The next election is months away, but candidates for Elaine Furlow's seat on the Arlington School Board are already surfacing. Furlow announced Feb. 1 that she will not seek re-election when her term ends in December 2005.
President of the Yorktown High School PTA Jim Rock said he will likely enter the race for the Democratic nomination. Rock, a government relations consultant with two children attending Yorktown, said his platform stresses English-language education at the elementary-school level.
"The school system has done a fairly good job with that, and what they are beginning to see is that kids who speak no English can make tremendous progress if they learn it from an early age," said Rock, a native of Brownsville, Texas, who learned English in grade school.
As part of the County Council of PTAs, Rock furthered efforts that resulted in the School Board's approval of substantial class-size reductions. Reducing class sizes, he said, is still part of his agenda. Expanding academic options for students is another. For example, Rock said he wants to develop programs for county schools that would connect students to local traditional and community colleges.
"This is a direction Arlington should look into rather than limiting ourselves too much," he said.
Arlington must also take a close look at student nutrition, he said. Rock credited efforts to introduce junk food alternatives to Yorktown students, but, he said, more should be done.
"The halls in our schools are lined with vending machines selling junk food," he said. "We have 20-ounce Cokes selling in some of them for $1."
Preserving the integrity of Arlington's neighborhood schools, he added, is also among his priorities.
"Neighborhood schools educate the vast majority of our students," he said. "But at the same time we need to protect the choice options that round out our school system. These two options do not have to be at odds with one another, and the School Board should not create unnecessary anxiety for parents unless there is a demonstrated need for change that is supported by the community."
On the district's spending, Rock said the School Board must respect Arlington taxpayers.
"We need to make sure that our current expenditures and programs do not rely on ever-increasing tax revenue," Rock said. "Half of all property tax revenue is allocated to Arlington public schools, and the School Board must not take this fiduciary responsibility lightly."
PRESIDENT OF the Drew Model School Association Ed Fendley has launched his independent campaign on a platform of concentration on smaller class sizes and the high cost of living facing teachers in Arlington. Fendley, a PTA representative for Washington-Lee High School and a father of four, said he wants to open a dialogue on how to keep teachers from being priced out of the county where they teach.
"I want to bring people together to look at a range of options," he said. "A first step is recognizing what the value of having these teachers in our community is."
Students, he said, will benefit from having teachers living nearby, and teachers will be able to do more.
"It makes teachers more productive, more effective, and it raises teacher morale," said Fendley.
Expanding foreign language classes for students, Fendley said, is another of his goals for Arlington schools, along with reducing the number of standardized tests students face during the year.
"Some of them are mandatory, and some are not," said Fendley, who argues that unnecessary standardized tests waste classroom time. "Over the years, the number of them given has increased. It's at the point now when we just need to step back and look at them all."
Fendley, who works for the US. State Department, added that Arlington schools must also open their doors to other segments of the community by sharing facilities with local residents. The money Arlington's taxpayers bring to county schools each year, he said, means that the school district should return the favor.
"With new schools costing up to $100 million, we have to maximize their use," he said. "For that kind of investment, we need to make sure all the community can use school facilities and benefit from them."
As a Board member, Fendley said he wants to work closely with parents.
"The Board would benefit from a more transparent and consultative member rather than someone who would use a committee process to affirm a decision that has already been made," Fendley said.
PRESIDENT OF the Claremont PTA Cecelia Espenoza's independent campaign is centered around improving schools through increased parent involvement along with strengthening leadership among the faculty. A senior associate and general counsel in the federal government's Executive Office for Immigration Review, Espenoza has served on several school district committees, like the one that examined the redistricting of South Arlington schools. She also served on the committee that pushed for the creation of the Claremont Immersion Elementary School.
"One of my big desires is to bring parents into the process by teaching them how to get involved in their child's education," she said.
Espenoza has long been an advocate of expanding language programs in schools. Such programs, she said, raise the likelihood of higher student achievement later in life.
“The critical importance of education is that it opens the door to opportunity and to a future," she said.
Engaging the entire community in what happens at Arlington schools, she said, is another of her goals.
"Because so few of us in Arlington have children in the school system, we need to find a way to connect with the larger community," she said.
The core principles of managing the school district effectively, she said, are faculty leadership, a curriculum that supports teachers in the classroom, and parental involvement. Espenoza is a former professor of law at the University of Denver and at St. Mary's University in San Antonio. She is a member of the Utah, Colorado and Texas state bar associations. In 2003, she was also named a fellow with the National Hispana Leadership Institute.