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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 A

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

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 A. This district encompasses the East side of Alexandria, including neighborhoods such as Old Town and Del Ray. The polling locations in District A are Ladrey Senior Building, City Hall, Lyles Crouch Elementary School, Durant Center, Lee Center, Cora Kelly “Chick” Armstrong Center, Mt. Vernon Center, George Washington Middle School, Fire Department Headquarters, Charles Houston Center, the Station at Potomac Yard, and AlexRenew.

Theogony reached out to the five candidates running for School Board in District A, two incumbents and three 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)

Willie F. Bailey Sr.

Website: https://www.willforalxschoolboard.com/

1. Why are you running for School Board?

I’ve been supporting the education of our community’s children for decades. I’m now running for school board to ensure we do what’s right for our kids. I devote much of my time to combating educational barriers such as poverty and homelessness. Through my non-profit Firefighters and Friends to the Rescue, I organize a coalition of volunteers, barbers, and nonprofits to donate thousands of backpacks, school supplies, new winter coats, and haircuts to children in need each year. I’m running because I will always do what’s right for our students, teachers, and parents; and, I have the track record to prove it.

2. What ACPS issues are particularly important to you?

It’s essential for our education system to have the resources and leadership needed to address the issues facing us today. My top priority will be ensuring that we safely navigate COVID-19, the variants, and any downstream impacts for students, parents, and educators. I will work tirelessly to expand access to early education, develop mentorship programs, and close the achievement gap so that everyone can succeed. I’ll prioritize addressing capacity issues to ensure our facilities keep pace with our growing student body. I’ll also fight to ensure our teachers and staff receive fair compensation for all they do for our community.

3. What qualities will bring to the School Board?

Proven experience, honesty, and the willingness to do what is right even when it is hard. I’ve devoted my life to serving others and improving our community – it’s what motivates me and brings joy to my life. I’m a father, firefighter, veteran, and former city council member. And I know that I can be the strong voice for all of our students, parents, educators, and staff.

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

ACPS had to and is still navigating a pandemic the likes of which hasn’t been seen in generations. They also had to make tough choices on short timelines. They had to deliver a quality education to students while also ensuring their safety and the safety of parents, teachers, and  support staff. While not perfect, I believe ACPS acted in what was seen as being in the best interests of all of the stakeholders in our educational system at the time in an uncertain environment.

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

Our school system has sought to return to in-person learning while keeping students, parents, teachers, and staff safe. I fully support the guidance provided by the CDC and medical experts, which includes masks, vaccinations, and social distancing. That’s why I’m committed to taking an evidence-based approach that relies on the guidance from the CDC and medical experts, and will do what is right for all stakeholders in our education system. As a health and safety officer, I understand what it takes to keep our schools safe.

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

Trust in our leadership has always been important, and never more so than right now given the problems our School Board must tackle head on. Trained Student Resource Officers can play an important role in mediating conflicts and help ensure our students receive their education in a safe and structured environment. I’m looking forward to working with other members of the School Board, our parents, and our teachers to determine the best way to provide resources, safety, and guidance to our students.

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

I hope they vote for me because I will always do what is in their best interest. I know what it’s like to be a student here – I went to ACPS myself, and my kids attended school here as well. I know firsthand the challenges our students face and what they need to succeed. I’ve spent decades of my life fighting educational barriers facing students, and I hope they’ll entrust me with continuing to serve them on our school board.

Aloysius M. “Ish” Boyle

Website: https://www.ish4acps.com/ 

1. Why are you running for School Board?

There is nothing more important than our future as a community and a country. Running for school board presents an opportunity to help invest and impact Alexandrians who will be the leaders of our tomorrow. The last 18 months challenged us all and exposed vulnerabilities in our school system. As a father of two ACPS students, I care deeply about the quality of education in our public schools and the opportunity for all of our students to achieve. I’ve met many parents, teachers, administrators, and principals who believe their voice isn’t being heard by our elected and appointed leaders. I am committed to listening, learning, and leading.

2. What ACPS issues are particularly important to you?

We are fortunate to live in one of the most diverse and dynamic areas of the country. We can’t settle for ordinary outcomes for our children; we need to reach for and celebrate excellence and maximize each student’s potential. At the grade school and middle school level,it is highly concerning that pre-pandemic 40% of ACPS children weren’t reading at grade level. Post pandemic, those numbers range between 55 – 75% pending demographics. In general, we need to enable teachers and classes for differentiation to meet our students’ needs. ACPS should provide rigorous and engaging courses for all learners. Finally, I am concerned that the removal of the SROs has led to widely-reported fighting on school property. Our schools need to be safe before they can provide an excellent learning environment. 

