"I believe that every child in every classroom should be given every opportunity to excel."
Here are my thoughts on several pressing or imminent issues:
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Education
We need to strengthen our STEM programs across all schools in Arlington. I'd like to see:
·More hands-on science programs in all elementary schools,
·Mentoring programs for middle and high school science fair projects,
·More accessibility, flexibility, and affordability of STEM programs, including those at the Arlington Career Center, across all schools, giving more students the chance to partake, whether during the school day, after traditional hours, or during summer.
We need to continue investing in the arts. As our world gets more technical, students must be given ample opportunities to think and express themselves creatively. I'd like to see students at all levels have access to a variety of art forms, including traditional fine arts, music, and creative writing, and more modern arts, such as animation, graphics, and video.
Having an adult mentor is a developmental asset that all children need. Personal support is important for problem-solving, self-esteem, and achievement. I would like every student in Arlington to be able to walk into their school building every morning and know that there is at least one adult there who knows them on a personal level, who they can go to with problems, and who believes in them, exactly as they are.
Over-crowding / Boundaries
The boundary process has been going on for over 10 years -- that's 10 years of community anxiety and stress. Children and families have paid the price. We need to get on a better, smarter path, including making some tough decisions. Here is how I would think about this process going forward:
· I take a child and family-focused approach to all my thinking about schools issues. I understand that every family has a unique set of priorities, including, for example, siblings, schedules, commutes, and/or special needs. These concerns matter. During transitions, we need to think flexibly about grandfathering, school transfers, buses, and other concerns that families and principals raise.
· Any boundary process must be fully transparent, allowing all voices to be heard, but it must also be structured and goal-oriented. At the end of the day, we have to make decisions that will a) improve things, and b) give families, staff, and homeowners plenty of time to adjust and plan.
· Going forward, we need to coordinate our thinking about elementary, middle, and high school, and we need to think flexibly and long-term. Might we, for example, come up with new and better ways of grouping grades? Can we replicate well-regarded school models in more schools? Do new approaches to using technology give us new opportunities to teach more kids in more flexible ways? We need to open our minds, look for new and fresh ideas, and remember that our primary goal is to best prepare our students for the 21st Century economy and world.
More on Capacity
It's clear that within the next five years, we will need more capacity at middle school and high school. New buildings are terrific, when we have the space and we can afford them, but with our current economic climate -- combined with the importance of preserving green space and sports fields -- it's not clear that new buildings are our best option. Instead, we may need to think creatively about how to cycle more students through our existing buildings. What about late-afternoon or evening classes (for high school students that choose them)? Or rotating students through a year-round schedule? Why not run the Career Center from 7am to 9pm so that more students can cycle through for their vo-tech and STEM classes? What if we work with the County to turn the Artisphere into a dual-use facility, one that operates during the day as an Arts center for students, similar to the Career Center model? Can we find new uses for older school and county buildings, such as the Wilson School, Reed School, and Madison Center? The bottom line is that we will need to put a lot of options on the table -- as many as we can think of -- and then work tirelessly and creatively to come up with the best plan possible. To do this, we need leaders on our School Board who are careful, thoughtful, and will engage the full Arlington community in the process. The decisions we make in the next few years will affect the face of Arlington for the next 50.
This is the part of our school system that I believe needs the most attention and thought. I find our middle schools to be too big and impersonal at exactly an age when kids need more adult support than ever. The following issues are important in terms of our middle schools.
It's an interesting idea, but I'm concerned that it relies heavily on having extremely creative teachers, who must be up to the challenge of keeping middle school students engaged for longer blocks of time. If we want to do this, we need to have a long lead time -- time for teacher training and, importantly, teacher and family feedback.
I want middle school students to have as many opportunities as possible to explore a variety of electives, foreign language options, and other activities, such as band and orchestra. Block scheduling, or any other changes being considered, would have to be consistent with these goals.
Supporting our Students, Middle Schools in general
I would like to look for ways that we can offer more personal support to our middle school children. It's a difficult time for many students, with increased academic and organizational challenges, as well as cliques, peer pressure, and, unfortunately, still, bullying, to name a few of the issues that students face every day. I believe every student should be able to walk into their school building every day and feel that there is at least one adult who knows them on a personal level, who will talk to them about their day, and who will notice when things are going badly, or going well, whether socially, emotionally, or academically.
Going forward, I'd like to see us think hard about how to do middle school better. We need to continue to research, look at models in other school systems, and develop new proposals for how to best educate kids at this interesting, challenging, and critical stage of life
The sudden change to the bus schedules that occurred last fall, where families lost buses they'd relied on for years, was a tremendous failure of communication and process. It was also a failure of basic common sense.
As I said above, I take a child and family-focused approach to my thinking. We have to be budget-conscious, but when we make decisions that will affect child safety and family schedules, we need to provide ample opportunities for families and principals to learn about the plan and, especially, to respond. And then we need to listen and be open to making adjustments, possibly admitting mistakes, and even starting over. All of this should have happened before the new transportation plan was put into place.
I understand the importance of accountability and standards, and I love data, but as a parent, I have long felt that our kids spend too much time in class taking tests, and, especially, prepping for tests. Teachers have told me they feel this way, too. To quote one: "We are tested and tested to see if we are teaching the children. Of course, when we are testing, we are NOT teaching the children."
If I'm on the Board, I will push for a hard look at the testing schedule and process. Which tests are we using to truly help the children learn? And which are, maybe, not so useful?
I am a champion for applied, hands-on, and student-driven learning environments, such as the Arlington Career Center, Montessori programs, and the new STEM Academies. I would like to make programs like these more accessible to more kids -- whether as full-day programs, half-day programs, summer programs, or electives.
I fully support any and all protections for LGBT faculty, staff, and students. I also support expanding our APS Family Life Education standards to include healthy LGBT lifestyles and families.
As a policy-maker, my focus will be on helping to make the day-to-day classroom experience the best it can possibly be, to make sure that teachers have the resources they need to help every child in their classroom excel. To do this, teachers need support. They need access to resource teachers and materials, but more importantly, they need the flexibility to adjust their teaching approach and pacing to their students' needs; they need avenues for providing feedback to their school principals and administrators; and they need flexibility in defining their own planning and professional development.
I'm a Ph.D. economist and work with numbers and data every day. This is a lean economy and a time of tight budgets, meaning we need to be disciplined and, importantly, principled when we look at the budget and consider tough decisions. I hope I have made my principles clear above. My focus is on the day-to-day classroom experience and the importance of teacher-student relationships. This means my budget priorities will be on teachers and the resources they need. To balance those needs, I will look skeptically at expenditures that might or might not truly improve classroom learning, including, for example, consultant fees, new technologies, the textbook rotation schedule, and the testing schedule.
FLES (Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools)
Early exposure to foreign languages helps kids learn in other classes too. I would like to see FLES offered at every elementary school in Arlington. Currently, 13 out of the county's 22 schools offer FLES; extending this program to the other 9 schools would increase the budget by about $4 million (9 x $450,000). This is a significant budget increase that would have to be offset by cuts—a challenge, but one I believe we can meet by digging more deeply into other areas of the budget.
Small class sizes make it easier for teachers to provide important academic and personal support to students. Keeping classes small will be a priority for me.
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