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Theogony

The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School

Theogony

The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School

Theogony

Student Guide to the Alexandria City School Board Elections: District B

Student Guide to the Alexandria City School Board Elections: District B

Ethan Gotsch

Editor

On November 2, Alexandria City voters will head to the polls for the general election, which includes the contest for School Board. The election is nonpartisan and candidates are divided into three districts: A, B, and C, with each district electing three representatives for a total of nine School Board members who each serve a three-year term. The School Board is responsible for setting Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) policy for the schools and making sure that policy is clearly communicated to the community and followed within the schools.

This article focuses on the candidates running in District B. This district encompasses central Alexandria and locations such as the Taylor Run and Beverley Hills neighborhood. The polling places in District B are Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School, George Mason Elementary School, Charles Barrett Center, Blessed Sacrament Church, the Masonic Temple, Chinquapin Center, Temple Beth El Synagogue, NOVA Arts Center, James K. Polk School, and Hermitage.

Theogony reached out to the seven candidates running for School Board in District B, all newcomers, and asked them to respond to the same seven questions that address issues important to high school students. These questions include: Why are you running for School Board? What ACPS issues are particularly important to you? What qualities will you bring to the School Board? How do you think ACPS handled the closing of schools and online classes during the 2020-21 school year? How do you think ACPS has handled the reopening of schools for the 2021-22 school year? What is your opinion of the removal of Student Resource Officers (SROs) throughout ACPS? Why should high school students eligible to vote cast their vote for you? 

Candidates were asked to keep each answer to 100 words or less. The answers from candidates who responded, along with their campaigns’ respective websites where you can find more information, are listed below in alphabetical order by last name.

The deadline to register to vote in the general election is October 12. Students who will be 18 years old on election day, November 2, are eligible to vote if they register by October 12. This election also includes contests for Virginia Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, House of Delegates, Commonwealth’s Attorney, Sheriff, Mayor, and City Council. Voters can view sample ballots and learn about early voting at the City of Alexandria Voter Registration and Elections website.

Map of Alexandria School Board districts (Credit: alexandriava.gov)

Deborah J. Ash

Website: http://friendsofdebbieash.com/ 

 1. Why are you running for School Board?

I am running for School Board because our academics need improvement and prioritization.  Some schools only recently received accreditation, a minimal level of success in one of the most highly-educated geographical areas in the nation. We must focus on the academic success of our students, not on divisive social agendas that serve to take us backward instead of forward. I will collaborate with the school board and leadership, parents, and teachers to bring an equitable solution to problems facing our students and families today. 

2. What ACPS issues are particularly important to you?

  • Schools open five days a week for all students
  • Parent choice for vaccines and masks
  • Challenging courses for gifted students
  • School choice, vouchers, tax credits for homeschooling – With one high school in Alexandria, parents should have a choice to send them to a high school nearer to their home, receive their tax dollars back (or tax credit) for homeschooling costs
  • Restore School Resource Officers
  • Expand alternative vocational and career tracks – Not every student will choose to go to college; our goal should be to prepare students for whatever career path they choose.

3. What qualities will bring to the School Board?

Over thirty years working in volunteer positions to enhance children’s education. I worked and lived in many foreign countries as part of my career with the Federal government and have seen school systems that approach learning as presenting information for the test rather than educating students to reason for themselves. I will bring a fresh perspective to the school board because of my experiences abroad.

4. How do you think ACPS handled the closing of schools and online classes during the 2020-21 school year?

In the beginning of the pandemic when not much was known about the virus, the precautions seemed appropriate. As the school year continued, students remained in online classes way too long. I believe the schools should have opened sooner, relieving the parents and guardians from the responsibility to stay at home rather than continue their employment. Many lives were disrupted and catching up, if possible, will be a major effort.

5. How do you think ACPS has handled the reopening of schools for the 2021-22 school year?

Reopening has been successful. Much was learned by the past, now it is the time to work on creating new approaches to education. 

6. What is your opinion on the removal of Student Resource Officers (SROs) throughout ACPS? 

Restore School Resource Officers – When the Alexandria City Council voted to remove funding for the SROs, they stepped over the line in voting against the wishes of the school board who wanted SROs to remain at all campuses; our schools and students need the Alexandria Police

presence to build relationships and provide needed mentoring for all.

