Contenders are stepping into the void being left by two departing Arlington School Board members.
“While we are a good school district, we can be so much better,” said Symone Walker, one of five candidates to formally kick off campaigns at the Jan. 8 Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting.
Walker is among candidates seeking to succeed board member Nancy Van Doren and board chairman Tannia Talento, who earlier announced they would retire after relatively short tenures of six and four years, respectively.
The five announced candidates, and any others who might bubble up in the coming month, will compete in two days of Democratic caucus voting in May, with the winners moving on to the Nov. 3 general election.
(State law makes school board posts non-partisan positions, but does not prohibit parties from recruiting and endorsing candidates. All five current Arlington School Board members won the Democratic endorsement en route to general-election victories.)
Two of the five prospects – Terron Sims and David Priddy – have sought political office before, while Walker, Cristina Diaz-Torres and Sandy Munnell are making their first bids for office. Collectively, they are “great candidates,” professed county Democratic chair Jill Caiazzo.
Within the confines of 5-minute kickoff speeches, candidates managed to hit themes designed to win over the largely progressive electorate within the county Democratic rank-and-file. The still-nebulous “equity” was the word of the evening, repeated by nearly every candidate multiple times.
Highlights of kickoff speeches:
• Diaz-Torres has been on the campaign trail the longest, unofficially starting her campaign late last year when it became clear Talento would not seek a new term, and pushed for expanded services. “Our budget should say that we believe in every single student,” she told Democrats, decrying those who put together policy but have “no experience in the classroom and no understanding of the implications” of their efforts.
• Munnell pressed for efforts to improve student achievement in reading, supported additional career-readiness efforts and said the school system needed to stanch the flow of educators out of the county and out of the profession. “We need talent and stability – if we do not keep quality teachers in our classrooms, we cannot expect quality results,” she said.
• Priddy, who unsuccessfully challenged School Board member Reid Goldstein in the Democratic caucus last year, pushed for fiscal responsibility and “new solutions” to a variety of issues, while warning the community not to shortchange students. They “deserve the proper resources,” he said.
• Walker, who as co-chair of the education committee of the Arlington NAACP has sparred with School Board members on a number of issues, said resources should be determined based on a policy of “who needs more, gets more” so that “achievement is not based on your ZIP code.”
• Sims, who has led and served on a number of advisory panels within the school system, said the role of public education should be to “bring a love of learning to our kids and ensure that, upon graduation, they are on a path to success – whatever their dreams may be.” He also pressed for increased partnerships with the business community, as well as expansion of apprenticeship opportunities.
Democrats will use the “instant-runoff” format during the caucus, with voters allowed to rank candidates in order of preference. Low-scoring contenders are then eliminated and their votes reallocated as directed by voters. The first two candidates who score more than 50 percent of the vote via the process will be the nominees.
While the general election could feature independent candidates (Republicans also are trying to recruit contenders), the strength of the Arlington Democratic sample ballot, especially in a presidential-election year, makes it exceedingly unlikely for an upset in November.
The next School Board members will take office Jan. 1, 2021, at which point two major issues – selection of the next superintendent and decisions on elementary-school redistricting – should be in the rear-view mirror.