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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 C

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

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 C. This district encompasses the West End of Alexandria, including areas such as Cameron Station and Landmark. The polling locations in District C are Patrick Henry Center, Beatley Library, Samuel Tucker Elementary School, John Adams Elementary School, William Ramsay Center, South Port Apartments, Cameron Station, and Olympus Condo.

Theogony reached out to the three candidates running for School Board in District C, one incumbent and two 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)

Meagan L. Alderton

Website: https://www.alderton4schoolboard.com/

1. Why are you running for School Board?

I am running for school board because I love our children, I love our staff, and I love our community. There are so many things that we all want to change in the world, and I do believe that we can achieve those ideals. However, those changes are only going to occur, and they are only going to last, if we invest in providing a high-quality education to EVERY child.  It should not matter who you are, where you live, or what you have. As a member of the American community, you have a right to and you deserve a top-notch education. In order for that to happen, school divisions need leadership with bold, decisive, and unapologetic vision. I have been doing the work on the ground to enhance and advance public education for 18 years. I know what it takes to make ACPS a model school division. I want to share that talent and knowledge for the benefit of my community. 

2. What ACPS issues are particularly important to you?

Systemic racism is alive and well and it is time to admit it, and acknowledge the ways in which we have perpetuated it in Alexandria City Public Schools. We have set forward on a very explicit strategic plan that is poised to tackle racial inequities in our schools. We must see that every single goal spelled out in Equity for All 2025 is achieved; no excuses. This is my top priority at the moment and it will continue to be in a second term.

3. What qualities will you bring to the School Board?

I am a very patient person and I know how to maintain enough perspective to stay calm under pressure. I think that is a really important quality to bring to the board because there is a lot of pressure all the time. You have to be able to lead with a steady head and a steady hand when things get tense, contentious, or rocky. This is a quality that has definitely come in handy as Board Chair. 

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

Overall, we did a good job navigating the pandemic in the 20-21 school year. We pivoted quickly to get technology to students when buildings closed in March, principals and teachers pivoted quickly to provide multiple new types of instruction from fully virtual, to concurrent teaching in a hybrid setting. We ensured that everyone had access to meals, and we continued to focus on supporting the whole child, regardless of the physical environment. We enhanced many of our community partnerships and these partnerships will continue to benefit us as we work through some of the pandemic related challenges for the years ahead. 

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

 Things are going well overall. Our students seem really excited to be back in our school buildings and our principals and teachers have adjusted well to yet another major change; in person learning at full capacity, during a pandemic.  The board has had to rapidly churn out new policies, and make policy adjustments to accommodate this new normal. In many ways, this year feels harder than last year, but the excitement that I have seen on the faces of our students has been worth it.

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

I voted to maintain the MOU with the Alexandria Police Department at the beginning of last year, and I stand by that vote today. Our resource officer program was a great benefit to our school community. For me, they exemplified community policing at its best.  Their removal was a truly unfortunate loss.  The decision to remove them was made based on a valid national conversation that doesn’t fit with what is actually happening in the Alexandra community. Our principals were very clear with the school board and city council that these officers were a very important resource. We had no reason not to our school leaders. 

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

As an 18-year veteran educator, a former ACPS teacher, and current school board chair, I have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to serving students.  We have goals to achieve and I know that we can achieve them, but we need the right people to do it. Experience matters, and I have the experience and the skills to get things done. 

Abdel S. Elnoubi

Website: https://www.abdelforalexandria.com/ 

1. Why are you running for School Board?

As a proud parent of two ACPS students, and having served as PTA president, I know firsthand the challenges facing our schools and not only do I have a personal stake in addressing them and in the improvement of ACPS, I also believe that every student deserves an equal opportunity to succeed and prosper and access to a robust education system that meets their social, emotional, and academic needs, and that all personnel in our school system should be provided all the resources they need to do their jobs. I am also a child of immigrants from Alexandria, Egypt. I like to call my story “A tale of two Alexandrias”. I understand the importance of having elected officials who care about the community, because having lived in Egypt – under a dictatorship – I witnessed how the absence of free elections and government accountability – results in broken critical services like education, and its impacts on economic opportunity and society at large.

I left Alexandria, Egypt for opportunity and prosperity; I worked my way through Engineering School by delivering pizza, so I know first-hand how critical access to educational opportunities is to achieving prosperity.  