7. Why should high school students eligible to vote cast their vote for you?

I am willing to get out and work to bring about change that most people want but don’t know how to achieve. I also listen to the concerns of others and am willing to work through the system to achieve results that will benefit students and families. Like most parents or grandparents with children/grandchildren in school, I want the best education for all of them for their success.  Finally, I bring fresh eyes to current issues, reflecting real-world parent/adult preferences.

Ashley E. Simpson Baird

Website: https://www.ashleysimpsonbaird.com/ 

1. Why are you running for School Board?

Running for School Board is something that I have always wanted to do. I left classroom teaching 10 years ago to pursue my Ph.D. because I wanted to have a greater impact on public education. I have done that through my research, policy, and technical assistance work, but that work has been in places mostly outside of Alexandria. Now, I want to use my expertise to impact our community’s schools. I am confident that I have the knowledge and skills to help get ACPS back on the upward trajectory that it was on before the pandemic. I am an ACPS parent and will have at least one of my children in ACPS schools through 2037. I am committed to making ACPS a world-class school division for all students.

2. What ACPS issues are particularly important to you?

There are many incredible aspects of ACPS such as our diversity, dedicated and high-quality educators, innovative educational programming, strong community partnerships, and an array of extracurricular activities. There are also many ways to make our schools even better. The issues that are most pressing right now are:

  • Pandemic recovery
  • Health and safety
  • Rebuilding trust
  • Improving communications
  • Creating a school leader pipeline
  • Diversifying the ACPS teaching force
  • Equity for English learners and students with special needs

3. What qualities will bring to the School Board?

Alexandria voters are lucky to have so many strong School Board candidates to choose from in this year’s election and I am honored to be among them. I am an education expert with more than 20 years of experience in improving public education. I bring multiple perspectives to making decisions that would impact ACPS. I have been a classroom teacher, administrator, teacher trainer, researcher, and ACPS parent. The bulk of my professional work has occurred outside of ACPS and I bring the knowledge of how other school districts facing similar challenges and opportunities have fared. I am the only candidate in District B with a Ph.D. in education and I am the only school board candidate who is a fluent Spanish speaker. 

4. How do you think ACPS handled the closing of schools and online classes during the 2020-21 school year?

At least some virtual learning was warranted during the 2020-21 school year; however, I do not think we needed it to go on for so long. ACPS should have considered more innovative options, such as outdoor learning, at the start of the school year when COVID cases were lowest to establish relationships and routines before switching to hybrid or virtual learning in the winter when rates began to climb. Similarly, I also think that ACPS could have started hybrid learning earlier in the spring, made Mondays full school days, and brought select groups of students back for full-time in-person learning. These strategies would have helped to minimize unfinished learning for many students.

5. How do you think ACPS has handled the reopening of schools for the 2021-22 school year?

I applaud ACPS for returning almost all students to five days of in-person instruction at the start of the 2021-2022 school year. And while starting any school year takes an incredible amount of planning and logistics, this one presented even more challenges. Currently, my two biggest concerns are that there are not strong enough plans to address unfinished learning and ensure everyone is healthy at school. ACPS should have mandated vaccination in the summer and is late on implementing onsite testing at schools and developing plans for outdoor lunch for children under 12. These measures could greatly reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our schools and in turn, keep kids in school so that they can catch up academically.

6. What is your opinion on the removal of Student Resource Officers (SROs) throughout ACPS?

My opinion is that this issue is not yet settled, the process was flawed, and it warrants revisiting. However, I do not foresee SROs returning in their previous capacity. We need to consider the possibility of a both/and solution to retain expanded behavioral health supports and whether a reformed SRO program would enhance our schools. Specifically, we should establish an independent working group to collect and analyze data to better understand the impact on students, staff, and families and develop recommendations on ways to ensure that everyone thrives in our school buildings.

7. Why should high school students eligible to vote cast their vote for you?

If you are eligible to vote, do it! It’s an incredible privilege and an important way to contribute to your community. I am asking for your support because your ideas, opinions, and concerns are incredibly important to me and need to be heard by School Board members. I have enjoyed meeting many of you and I promise to make space for your voices. I believe that our public schools make our city. I want all children in Alexandria to feel successful at school, find joy in learning, and discover passions that will last beyond their time in ACPS. 

