaval that resulted, along with people pouring into the streets throughout the country to protest unjust killings of Black persons at the hands of police.

What a way to begin a new ministry with people I barely knew, and to seek to lead them through these crises. Yet, there was significant energy among leaders in our Congregation Council (our board of directors) to respond to the crises.

In response to the pandemic, motivated by love of our most vulnerable neighbors, and like most other churches, we went online and provided resources for worship at home. In response to the economic crisis, we are collecting food twice a month, a doubling of our usual practice, donating what we collect to the Arlington Food Assistance Center. In response to the call for racial justice, our Council voted in June 2020 to place Black Lives Matter signs and banners on our church property to publicly signal support for racial justice.

This latter initiative, as you can imagine, provoked the most energetic response. Within an hour of the signs’ placement, I began to receive emails and phone messages both from members of the congregation and people in the wider community expressing opposition to the signs on church property. There were also expressions of support for this public witness.

The decision to place the Black Lives Matter signs was the result of thoughtful deliberation by the lay leaders on our Council. But the deliberation was undertaken via meetings on Zoom and within group email exchanges – not ideal ways to engage on sensitive and difficult topics. Yet, the urgency of our days prompted the decision to go forward with the signs.

Alas, thoughtful deliberation about all of this did not benefit from the salutary effects of people gathering in person, face to face, for heartfelt conversation. Moreover, there was not occasion to hear from wider segments of the congregation so that viewpoints across the political spectrum could be heard. I regret that, but the urgency of the crises and the limitations of our digital formats precluded what otherwise might have been a more holistic and orderly process of discernment and decision-making.

As pastor of this congregation, I certainly hold forth a vision that our church will be a community of moral discernment that thoughtfully engages the salient issues of our day in ways that honor and respect a wide array of viewpoints – conservative, progressive and moderate. I especially envision this congregation to be a place of civil civic discourse, a reality in short supply during these divisive days across our nation. I hope that ours will be a congregation in which we can agree to disagree on some topics, and yet remain in community together, bound to each other in the love of God for the sake of the healing of the nations.

Still, amidst the messiness of our pandemic-induced realities, our Council resolved to make public our support for racial justice. It strikes me that this is in keeping with our congregation’s Lutheran tradition when Martin Luther, protesting the materialism and the spiritual and theological abuses of the church in his day, nailed his 95 Theses to the church door, ultimately saying, “Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God.”

Jonathan Linman is Pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church on Washington Boulevard in Arlington. In May of 2020 he relocated here after 18 years in New York City, where he was a professor at The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church and a Bishop’s Assistant in the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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

“A thankless job.”

“Your life is not your own.”

“A toxic environment out there.”

These are perceptions among some in the community of what it’s like to be on the School Board these days. If even some of the comments are true, why should a good person run? And why should we care?

For starters, the decisions the School Board makes deal with two things most valuable to many people who live here–their children, and their property values. Good schools are a top factor in choosing where to raise a family and they contribute to strong property values. Good schools also strongly influence what makes Arlington an attractive place for businesses to locate and grow. With all that at stake, we need strong, principled, experienced leaders making the decisions on the School Board and thinking strategically.

Given the upcoming School Board vacancy and a Democratic caucus likely in May, the Progressive Voice editors sat down with a few knowledgeable experts to ask their thoughts on what makes a top-notch board member.

Big-Picture, Whole System Outlook. “The primary quality I want to see is somebody that sees all of Arlington,” says Stacy Snyder, who has served on the APS Advisory Council on Facilities and Capital Programs (FAC) and is currently vice-chair of the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC). “They understand that every decision, whether a boundary or something else, affects all of Arlington.” Snyder understands that “we all come with our own perspectives, experiences with certain schools,” but says, “I’d want to see someone who’s open to learning, evolving.”

Long-Term Perspective. The Arlington school system has had challenges with growth and capacity of buildings over the past decade, leading to a slew of construction projects amid frustration over a lack of land. Greg Greeley, a veteran of FAC over several years, refers to this situation when explaining why he’s looking for a candidate’s long-range mindset. “The thinking has been more ‘Where can we build the fastest?’ when it should have been ‘Where can we build to best fit the needs of the system?'”

Greeley adds that “There’s a good chance we’ll need a fourth high school in the next 20 years.” Hearing a candidate detail how she or he would approach the problem would “reveal a lot.” Greeley explains that in discerning a candidate’s long-term perspective, he would be listening for depth in how “they describe the problem.”

Deep Knowledge of Facts, Strong Work Ethic. Many candidates list various organizations they’ve been involved with. But a person’s depth of experience and contribution can vary greatly. To get a clearer picture, former School Board member Tannia Talento says, “I’d zero in, like ‘I see you were on the Budget Committee. What did you think of last year’s budget?’

Snyder observes, “When candidates talk…I want to see that they know their facts. If I heard a candidate talk about an inequity that’s not really based on fact, but more in outrage, then it’s a sign.” She worries “when people choose outrage over information.” Snyder says, “If x percent of third-graders aren’t reading at grade level, I don’t want [candidates] giving a solution without showing me how it’s going to work.”