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

The qualities I bring to the school board include strong leadership, common sense, collaboration, accountability, transparency, and the ability to ask the hard questions. I am an experienced leader and board member to various not-for-profit and for-profit entities. Prior to that, I served in the United States Marine Corps with multiple combat tours. While deployed overseas, I generated strong, cohesive teams with a variety of people and backgrounds. I led with clear communication, creativity, and an unwavering commitment to each member of the unit. I worked cross- functionally outside of my organization to ensure the needs of all my Marines were met. I carried this mindset into the business world where I lead cyber security teams. I also bring diversity of thought and the perspective of a parent of ACPS students.

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

From a facilitation and execution standpoint, I thought Chief Technology Officer, Liz Hoover, and her IT team did a fantastic job. There are Global 2000 companies that are still trying to master working remotely. The IT department deserves an immense amount of credit for pivoting to remote learning in a largely seamless fashion. I have met with many teachers, administrators, and principals. This was a herculean undertaking and I applaud their ability to adapt to the circumstances and persevere. 

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

I spent a large part of the summer meeting with teachers, principals, and administrators. I spoke with one principal who typically sees around 8% attrition from their school. This past year, that number was as high as 60%. In this scenario, this principal did their own recruiting to fill the gaps on their team. They didn’t receive any qualitative help from ACPS Central Office. Additionally, because the entire procurement department quit in ACPS in the last year, we have principals who are running project management at their schools over the summer to improve facilities and infrastructure. Our in-school leaders need better support from the Superintendent and ACPS central office. They aren’t getting it. Finally, for parents, going back to school has been fraught with miscommunication, constantly changing guidance, and a lack of urgency in engaging. The school board must recognize that it exists to serve the needs of the families in our schools, as well as our dedicated educators and administrators.

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

This is highly alarming. During the month of August, as schools went back full-time, there have been widely documented reports and videos of violent fights on school property. I am gravely concerned with any school board member who voted in favor of removing school resources officers; particularly when the principals at those schools made it known that they rely on these teammates and mentors to help facilitate safe and effective learning environments. 

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

As an Alexandrian and parent of two current ACPS students, I am highly invested in the success and achievement of our city’s students. It’s time for a leader who will listen to your concerns, address the challenges in our schools, and work for a better future for all ACPS students and families. 

Jacinta E. Greene

Website: https://jacintagreene.com/ 

1. Why are you running for School Board?

I ran to serve on the Alexandria City School Board – District A because I strongly believe every child in Alexandria deserves a high-quality education regardless of where they live, their family’s economic status, their race, ethnicity, gender or their unique learning traits. I was raised by a mother who is an educator and have seen firsthand the dedication and passion she brought to her students each and every day. I also spent 10 years in Corporate America before starting my own business as an independent marketing consultant and meeting planner. My passion has always centered around advocacy for disadvantaged women, children and civil rights for all. I have served on the Alexandria Commission for Women and also serve on the board for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Inc.-DC Chapter, a nonprofit organization that raises money for disadvantaged children in the DC Metro area. I also serve as lead coordinator for the Ruby Tucker Readers organization which teaches a love for reading and literacy to underserved children in Alexandria. Throughout my first term as an  Alexandria School Board Member, I served as the school board liaison on the “Equity for all 2020-2025 ACPS Strategic Plan” committee. I was proud to serve on this committee and the plan that we released that addresses the many inequities that exist in ACPS. I look forward to working to implement this plan to ensure that all our children are receiving a high-quality education, fought for additional pay and professional development for our teachers and tirelessly fought and  won the fight  to keep long term custodial workers as ACPS employees, saving them from being outsourced to a contractor. 