Kelly Carmichael Booz

Website: https://www.kellycarmichaelbooz.com/ 

1. Why are you running for School Board?

When I first won a seat on the Alexandria School Board in 2012, I was pregnant with my daughter. I ran back then because I not only wanted to ensure that our school system was ready for her, but as an educator who has dedicated my entire career working with teachers and students, I wanted to be part of moving ACPS forward so everyone, including my family, could benefit. Today, she’s eight, and again I’m running for School Board because I want to be part of the solution to make our schools the best they can be for kids.

2. What ACPS issues are particularly important to you?

We all know that the COVID-19 pandemic has been massively disruptive to students and their learning. We need to support our teachers, focus on student success, and work with City Council on funding so we can close the learning gap and social-emotional gap that’s only increased over the last year. I will serve our community and focus our budget and policies on what’s best for students: in-person learning, academic and social-emotional recovery, health and safety, school capacity, and communication and transparency.

3. What qualities will bring to the School Board?

I bring my experience of previously serving on the Alexandria School Board and 20+ years advocating for students, teachers, and public education. With none of the district B incumbents seeking reelection, experience and stability are crucial to ensure we support students. We spent the last year and a half figuring out how to operate within the pandemic. We can’t afford another learning curve with three new board members. We need school board members who are ready to roll up their sleeves and do the job on day one. I am that candidate.

4. How do you think ACPS handled the closing of schools and online classes during the 2020-21 school year?

Communication and transparency with families, caregivers, and the community are chronic challenges we must solve. Mixed messages, unclear guidance, and a lack of transparency erode community trust. For example, in December, ACPS told families to complete an intent to return to school form and families were told that their decision was a non-binding decision. Two months later, ACPS told families that their decision made in December was now binding. Families were justifiably upset. Examples like this erode public trust. As a board member, I will work with my fellow board members on greater oversight on policy, messaging, and operations.

5. How do you think ACPS has handled the reopening of schools for the 2021-22 school year?

I’m grateful our district is mandating masks for everyone, requiring vaccines for staff, and will begin providing COVID testing for staff and optional tests for students. Sure, I am a mom and I was feeling anxious about the delta variant with our return to school. However, I also believe that in-person learning is critical for kids – for high schoolers, and especially our younger students, and students with disabilities. ACPS’s focus on vaccines, masks, regular testing, and building and bus ventilation are the right steps to ensure our school buildings stay open and our community stays safe.

6. What is your opinion on the removal of Student Resource Officers (SROs) throughout ACPS?

The sudden decision to remove SROs overruled security recommendations of our school-level principals and lacked sufficient community engagement. A substantive and thoughtful conversation about the role of policing in our society is essential; and the events since last summer have reminded us of that again and again. I want every student and staff member in ACPS to feel safe – physically and emotionally. I recommend the Council and School Board re-engage this debate and form an SRO working group to address both security and systemic racism in disciplinary actions with a solution that supports our schools in the 2023 fiscal year. 

7. Why should high school students eligible to vote cast their vote for you?

I believe in you. You will always have a voice and a seat at the table with me, whether you are eligible to vote or not. I’ve worked with high school students for many years and I know how valuable your ideas, perspectives, and solutions are in making an impact within the community and society. 

Tammy S. Ignacio

Website: https://www.ignacio4schoolboard.com/ 

1. Why are you running for School Board?

I am running for school board because I want all our students, families, and community to thrive in ACPS as much as my children and I have.  Now that my children have all graduated, I feel the time is right to continue my passion for caring for the students of Alexandria. I want to ensure all students have equitable access to programs and services. I want to be an active voice for all students.  

2. What ACPS issues are particularly important to you?

Increasing student achievement, transparency and accountability, equity, special education, facilities, safety and security, learning recovery, social emotional recovery, staffing recruitment and retention.  

3. What qualities will bring to the School Board?

I have 30 years of experience as an educator and administrator in ACPS and I am a parent of students who attended and graduated from ACPS. This has given me a unique perspective of the needs of students, families, and the community of ACPS. I am an independent thinker who is not afraid to ask tough questions. I am good at out of the box thinking and problem solving to get issues addressed.  

4. How do you think ACPS handled the closing of schools and online classes during the 2020-21 school year?

There is always room for improvement but given the pandemic I feel that ACPS did very well under the circumstances. We were fortunate to already have a one-to-one ratio of Chrome books to students for 3rd graders and older. We had a wonderful technology department which allowed us to have a seamless transition to virtual learning given the fact that the majority already had Chrome books and internet capability. My concerns have been primarily concerned with creating safe and effective learning opportunities for students with disabilities, younger students, and students that struggle with virtual learning. 