Greely agrees that School Board candidates and members must go beyond platitudes. “The question should be ‘How would or could you make this good idea happen?'” Read More

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

By Detta Kissel and Charles Head

A growing group of Arlingtonians are calling for the County to form a broadband authority to provide high-speed, low-cost internet.

This movement arose in response to scenes of school children accessing lessons in fast food parking lots, along with others seeking jobs, vaccines, and assistance. The pandemic has only highlighted what was there all along, excessively high-priced internet access that created a digital divide, leaving some Arlington residents without access to services essential to modern life, and everyone paying more than we should.

The pandemic also revealed that not just any internet connection will do. During this pandemic, working parents compete with their children for bandwidth, and social and civic engagement requires a reliable connection. Non-fiber connections are quickly overwhelmed, leading some providers to respond with data caps, price-hikes, and throttling. Only optical fiber provides reliable, high speed internet connectivity that can handle the demands of any household, now and in the future.

To eliminate the digital divide and protect all residents from higher rates, slower speeds, and reduced services, Arlington should join other jurisdictions in Virginia and around the country that treat the internet as a utility, with optical fiber infrastructure owned by the locality.

Virginia law allows localities to establish broadband networks by creating a broadband authority, an entity similar to a utility commission. A broadband authority is a flexible tool that can build and own infrastructure, and provide internet service directly, or license network access to multiple internet service providers who compete for customers. While customers would not be required to switch to service provided through the broadband authority, experience shows that broadband authorities provide higher quality internet service at lower rates, due to the increased competition. What’s more, Arlington need not go it alone; we could partner with adjacent jurisdictions to create a regional network with greater economies of scale and cost sharing.

Does this sound expensive? There are three things to remember. The first is that Arlington already built the backbone of this network. Nearly 10 years ago, the county government made a strategic investment that has more than paid for itself — it chose to build a fiber network to provide its own internet services rather than remain dependent upon a large telecom. While building its network for government needs, the County included fiber sufficient to provide service to every home and business in Arlington. The task that remains is to extend the County’s network by running fiber to homes and businesses in Arlington.

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

By Reid Goldstein

We all talk about it, but without pulling together, we can’t achieve it. Equity, that is.

Arlington Public Schools’ definition of equity is found in its Strategic Plan, which aspires to “Eliminate opportunity gaps and achieve excellence by providing access to schools, resources, and learning opportunities according to each student’s unique needs.”

However, eliminating opportunity gaps and achieving excellence is more difficult when our students — upper and lower income, native English and English learner households — are separated from their peers due to decades-old land use and housing policies that exacerbate inequity. When the County Board approves new housing developments or expands density in the same few areas of the County, the same set of schools are repeatedly impacted. And where schools are repeatedly impacted, stability is disrupted, and opportunity gaps can and do widen to adversely impact equity in our school system.

Newly approved multi-family residences bring increased school enrollment which inevitably spurs additional relocatables, potential capital expansion, boundary changes, staffing changes, bus route changes, program moves, and parent organization leadership and advocacy changes. While these are normal growing pains, the growing happens repeatedly in the same places.

To eliminate opportunity gaps and achieve excellence, the School Board needs the County Board’s help in managing growth and looking at its consequences, especially where increased density is contemplated. One strategy needs to be a commitment to greater socio-economic integration in the classroom.

Greater classroom socio-economic integration is a path to universal opportunity for a shared educational experience and the social intelligence and awareness that comes from exposure to peers from wide-ranging walks of life. The Century Foundation’s Richard Kahlenberg has written extensively on its benefits. In addition to improved academic outcomes, classroom socio-economic integration can narrow the opportunity gap and create a 21st century workforce and citizenry adept at collaborating across diverse groups.

To reach the excellence that equity promises, all schools require sufficient funding for unique needs, high-quality staffing and professional learning support, and student and family engagement — all factors that strengthen a school’s stability. APS provides additional resources through increased staffing for schools with higher proportions of English learners, as well as staffing and funding through the Federal Title I program for students from economically disadvantaged households. Yet those additional resources have not achieved equity.

On its own, APS has limited tools to accomplish greater socio-economic integration in classrooms. Doing so through boundary readjustment faces the challenge of overcoming the geographic concentration of socio-economic disparities in the County. Relocating students out of their neighborhoods was one factor creating near-universal dislike of busing as that practice played out in the 1970s and 1980s. Further, school boards and communities have to wrestle with which neighborhoods are bused, and why.

A third method, option schools, can encourage a measure of socio-economic diversity. The percentage of students receiving free-and-reduced lunch, a measure of poverty, cluster around the county average at option schools Arlington Traditional School (31%), Claremont Immersion (31%), Key Immersion (39%) and the Montessori Public School of Arlington (28%), for example, in the most recent data available. Yet option schools also come with waiting lists, more students bused longer distances, higher transportation costs, less walking and the character of the school system tipping away from neighborhood schools.

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