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Meet the Candidates for School Board

Five candidates are competing to win three School Board seats in the A district.

The city’s A Section, made up of Del Ray and Old Town, will see a competitive School Board race this year with five candidates seeking three open seats. A forum for these candidates will be held at 7 p.m. on March 22 in Mount Vernon Community School’s auditorium.

ELLIOTT BRANCH is a native of Chicago who has lived in Alexandria since 1983. He has a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania, and he completed the executive program from the University of Virginia's Colgate Darden School of Graduate Business Administration.

A former chief procurement officer for the District of Columbia, Branch has designed workforce training programs and course material for a variety of clients. He is currently the executive director for contracts of Naval Sea Systems Command, exercising control over federal budgeting and procurement involving.

His top three goals for the next School Board are:

Demand Accountability: Branch wants to make sure that capital and operating funds provide "a direct and measurable benefit that supports learning in and outside the classroom."

Foster Communication: He wants to foster a dialogue between School Board members and City Council members, business leaders and the faith community "about how to maintain and enhance the quality of life in Alexandria."

Encourage Change: He wants to ensure that the division "makes the right policy decisions to support the education of a changing student population in a rapidly changing high-tech world."

SHERYL GORSUCH is a native of Burbank, Calf., and grew up in Hacienda Heights, Calf. She has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., and she moved to Alexandria in 1986.

Gorsuch is a former restaurant manager who currently owns an independent business. Her involvement in the schools includes membership in the Budget Advisory Committee and the Talented and Gifted Advisory Committee. She has held several leadership positions in parent-teacher associations, and she is currently president of the Alexandria PTA Council.

“Serving as a School Board member would be a natural progression of my school advocacy and leadership through PTA and my community involvement,” she said. “I have contributed new ideas, advocated for improvements and proven myself to be a problem solver who follows through on initiatives which benefit all children.”

Her top three goals for the next School Board are:

Expand curriculum: Gorsuch says that science teachers and labs are needed in all elementary schools. She wants to add open-enrollment honors classes in middle school and integrate career education through all grade levels.

Ensure responsibility: She advocates a systematic review of initiatives in order to make “data-driven decisions” about the school’s budget. She also wants to improve efficiency by looking at ways to combine school expenses with city programs.

Improve communication: She wants to foster open communication throughout the school system, creating a receptive atmosphere for parents, students and teachers. She also advocates indexing School Board policy on the Internet.

SANFORD HORN is a native of Livingston, N.J. He grew up in Springfield, N.J., and has lived in Alexandria since 2002. He has a bachelor’s degree in government from the University of Maryland and a graduate certificate from Kean College in New Jersey.

A former teacher, Horn has held teaching positions in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. He is the host and producer of “Speak Out with Sanford Horn,” a series of public-affairs cable television programs. He is a former journalist with the Connection newspapers and current member of the Public Records Advisory Commission.

“As a public school teacher, I understand personnel issues from first hand experiences talking with my colleagues, aides, clerical staff, students, administrators and even cafeteria and kitchen staff,” he said. “As a journalist, I understand personnel issues having written about them by spending time in schools interviewing myriad teachers, aides, parent volunteers, administrators and students.”

His top three goals for the next School Board are:

Increase Achievement: Horn wants to work against “social promotion” of students who are not meeting expectations. He says these students will be a burden on the school system and the community unless their needs are addressed.

Raise Salaries: He says that paying teachers a competitive salary is one of the top challenges facing the school system. He says that one way to achieve this goal is to provide tax credits to corporations that would be willing to provide “salary augmentation” to Alexandria teachers.

Manage Development: He supports the construction of a new public school in Potomac Yard, which he says should be four or five stories high to accommodate open-space needs in that area. He said that developers should share in the cost of building the school, and that naming rights could be sold for extra revenue.

SCOTT NEWSHAM is a native of Hollin Hills in Fairfax County, and has lived in Alexandria since 1994. He is a 23-year veteran of the Coast Guard, serving in various positions across the country. He has a bachelor’ degree in biology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a master’s degree in marine affairs from the University of Washington.

He has worked as a school bus driver in Alexandria, and he has been active in several local parent-teacher associations. He is currently the treasurer of the George Washington Middle School PTA.

“My qualifications to serve on the School Board are 25 years of public service and direct civic and school involvement, coupled with 52 years of wide-ranging life experiences that have taken me to most every state in the U.S. and to many parts of the globe,” he said. “As an ACPS parent, I have been actively involved in the education of my children and their schools for the past 11 years, advocating for all students.”

His top three goals for the next School Board are:

Meet Standards: Newsham wants to invest resources into the classroom to help schools meet federal and state standards.

Demonstrate Efficiency: He wants to demonstrate to the public that the schools are run efficiently by implementing programs that have proven track records.

Reach Out: He says that the school system needs to work toward “engaging the entire community in the education of our children.”

EILEEN CASSIDY RIVERA is a native of Milwaukee, Wisc., and has lived in Alexandria since 1996. She has a bachelor’s degree in international studies and a master of business administration from American University.

She is a former special assistant to the International Trade Administration and a former assistant administrator for the Small Business Administration. She left the Clinton administration in 1999 to accept a position as director of corporate relations for the International Youth Foundation, but returned to take serve as director of public affairs for the Peace Corps. After Clinton left office, she joined Electronic Data Systems and was appointed by Gov. Mark Warner to serve on the Virginia Business Education Partnership. She is currently vice president of communications at Pearson Government Solutions. She is a member of the Lyles-Crouch PTA, the Del Ray Citizens Association and the Alexandria Democratic Committee.

“I am a dynamic, experienced and progressive leader whose career has focused on public service, information technology and international affairs,” she said.

Her top three goals for the next School Board are:

Encourage Excellence: Rivera wants to recruit and retain highly quality teachers.

Diversity Instruction: She wants to make sure that schools teach skills that will help students become responsible, contributing and successful citizens.

Address Inadequacies: She wants to identify ways to close achievement gaps among the city’s students.