5. How do you think ACPS has handled the reopening of schools for the 2021-22 school year?

I believe the Delta variant has thrown yet another curveball. Without this we may have been able to open schools with a more comfortable feeling regarding the safety measures that were put in place. Under the circumstances including the earlier start of the school year, I feel that school leaders have done a remarkable job at hiring staff and filling vacant positions. There is still work to be done around safety and security, transportation, learning recovery, and communication with the ACPS community. All to be expected while trying to deal with the pandemic.    

6. What is your opinion on the removal of Student Resource Officers (SROs) throughout ACPS?

I think that this was a political decision. I do not believe it was in the best interest of our students and staff. The decision by the council was a decision that should only be made by our school leaders both in our secondary schools and on our board. Until our school leaders tell us differently, they should be returned. It would be interesting to look at the ACPS data to determine how many arrests compared to other city high schools took place and what arrests and actions were prevented.  School leaders now have less involvement in how officers might interact with students in the school environment as it relates to the safety and security of our students and staff. This is the result of the removal of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) that was developed through a positive relationship between ACPS and APD. 

7. Why should high school students eligible to vote cast their vote for you?

I value that I have been a voice for students for over 30 years and I will continue to be an advocate for all students and staff. My experience and commitment to do what is best for all students is why you should vote for me. Although I have retired, I have unfinished business and I want to continue to give back to the ACPS community and the students I love. 

PreAnn Johnson

Website: https://www.preepreeontheboard.com/ 

Why are you running for School Board?

About 4 years ago I considered running for the school board upon retirement. By the time that I actually started the process, I had pretty much put it out of my mind. However, the challenges and the victories that we experienced in ACPS this past year cause me to revisit my past ambitions. I admire the thoughtfulness and community engagement that occurred during the pandemic. Everything was certainly not perfect, but we learned how to work together through difficult times. The ACPS community means the world to me and I definitely want to stay actively involved.

2. What ACPS issues are particularly important to you?

Right now, the most important issue is the physical and mental health of students, teachers, and families. Having the kids in school is definitely the right choice; however with the variants and the lack of a vaccine for younger children, we still have to be vigilant about the health and safety of the school community. Other important issues include revisiting the partnership with the Alexandria Police Department, looking ahead at the pending construction in areas like George Mason, Minnie Howard and the Potomac Yard, and  being purposeful with our decisions as it relates to the upcoming budget.

3. What qualities will bring to the School Board?

First-hand experience with the workings of the Alexandria City Public School System is my most valuable contribution. My experience is extensive and I am well-versed in all aspects of the organization. I know and understand the role and function of each department and employee group. I’ve worked closely with most business, parent and community partners. I hold a great deal of historical knowledge related to processes, and structures that have impacted us over the years.  I hate to call myself a “know it all” but when it comes to ACPS, I kind of know it all.

4. How do you think ACPS handled the closing of schools and online classes during the 2020-21 school year?

We did a lot of things right and we did a lot of things wrong. We had just as many people praising as we did complaining. I was careful to listen and understand each person’s perspective, which allowed me to appreciate their viewpoint on either side of the issues. You know how diehard sports fans rally around their team unconditionally; I am that type of ACPS fan. I know many people complained that we were not doing what we should, but as I looked at school divisions across the nation, I was proud of what we accomplished.

5. How do you think ACPS has handled the reopening of schools for the 2021-22 school year?

I believe our opening was far more successful than anticipated.  Teachers were ready and eager to welcome students back in ways that were nothing short of amazing. They knew what they had to do and they did it. What stood out most was the implementation of protocols established to effectively mitigate the impact of Covid. I was dropping my daughter off at college when school began. Texas closed down several schools and school divisions entirely. As I questioned the protocols that Texas had in place, it became crystal clear that our opening procedures and safety protocols made a difference.

6. What is your opinion on the removal of Student Resource Officers (SROs) throughout ACPS?

Let me start by saying I support SROs in the schools. At the elementary level, we did not have dedicated SROs. We did however have a close relationship with the Alexandria Police & Sheriff’s Department. I will be honest and say that I was not aware of the thinking behind removing the SROs. However, I am very interested in reopening the conversation not only focusing on the SROs, but also looking at how we can effectively build relationships with our Alexandria Police and Sheriffs department to keep our schools and community safe.

