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Arlington School Board aspirants critical of COVID response

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Two Democratic contenders for School Board may not be in accord on all the issues. But they have found some common ground in not being particularly enraptured with how Arlington Public Schools and its leadership have handled the COVID crisis and its impact on students.

“We have to go beyond stale community-engagement processes with outcomes that are pre-determined,” said Mary Kadera, vice president of the County Council of PTAs and one of the contenders who kicked off her bid at the March 3 meeting of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

Kadera said students, most of whom have been out of classrooms since last March and are only now dribbling back, have faced “losses in learning, losses in emotional support, losses in economic stability . . . losses in friends and family members.”

“I know how to see the big picture,” the former high-school teacher said. “I know how to make instruction succeed. I know how to improve a school’s performance.”

Kadera also brought up the impact of the shutdown on teachers, and the likelihood that good numbers could be heading for the exits.

“Many of our educators have been pushed to the limit” and “aren’t planning to come back next year,” she said.

Kadera’s kickoff was followed by Miranda Turner, who was even more direct in her criticisms.

Turner, who has been active in the effort to reopen classrooms, said too many parents see Arlington Public Schools as a series of fiefdoms, not a coherent school system with consistent policies.

“I will work to change the way the School Board responds to and serves the community – for the better,” she said. “We need to turn toward the work that needs to be done . . . figuring out how to address learning loss, figuring out how to help students who are struggling with mental health . . . and rebuilding trust with the community.”

Current School Board Chairman Monique O’Grady opted against seeking a second term. Her departure after four years will come after School Board members Nancy Van Doren (six years) and Tannia Talento (four years) each opted not to seek re-election in 2020.

Also last year, School Board member Barbara Kanninen, the senior member, unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for a County Board special election following the death of Erik Gutshall. Kanninen led on the first round of voting, but subsequently was overtaken by Takis Karantonis in the Democrats’ instant-runoff process. Karantonis was elected to the County Board in the ensuing special election, while Kanninen stayed on the School Board.

Kadera and Turner were the only two candidates to file for the Democratic nod by the March 1 deadline. Democrats will make their selection in two days of caucus voting slated for May, with the winner becoming the prohibitive favorite in the Nov. 2 general election.

Democrats are working under the assumption that public-health conditions will permit in-person voting, but also will have plans for online-only caucus voting, as occurred last spring.

(The Democratic pick will be an “endorsee” rather than a “nominee,” because Virginia law makes School Board seats officially nonpartisan. But all five current School Board members won the Democratic nod prior to general-election victories, and the last non-Democrat to serve on the body, Dave Foster, has been off the body for nearly 15 years.)

Kadera and Turner each received three minutes to make their case to the party faithful in an online format. Arlington County Democratic Committee chair Jill Caiazzo said the party would benefit from either, and urged the rank-and-file to get engaged.

“If you see somebody that you like, you’ve gotta work for them,” Caiazzo said.

The filing deadline for House of Delegates candidates to run in the primary is March 30.

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