New Leadership in the Schools

New Leadership in the Schools

Peabody becomes chairman of the new School Board; Maness becomes vice chair.

Making a solid break from the past, Alexandria’s new School Board voted Arthur Peabody as its new chairman during a Saturday morning organizational meeting. Blanche Maness was voted vice chair.

“I want to thank my colleagues for their trust and confidence,” Peabody said in a written statement after the leadership vote. “I look forward to many positive accomplishments for the children of Alexandria.”

A native of Lynn, Mass., Peabody has lived in Alexandria since 1972. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Northeastern University in Boston and a juris doctorate from Cornell Law School in Ithaca, N.Y. He is currently working toward a master’s degree in health-services administration from George Washington University. Peabody is currently an associate counsel with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and a mediator for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

A retired career attorney at the Department of Justice and the United States Attorney’s Office, Peabody has handled high-profile cases involving special education, health care and racial discrimination. He is a board member of Alexandria Senior Services and the Alexandria Bar Association, and he has served on the School Board Budget Advisory Committee.

During the spring campaign, Peabody advocated reducing paperwork requirements for teachers, challenging talented and gifted students and implementing a “zero-based budgeting” process to eliminate waste.

“The challenges are great, but so are the opportunities,” Peabody said during Friday’s installation ceremony at Minnie Howard Ninth-Grade Center. “The education we provide will shape the next generation.”

BLANCHE MANESS is a native of Lawrenceville, Va., and she has lived in Alexandria since 1967. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Virginia State College and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from University of Northern Colorado.

Maness began her career in education as a teacher in Chicago, moving to Alexandria in the late 1960s to accept a position teaching third grade at Charles Houston Elementary School. In 1987, she became an administrative intern at Cora Kelly Elementary School and Ramsay Elementary School. From 1989 to 1996, she was principal of Lyles-Crouch Elementary School. From 1996 to 2001, she was principal at Jefferson-Houston Elementary School. Then moved to the central administrative building on Beauregard Street to work with the division’s retirement incentive program.

“I’m proud to be able to say that the voters wanted me to be there just as much as I wanted to be there,” Maness said. “My first goal will be to try to close the achievement gap because I think that that’s one of the most urgent issues in the city.”

During the campaign, she advocated reorganizing the central administration building on Beauregard Street by doing away with the executive director of elementary schools to add two new positions: director of instructional programs for the east end and west end.

She also campaigned on creating a new assistant superintendent for special education services.

“This person must be highly certified in special education administration,” she said during the campaign. “Additionally, each school with a large population of special education children should have a special education coordinator.”

THE FUTURE of Superintendent Rebecca Perry is one of the most controversial questions that will face the next School Board. During the campaign, Perry’s supporters viewed Peabody’s candidacy as a potential threat to the superintendent, whose contract will expire on June 30, 2008.

“I’m hoping that Arthur Peabody will work closely with the senior staff at the central office,” said former School Board member Melissa Luby. “It would be a mistake to make substantive changes before they have a more thorough understanding of staff performance.”

Returning School Board member Charles Wilson — the only member of the previous board to stand for reelection — said that he thinks Perry will remain in the job until her contract expires in two years. He says that he thinks Peabody’s leadership style will be to keep a professional distance from the superintendent, preventing the politics of personality to cloud the important decisions before the school division.

“Art is a centrist,” Wilson said. “He’s not against the superintendent, but he’s got no working relationship with her either.”