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Votes

Three Candidates Vie for School Board Seat

he three are running to replace retiring school board member Elaine Furlow.

<sd> Bill Barker

When the Clinton administration needed someone to bring financial accountability to its anti-drug campaign, it turned to Bill Barker. When the Clinton administration wanted a Naval representative to improve the logistics of its U.N. peacekeeping operations, it also called upon Barker.

Throughout his 26-year career as Naval civilian official, Barker has instilled fiscal discipline in wayward operations — a skill set he believes is desperately needed on Arlington’s school board.

“I don’t accept excuses,” said Barker, who is endorsed by the Arlington County Republican Committee and ran unsuccessfully for a school board seat last year. “I don’t want to hear why something can’t be done. Tell me how it can be done.”

The Arlington school system is not providing students with the quality education it is capable of supplying, Barker said. “Instead of trying to gloss over everything and say how great things are, we have to admit our shortcomings and look into what has gone wrong,” said Barker, 53. “We owe it to our kids to take advantage of the great resources we have and give them the best education possible.”

Barker criticized the school board for stagnating SAT scores, which dropped precipitously among black students last year, and for not meeting its Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Eleven Arlington schools failed to achieve AYP last year, though half missed their goals by one or two benchmarks. Four elementary schools were unable to achieve AYP for the third straight year, and now must provide private tutors and offer students the opportunity to transfer schools.

“It is intolerable that we have gone year after year of not meeting the goals we set for ourselves,” said Barker, whose daughter attends Wakefield High School and wife tutors at Barcroft Elementary School. “We are cheating our children and not giving them the opportunity to be successful.”

THE SCHOOLS NEED to expand programs, like Wakefield’s AP Network, that encourage students to take more rigorous courses, and should establish more support groups to aid students who are new to advanced classes and might be overwhelmed by the work load, Barker said. He would also like the board to require students who are missing significant amount of class time or getting low grades to enroll in enrichment programs.

If elected Barker said he would work to strengthen the school system’s outreach program with local organizations and establish vocational partnerships with area businesses, like auto shops. This will enable students to acquire valuable on-the-job training while providing a service for the community. It is a way to channel the energy of students who might otherwise be vulnerable to involvement in gang activity, Barker said.

Barker would like to create a formal collaboration between Arlington high schools and local community colleges. Students could graduate with an associate’s degree, giving them a leg up on the competition for four-year colleges.

It is imperative that Arlington’s schools take advantage of technology to help foster greater individual learning opportunities, Barker said. He wants to create laboratories where high school students can take courses over the Internet that are not offered in their school’s curriculum.

“This is where education is going and we need to give students more choices,” Barker said.

Arlington needs to initiate new programs such as distant learning classes to help its students compete not just with children in Fairfax and Alexandria, but those in Bombay and Seoul, Barker said.

“We really need to build the next generation to compete in the world,” he added. “We can give these students a world-class education and right now we are not.”

<sh>Cecelia Espenoza

<bt>Cecelia Espenoza spent more than a year working to balance administrators’ visions for Claremont Immersion Elementary School, which opened in the fall of 2003 and combined the dual language programs previously situated at Abingdon and Oak Ridge elementary schools, and the wishes of south Arlington residents reluctant to see their children switch schools.

The lengthy process not only gave Espenoza, 47, a deep knowledge of the inner-workings of Arlington’s schools — which were further enhanced during her year as Claremont’s PTA president — but convinced her that Arlington’s Hispanic residents needed a stronger presence in the system.

Though 31 percent of Arlington students are Hispanic, there are currently no Hispanic school board members or Hispanics in the school system’s senior management, she said.

“We need someone on the board the Hispanic community can talk to,” said Espenoza, who is running without a party endorsement. “Many parents don’t feel welcomed or think APS (Arlington Public Schools) appeals to their needs. I can bring them to the table and help find solutions to make our schools better.”

During her ten years as a law professor, Espenoza learned the importance of engaging students and listening to their concerns. As senior associate general counsel for the Justice Department, Espenoza gained leadership experience that she will use to push the board to make equitable decisions for the whole county, not just those that favor north Arlington, she said.

One of the greatest challenges facing Arlington schools is the persistent gap in minority achievement, Espenoza said. Reducing class size will enable teachers to spend more time with individual students and help teachers better identify those who need additional tutoring. Espenoza wants to expand enrichment reading programs for elementary school students who are struggling and install a system to monitor teacher performance.

ARLINGTON SCHOOLS also posses an “expectation” gap between minority students and their white classmates, and the school board “needs to address the subconscious racism that still exists,” Espenoza said.

