| I believe that every child in every classroom should be given every opportunity to excel. Here are my priorities for achieving this in light of the challenges we face:
- Promote critical thinking over standardized testing so students spend more time learning and have more opportunities to develop technical, analytical, and creative skills in the classroom.
I understand the importance of accountability and standards, and I love data, but as a parent, I believe our kids spend too much time in class prepping for and taking 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." We need to assess our schools, principals, and teachers on how much they help our diverse kids from the beginning of the year to the end in a holistic manner. If I'm on the Board, I will push for a hard look at the testing schedule and process. Which tests are essential to helping children learn? And which aren’t?
- Tackle overcrowding with strong leadership and constructive community engagement that emphasizes long-term planning, careful data analysis, and transparent decision-making and preserves the special character and variety of our schools.
Ten years from now, when our current kindergartners are in high school, we are projected to have 2,800 more high school students, 1,600 more middle school students, and 1,600 more elementary school students than we have space for today. Frankly, we're behind the curve in terms of providing seats for all of our students, but we need to be smart as we work to catch up with our growth. We need to create a long-term plan that considers our instructional needs and programs first. We need to work closely and collaboratively with the County Board and citizen committees to ensure that we bring a whole-community mindset to the issue, and we need to maintain flexibility so that we can adapt, over time, to our changing population and needs.
- Give teachers the respect and support they deserve by providing sufficient resources and encouraging two-way communication.
To create an environment in which every child can excel, teachers need support and resources. They also need the flexibility to adjust their teaching approach and pacing to their students' needs, avenues for providing feedback to school principals and county administrators, and the flexibility to define their own planning and professional development.
- Support children with mentors so every student has an adult at school who knows them and is there to help.
An adult mentor is a developmental asset that all children need. Personal support is important for kids’ problem solving, self-esteem, and achievement. I’d 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, whom they can go to with problems, and who believes in them, exactly as they are.
- Continue investing in the arts and strengthen STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs with more hands-on learning in all grades.
STEM skills and knowledge are only going to become more important in the 21st century. To help 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 opportunities to participate in local and national STEM competitions, such as US First Robotics, and
· more accessible, flexible, and affordable STEM programs across all schools, including the Arlington Career Center, to give more students the chance to participate, whether during the school day, after traditional hours, or during the summer.
At the same time, as our world gets more technical, students still need opportunities to think and express themselves creatively. This means we need to continue to invest in the arts. I'd like to see students at all levels have access to a variety of art forms, including traditional visual and performing arts and creative writing, as well as newer art forms such as animation, graphics, and video.
- Be budget-minded by prioritizing funding for teachers and classroom learning.
I'm a Ph.D. economist and work with numbers and data every day. In this time of tight budgets, we need to be both disciplined and principled when we make spending decisions. My number-one principle is the need to focus on the day-to-day classroom experience and the importance of teacher-student relationships. This means my budget priorities will be teachers and the resources they need. To balance those needs, I will look skeptically at other expenditures—such as consultant fees, new technologies, and the test-prep schedule—to assess whether they truly improve classroom learning. I would also like to see regular and transparent collaboration between the schools and Arlington County on our revenue-sharing agreement: the percentage of tax revenues that the County Board shares with the School Board. Our schools matter to everyone in the county, and I would like to see a healthy community dialogue about the relative value of, for example, keeping our class sizes small compared to other county activities. This is not to discount the importance of county services, but rather to open up the discussion so that we can make the best decisions possible, given our limited resources.
Below are some of my thoughts on additional issues voters have expressed concern about:
Closing the achievement gap
Strengthening middle schools
Foreign language instruction
Protections for LGBT faculty, staff, and students
How can we close the achievement gap?
We need to make sure that every student has the opportunity to excel. Many of the ideas I’ve described will help improve achievement and narrow the achievement gap. Making mentoring a priority in every school not only improves social and emotional health, but also raises achievement. When adults you respect take an interest in your work, your work improves. Taking a hard look at our testing burden can free up teacher time for more work directly with students. Keeping class sizes small gives students more access to their teachers and support. Strengthening elementary science will encourage more students to strive for higher-level science classes later on. We can also learn a lot from data on the achievement gap, especially when it corroborates what we see in the classroom. The data show that the achievement gap is smallest in the early grades—K through 2—and widens thereafter. What is K through 2 doing right? Walk into any kindergarten classroom and part of the answer is clear: small class sizes and low student-teacher ratios. Further, the teachers are directly engaged with their students,often sitting eye to eye. I'd like to think about what we can do to extend this level of engagement between teachers and students to the higher grades.
Middle school can be a tough time for kids—can we do better at managing our middle schools?
As middle-school capacity becomes more of an issue, this is an opportune time to be thinking about the middle school experience and how we can improve it. For many students, middle school raises some real challenges—both academic (more rigorous classes, organizational demands) and social (cliques, peer pressure, and bullying). In this environment, personal support and mentoring from adults are especially important. I find many of our middle schools to be too big and impersonal at exactly the time when kids need more adult support than ever. 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.
Should foreign languages be taught in more of Arlington’s elementary schools?
Currently, some elementary schools have FLES (Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools) programs, and others don’t. We know that early exposure to foreign languages helps kids learn in other classes too. That’s why I’d like to see FLES, or a similar program, offered at every elementary school in Arlington.
What’s your perspective on protections for LGBT faculty, staff, and students?
I fully support any and all protections for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) faculty, staff, and students. I also support expanding our APS Family Life Education standards to include healthy LGBT lifestyles and families. I have worked with many leaders in the LGBT community over the years and am excited about new ideas we are generating for offering more support to LGBT students and families.
-- Aaron Rosenberg, former Regional Field Director, Organizing for America