2. What ACPS issues are particularly important to you?

I’ve talked to countless neighbors, parents, teachers, and community members about the challenges facing our schools. I want to see a school board that addresses our schools’ critical needs, focusing on the solutions for today and for generations to come. ACPS faces lingering issues that predated the pandemic such as overcrowding and achievement gaps and were highlighted and exacerbated by the pandemic. Therefore, my top issues are:

1. Working with the city council to find creative and strategic ways to build and add more schools to mitigate the overcrowding and our aging school buildings. Students deserve sufficient facilities that fulfill their educational needs across the board.

2. Dedicating resources towards effective academic recovery from the perils of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on our school communities. Additionally ensure the social and emotional needs of our community are fulfilled through SEL development and new innovative programs geared at building support systems for our community

3. Competitive teacher pay and make ACPS a regional employer of choice. Every educator in each of our schools deserves comfortable pay and a superior experience in our system. The better educators we have, the better students our schools will be able to produce. Serving our teachers is just as important as serving our students.

4. Minimize suspensions and expulsions as well as the opportunity/achievement gaps which disproportionately impact students of color. Suspensions/expulsions are proven ineffective ways at treating offenses committed by students, taking students out of school hinders their education and feeds the school to prison pipeline. With our expansions in student support staff, it is integral that we continue to implement restorative justice/practices, with student interaction as a centerpiece of helping our youth.

3. What qualities will you bring to the School Board?

I’ve been a community leader for quite some time. I think bringing this leadership into our local government would be a positive addition to our beloved ACPS community. In addition to being a proud parent of two ACPS students, and serving as PTA president, I have also been a grassroots activist advocating for the most vulnerable and marginalized not just in our schools but in our broader community. I also serve on Alexandria City’s Community Criminal Justice Board.

I firmly and unequivocally believe that everyone deserves a seat at the table. I will work with and empower youth organizers, teachers, unions, community organizations, and fellow members of Alexandria City’s government to effectuate change for our district. I also value the importance of community-oriented, people-driven leaders. That’s why I want to serve ACPS and lead our students, teachers, staff, and all my constituents to a better Alexandria. I have also been endorsed by several Alexandria elected officials including two School board incumbent members in my district and by several unions including the Education Association of Alexandria.

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

Virtual learning, despite having been the best option due to COVID, widened the gap of student success and many educators and students simply hated it. Personally, our daughter hated it, but safety comes first. We didn’t have a playbook for this pandemic, but ACPS leadership did a good job listening to public health specialists to protect our system from outbreaks, enforce mask mandates, and encourage the vaccination of our students and staff. I will make sure that our students and staff’s safety is our top priority, and I will follow the health and safety guidelines provided by the health experts and our public health department and the CDC. I will work diligently and listen attentively to education specialists, teachers, counselors, and of course, ACPS’s students in order to ensure we can offset disparities propelled by the pandemic’s effect.

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

I’d say it is a work in progress, and so far we’ve avoided outbreaks. I’m an ACPS dad myself. Re-entry of our students into physical school poses certain unprecedented challenges especially with the delta variant and kids under 12 remain ineligible for the vaccines, it’s also providing opportunities. Over the past year, many students have fallen behind, and Alexandria’s hard-working educators are at the forefront of trying to offset this burden and uplift our student population. Our system needs work on bridging the opportunity gap, and as we see increasingly stark contrast between economically disadvantaged and well-off students, we need a full, holistic analysis on how to continue handling the reopening of school in the best manner possible.

ACPS is also doing a good job by requiring masks, social distancing, and mandating vaccines. By taking these measures, we can make sure our students are able to stay in school, in real life. I also believe we should look into more approaches like outdoor lunches for elementary and middle school students.