2. What ACPS issues are particularly important to you?

  • Closing the Achievement Gap: I am running for a second term for Alexandria School Board because we have a lot more work to do to close the achievement gap to ensure all students have an equal opportunity for success. As we begin to recover from the pandemic, we need to continue to address the achievement gap that exists in ACPS, which has only been exacerbated due to COVID-19. I am committed to addressing the decline in academic performance by Latino and Black students and by students with disabilities, which are the three demographics where we have seen the achievement gap widen. 
  • Community-Powered Schools: I strongly believe that the voice of students, parents and community must be included in the decisions we, as school board members, make on behalf of ACPS. As we make decisions that impact students, parents, and educators, it is critical that their opinion, feedback, and recommendations are taken seriously. I committed from day one to ensure that community engagement is at the forefront and I have done that throughout my tenure. 
  • Achieving Educational Equity: This past year and a half, COVID-19 has demonstrated the strength and resilience of our community, schools, teachers, students and parents. However, this pandemic has also highlighted and exacerbated the inequities that exist in our schools. Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) are made up of more than 15,000 students who represent more than 145 countries and speak 132 languages. While I am very proud of the strong diversity in our schools, 63.7% of our student population are eligible for free or reduced meals, many of them coming from low-income households. During the pandemic, as our schools closed for in-person learning and went to all-virtual learning, this highlighted the inequities that exist among our most vulnerable students and families. 
  • Commitment to Our Teachers: As the product of the Virginia public school system and a mother who is an educator, I have seen firsthand the dedication that educators impart on their students each day. I also understand that teachers have a much bigger role that does not stop when the bell rings. Throughout this past year and a half, teachers have been put to the test again by having to be flexible and adjust to the “new normal” and again as our communities and economies begin to re-open. It is critical that salaries are competitive to ensure that the City of Alexandria attracts the best educators and support staff for our children. This has been a difficult time for all and if re-elected I will continue to fight to ensure that teachers are fairly compensated for the hard work that they do and help ensure that the City of Alexandria is competitive when it comes to recruiting and retaining a pool of diverse and highly-qualified teachers.

3. What qualities will bring to the School Board?

If re-elected to the school board, I will continue to advocate for all students no matter your race or your income. I bring to the table a strong work ethic, consistent and dedicated leadership and a passionate concern and drive for advocacy for public education. 

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

ACPS did a fine job in partnership with the Alexandria Health Department to quickly pivot from in-person learning to virtual online learning.  Our Information Technology Department and Nutrition Services were prepared and showed that we were far better equipped than other school systems to meet the needs of our students at the start of the pandemic.

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

Everyone at every level has worked hard to open our schools 5 days a week for in-person learning!!! Students, Teachers, Staff and Families are happy to be back and we must do all that we can do to keep our doors open.  This includes being vigilant with Covid mitigation protocols to include the mask mandate put in place by the school board, vaccine requirements and clear and consistent communication.

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

First and foremost, the safety of our Students and Staff at all times and in all circumstances is of utmost importance to me. The process for how the Student Resource Officers were removed throughout ACPS was not handled in the best possible manner. The School Board and Police Department worked to revise the SRO Memo of Understanding (MOU) to include additional training for the SROs and staff at the schools, data collection, performance reviews and reports to the school board. The actions taken by the City Council that followed the vote of the school board, the governing body elected by the voters in Alexandria to oversee our schools should have happened differently.  

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

I am honored to currently be serving as an Alexandria School Board Member, each and every day I have the goal of doing more than I did before to ensure success for our students in Alexandria. Every student in Alexandria Public Schools deserves a quality education, I keep this forefront in my mind and in all that I do. My commitment to our students and teachers is what motivates me on a daily basis. We have a wonderful school system that will continue to get better with us all working together to achieve the ultimate goal of success for our students. 

Deanna M. R. “D” Ohlandt

Website: https://dohlandtforalexandriaschools.com/ 

1. Why are you running for School Board?

The plans and decisions being made now, as we move out of a global pandemic and look toward new growth in our city and schools, will shape ACPS for years to come. As an educator myself and an ACPS parent, I want to be part of those conversations, to advocate for equitable and creative approaches to giving all students an excellent education, no matter their family history or their path forward after high school.

2. What ACPS issues are particularly important to you?

Improving communication with families, students, and staff is one of my top priorities. Communication was a concern before COVID, but the constantly-evolving situation regarding virtual and hybrid instruction and safety procedures for in-person events made the importance of better communication especially clear. Equitable access for all students to the wealth of resources available across our division is another priority for me. Progress on both these issues will be driven by stronger connections between our communities and our schools, and by thoughtful planning for the future of our school programs and facilities.

3. What qualities will bring to the School Board?

I am a parent with three kids currently at Cora Kelly School for Math, Science, and Technology, and so I am invested in the present and the future of ACPS. I have experience with administration in educational and non-profit contexts, and I have specific experience training leadership teams in policy-based governance, which is the system of governance that the Alexandria City School Board is using. I look for creative, “outside the box” solutions to challenges. I am committed to equity for people with marginalized racial and cultural identities, women and girls, and LGBTQ+ people.