“First we need to change people’s mentalities,” said Espenoza, whose son attends Claremont. “If we don’t plant the seeds of success for every child then we fail.”

If elected Espenoza said she will strive to foster greater community involvement with the school system and better utilize the resources of Arlington residents. She will push to create a “bring the community to school day,” where Arlingtonians can showcase their talents and help students explore career possibilities. Espenoza would ensure that skilled professionals visited south Arlington schools, noting that last year a chef and a dog walker were the only presenters at her son’s career day.

“Once we expose people to the children they will want to come back, share their personal and professional skills and create lasting partnerships,” Espenoza said.

Espenoza is promoting a plan to shift some middle school teachers to a “flex-schedule” where they would come in later in the mornings and work further into the afternoons in order to provide additional enrichment programs. She wants to affix additional arts, foreign language and music programs to the end of the day for students who are not participating in after-school sports.

These programs would boost student’s self-esteem and help steer them away from negative influences and questionable behavior, she said.

“The school system needs to look at creative ways to see how our most vulnerable youth have the opportunity to be involved in positive programs,” Espenoza added.

The school board must become more pro-active in addressing the gang problem in Arlington schools, Espenoza said. Espenoza would work closely with the police department to create awareness and educational programs to teach students how to avoid falling prey to gangs. But it is imperative that police officials strike a balance between vigilant law enforcement and respecting the Hispanic community. As a school board member Espenoza said she will make every effort to help parents identify troubling behavior before it becomes a serious situation.

“Parents need to know what to look for and what is gang activity and what is not,” she said.

<sh>Ed Fendley

<bt> As an international negotiator for the U.S. Department of State, Ed Fendley is used to listening to recalcitrant individuals, identifying mutual interests among acrimonious parties and finding ways to meet everybody’s needs.

To Fendley, it has been the perfect preparation for a seat on the Arlington School Board.

“If you think it’s tough to negotiate among sovereign nations, that’s just a warm-up for finding common ground in Arlington,” jokes Fendley, who is endorsed by the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

Fendley believes his extensive management experience and leadership in the federal government, including assignments in the White House, three overseas embassies and role as the State Department’s chief negotiator on financial matters under the U.N. Convention on Climate Control, makes him the most qualified candidate for school board.

Since 85 percent of the county’s population does not have children currently enrolled in Arlington’s public schools, the school system needs to do a better job of involving the wider community, Fendley said. He proposes giving civic association presidents the keys to schools in their districts so recreational groups have better access to the facilities.

“We want to make sure our schools are viewed as community centers and increase residents’ sense of ownership of the schools,” said Fendley, 40, a former president of the Drew Model School.

HIS DEDICATION to serving the wider community, as past president of the Bluemont Civic Association and former chairman of both the Arlington Transportation Commission and the Arlington Pedestrian Advisory Committee, gives him a unique understanding of the needs and concerns of Arlingtonians, Fendley said.

The greatest need for improvement in the school system is in the number of foreign language programs offered, Fendley said. He would like to expand elementary school options for language courses, during the regular school day in most schools and in an after-school pilot program in two schools, and envisions that each graduating student is proficient in one language other than English. Fendley would like to introduce Chinese and Arabic classes in county schools, two languages which will be of crucial importance in coming decades.

“Speaking another language increases a student’s ability to learn in other areas,” said Fendley, who has a daughter at Washington-Lee High School, a son at Swanson Middle School and a son and daughter who attend Drew Model School. “By teaching these kids another language we are making them more competitive in the job market and more culturally proficient.”

Promoting student health and safety is another of Fendley’s election objectives. Many of the crosswalks within school zones do not meet county safety requirements, Fendley said, and he advocates a vigorous program to get them up to standards. He also wants to encourage students to walk and bike to school, if possible, and will look to introduce new initiatives to improve student fitness.

One of the most pressing problems in the school system is the widening minority achievement gap, especially in math test scores and enrollment in advanced courses. To help reduce the gap, Fendley would like to increase pre-school options in the county, including expanding the Virginia Preschool Initiative and the Montessori program.

“Early childhood education is clearly linked to academic and lifetime success and can help eliminate the minority achievement gap,” Fendley said.

As rents county-wide have sky-rocketed, fewer teachers are able to afford to live in the communities they serve. Though the school board can not affect the housing market, Fendley will seek to expand the Live-Where-You-Work loan program for Arlington teachers.

“There is great value in having teachers in our neighborhoods and we need new and cost-effective methods to help them live in Arlington,” Fendley said.