7. Why should high school students eligible to vote cast their vote for you?

Voting is a civic responsibility, but it is also a way to have a voice in what happens in your community. The most important thing is not that students vote for me; it is that THEY VOTE! I recommend in person voting if at all possible. I was there when my daughter cast her first vote.  It was an amazing, emotional, proud moment for both of us. In person voting will begin on Friday, September 17 at the Office of Voter Registration & Elections and ends Saturday, October 30 at 5pm. The address is 132 North Royal Street, Suite 100.

Ricardo N. “Coach Rico” Roberts

No statement or website link was received by Theogony.

Bridget Shea Westfall

Website: https://www.bridgetforacps.org/ 

1. Why are you running for School Board?

I am running as an Advocate for Children and Public Schools. I am running because I believe in creative problem solving, smart use of available resources and innovative solutions to challenges faced in the pandemic and in urban education. I have no desire to be a politician or cater to special interests or political posturing. As a school board member, I will evaluate every decision with the question: Is this in the best interest of our students and public school division? I will always listen, advocate, and represent the community. I will ask the tough questions and speak up.

2. What ACPS issues are particularly important to you?

  1. Ask ACPS for Accountability & Transparency
  2. Challenge Capacity Issues through Smart Growth & Development of ACPS Facilities
  3. Plan for Pandemic Recovery: Academically, Socially & Emotionally
  4. Support Safe and Successful Schools

3. What qualities will bring to the School Board?

The qualities I bring to the School Board are that I am conscientious, sensible, ethical, responsible, idealistic, serious, self-disciplined, orderly, and feel personally obligated to improve public education. The key responsibilities of a School Board member are: managing the superintendent, formulating the budget, drafting policy and governance. In my day job at HHS, I advise states, Tribes, nonprofits, universities, hospitals and pre-K-12 school systems on these issues, as well as identifying and purchasing land and real estate for renovation or construction, which is helpful in addressing capacity and overcrowding.

4. How do you think ACPS handled the closing of schools and online classes during the 2020-21 school year? 

ACPS operated conservatively. They implemented the federal nutrition program for free meals for all students well and provided free internet access and tablets and computers to all students. I valued the superintendent modeling the importance of vaccinations and prioritizing ACPS teachers. However, I think there were missed opportunities when community spread was low to bring back priority groups: students with disabilities, language learners, students experiencing homelessness, family violence, or food insecurity, students with social and emotional needs and students in K-2. When schools reopened according to the Biden-Harris Administration plan, there was an opportunity to bring back students for four days a week.

5. How do you think ACPS has handled the reopening of schools for the 2021-22 school year?

ACPS should have addressed vaccine hesitancy and had staff and students vaccinated over the summer. I advocate for outdoor space for lunch, use of free DASH buses and hiring additional teachers to assist with learning strategies. With Delta, I advocate for use of pandemic recovery funds for interim testing until the VDH pilot testing is available to ACPS. I think the COVID-19 dashboard should be updated daily and include an archive of close contact letters per school. I would also like to revisit the 14 day quarantine due to disruption to student learning with the option to “test out”. 

6. What is your opinion on the removal of Student Resource Officers (SROs) throughout ACPS?

I believe that the City Council and ACPS should revisit this decision this school year. This decision would probably be different if we had not been in the pandemic and was made absent any data. Voters reached out to me about the positive impact of SROs, particularly with International Academy students. The principals of the two middle schools and the high school supported the School Resource Officers, along with the Mayor, Superintendent, and majority of the school board. I have also heard from students with disabilities and students of color who were profiled because of their disability or race.  

7. Why should high school students eligible to vote cast their vote for you?

Students should vote for me because I’ve spent the last two decades advocating for teens and working with diverse communities. I love working with high school students and see them as our future. I value bringing their voice to the School Board dais. As a social worker, I managed youth serving programs. My direct social work experience included inpatient mental health treatment for teens, which is important in the pandemic. I also know that as a leader, we need to meet students where they are at and use their ideas and input.

Graphic Courtesy of Chloe Yokitis

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Student Guide to the Alexandria City School Board Elections: District B