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

The SRO funding was not part of the School Board budget and rather a City Council budget line item. The City Council decided to reappropriate the SRO budget to support mental health and public health of our students. With this issue, just like with every issue, the health and safety of our students should be the top priority. We need to reimagine public health and public safety, and one way of doing that is invest more in mental health resources. Adding mental health resources and support personnel like counselors, psychologists, and social workers, is much needed and an important step forward for ACPS and our students especially as we recover from the traumatic impacts of the pandemic and face issues like achievement gaps and disproportionate suspensions of students of color. We also need to advocate for restorative justice discipline methodology as an outright alternative to long-outdated Zero Tolerance policy. The SRO program in ACPS had some popular and useful aspects to it, and we should aim to work to preserve those parts of the program if possible. My concern with SROs isn’t because I am against police or because I think cops are bad, I’m actually a firm believer in public safety, especially having lived in a country where police aren’t for protecting the people but protecting the regime and crushing dissent. I also believe in community relationship building and sometimes getting to know someone like a cop in a non-crime setting like the soccer tournaments the SROs hold can help mitigate fear of police. But having police in schools also raises concerns about over policing and increased criminalization of our students (especially students of color), being used as a disciplinary tool by teachers and staff, thus contributing to the school to prison pipeline that disproportionately impacts students of color. ACPS also spends over a million dollars a year on private security guards.

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

I’m someone who listens to youth. Along with teachers, students are the single most important component of our school system, and if we don’t engage youth in government, we will not be adequately providing for our next generation of leaders. I have youth on my campaign team, and I plan to secure the success of our students now and in the future. Again, our students are the future leaders of Alexandria and our nation as a whole. Full youth participation in the political processes of our nation will only positively impact a generation of changemakers.

W. Christopher Harris

Website: https://www.facebook.com/harris4acps/ 

1. Why are you running for School Board?

As a lifelong Alexandrian and product of ACPS, I have achieved a degree of success in  my life from the educational foundation that was laid in this school system. I have built a  strong career in engineering, built a prosperous business in the city, and have been able  to watch my three children graduate from ACPS then progressing through their  collegiate careers. It is my goal to make sure that all children are afforded those same opportunities. Those types of opportunities will allow them to have options in life and be able to chart their own course as I have. I want to represent the children of our community and be the strong advocate that they need and deserve.  

2. What ACPS issues are particularly important to you?

The ACPS issues most important to me include: 

-Advocating for equitable resources and practices across the school districts. It is my belief that all students should be afforded the necessary resources despite their race and/or socioeconomic status. Closing the opportunity gap is essential to student well being, the future of our workforce, and safety of our communities.  

-Creating a sustainable plan for improving school infrastructure and capacity.  Alexandria’s population is steadily growing, which has led to overcrowded buildings and  dilapidated conditions. I believe my background in construction project management  and engineering will be an asset to the board. 

-Supporting our administrators, teachers, and support staff. ACPS staff are critical to the success of our students. It is my goal to ensure their  voices are heard, they feel valued, and are reflective of our student population. 

3. What qualities will bring to the School Board?

The qualities I bring to the school board are leadership, experience, and willingness  to collaborate with colleagues, parents, students, and community stakeholders. 

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

Navigating the waters of community safety and balancing the need to learn new  information under a quickly moving crisis necessitated for difficult decisions to be made. I believe the decision to close schools was made based on recommendations from  local, state, and federal guidance. With the change to virtual learning and hybrid  options, it afforded the jurisdiction the opportunity to learn new strategies to meet the  needs of ACPS families. It also afforded the administration the opportunity to learn  areas that needed to be further developed to ensure student success.  

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

Reopening of schools with new processes in place to address COVID19 protocols,  various learning environments, new students, new staff and balancing the needs of  ensuring safety and meeting the educational needs of students was also challenging.  From constituents I have received feedback across the spectrum of full confidence in  the process to those who felt the integration was a failure. I believe there was definitely  room for improvement in the process, opportunities for transparency, and improved  communication. 

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

I am in support of the removal of the SRO from ACPS and I would like to see an end  to the Memorandum of Understanding between ACPS and APD. While I recognize that police serve a vital role in the community and have built great relationships inside school  buildings, there is no evidence that they have made school buildings safer. However,  there is data that supports their presence has been detrimental to black and brown  students.  

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

I am a relatable candidate that has experienced the system through a variety of  lenses as a student, parent, and mentor. These different interactions will allow me to  make more informed decisions with the overall goal of the betterment of all students. I believe that students’ views, opinions, and outlooks must be valued in order to effectively govern. The decisions the school board makes not only impact students today, but for years to come. With that in mind, the voices must be heard from those who will be affected.

Graphic Courtesy of Chloe Yokitis

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