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

Under the conditions of a global pandemic, ACPS attempted to chart a path that considered the diverse concerns of students, staff, and families. Many ACPS families are rightly critical of the timing and content of information communicated about reopening and hybrid options; some, like myself, are disappointed that creative approaches to safe in-person learning were not pursued more aggressively. Still others noted that the implementation of virtual and hybrid instruction varied widely across ACPS. That said, among neighboring public school districts, ACPS emerged as a positive model for its handling of the 2020-21 academic year.

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

ACPS must strike a balance between state and federal requirements and local circumstances. Providing a full-time in-person option for all students while the pandemic continues has required changes to facilities and procedures, most of which ACPS has addressed with an eye to equity and safety. Some ideas for increasing COVID safety are received differently by families and by staff, and ACPS has not done a good job communicating the full range of considerations in these instances. The ACPS COVID dashboard shows that, so far, the measures in place have held the spread of COVID in our schools in check.

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

My concern is creating a school environment where everyone feels safe. It’s clear from the conversations since the Council’s vote to remove SROs that some people did not feel safe in the school buildings with the way the SRO program was operating. It’s just as clear from these conversations that some people do not feel safe without SROs. We urgently need to explore how to provide security in our schools without creating implied or overt threats to people who have been treated unfairly by uniformed officers. As members of our community, police should have a role in finding these alternatives.

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

ACPS is moving into what I am calling its “next chapter,” after the COVID-19 pandemic and with the current and coming changes to the high school. Writing the “next” chapter requires a respect for the story that has come so far, and current ACPS students and recent graduates are an important part of that story. If elected I will work to protect what’s best about the ACPS you know while making better the things that can be improved for the students who follow you.

Michelle M. Rief

Website: http://www.michelleforalexandria.com/ 

1. Why are you running for School Board?

I was the first person in my family to go to college and I know how good schools and professional teachers can change any child’s life. I’m running for re-election to the Alexandria School Board because I believe that every young person in our city deserves a great education.

2. What ACPS issues are particularly important to you?

One issue that is important to me is supporting ACPS students and teachers. The last year and a half was hard, and it’s exciting to return to school in-person full-time. Students need space to reconnect with their friends. Teachers need time to get to know students and assess their social, emotional and academic learning needs. ACPS leaders must provide teachers with the resources they need to maximize student learning and growth. Students need to feel valued and empowered to ask for the support they need to achieve their education goals.

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

My professional experience is working in education. I have been a college professor, preschool classroom aide, resident director in a boarding school program for high school students, and director of a prison education program. I have the knowledge and experience to lead a high-performing school division. I’m also the parent of three ACPS students, so I am personally invested in our public schools and I understand how School Board decisions impact ACPS students and their families. 

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

The closing of schools and transition to online learning in 2020 due to a global pandemic was truly unprecedented and likely the greatest challenge public schools have faced in the last century. It was a very difficult time for ACPS students and their families, as well as for ACPS staff. School division leaders had to navigate constantly-changing CDC guidance, which required everyone’s flexibility. One thing I value is our community’s diversity, and I learned that our tolerance to risk varies, which is why I sought solutions that balanced everyone’s needs. Our community is stronger when we work together.

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

ACPS administrators have worked hard to prepare for the reopening of schools. As recommended by public health experts, we are implementing “layered” strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our school buildings. This includes universal masking, contract tracing and quarantine for anyone exposed to COVID-19, and we plan to begin screening testing soon. It may take some time to get used to our new routines, but we must work together to protect everyone’s health and safety. I will continue to advocate for improved communication and collaboration with families and teachers, which is essential for our mutual success.

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

I believe that we can have safe schools without full-time SROs in our school buildings. The removal of SROs from our high school and middle schools has been a divisive issue in our community and I believe a deeper conversation about safety in our schools is warranted. ACPS distributed a well-designed equity climate survey in June and the results will be presented this fall, which I hope will provide an opportunity for continued discussion on this important topic. I encourage students to actively participate and express how you think we can promote a safe and equitable learning environment for everyone.

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

Over the past three years I have spent countless hours researching issues, listening to stakeholders, asking tough questions, having honest conversations, and advocating for Alexandria’s students, parents and teachers. I have proven my ability to lead on important issues facing our school division and I hope to continue doing this work.

Graphic Courtesy of Chloe Yokitis

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