<lst>NAME: Sharon E. Davis
FAMILY: Married to Al Eisenberg; two sons Matthew, 26, and Alex, 20.
CAMPAIGN WEB SITE: www.sharondavis.org
EMPLOYMENT: Chief Minority Clerk, Committee on Energy and Commerce, U.S. House of Representatives.
EDUCATION: BA, sociology — Hollins University; MPA — George Mason University; Fellow, Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership, University of Virginia. Graduate — Wakefield High School, Arlington.
SCHOOL QUALIFICATIONS: Chair, Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth, and Families (2000-present; chair since 2003); Co-chair, Vice Chair, School Rep, Advisory Council on Instruction (2000-04); ACI Homework Policy Committee (2000-01); Co-chair 2000 School Bond Campaign; Member, APS Budget Advisory Council (2002-04); Teacher Compensation Committee, citizen advisor (2000-03); School Board Chairman's Leadership Council (2003-present); Arlington School Board Strategic Plan Task Group (2005); Chair, Community Schools Committee (2002-present); School Board Task Force on Futures, Long Branch Elementary School Chair (1991); Wakefield Education Foundation Scholarship Committee (1992-present); PTA executive committees, Long Branch Elementary, Jefferson Middle, and Washington-Lee High Schools.
COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES: Arlington YMCA Advisory Board (2002-present); Community Residences, Inc. (2002-present), National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts Board of Directors (2006); Little Beginnings Child Development Center — Co-founder and Board President (1984-90); community rep (2002-04); Member, Board of Visitors, George Mason University (1993-97), Chair, Equal Employment and Affirmative Action Committee; Task Force on Families to the Arlington County Board (1983-84); Virginia Day-Care Council (1984); Chair, Arlington County Democratic Committee (1981-85). Arlington School Board Honored Citizen (2003); Person of Vision — Women Change America, Arlington Commission on the Status of Women (2005).
1. Why are you running for School Board?
I've spent more than 25 years as an activist working with parents, staff, and the community on many challenging issues, with the goal to improve the education and well being of Arlington's young people. I would welcome the opportunity to serve and use the depth and breadth of experience I've gained to tackle issues facing the School Board, such as declining enrollment, scarce construction dollars, balancing our elementary students' day, supporting teen-agers more effectively, and ensuring every student reaches his or her full potential.
2. What personal, professional and community-related qualifications do you possess that make you an ideal candidate for School Board?
I grew up in Arlington, graduated from its public schools, returned here after college to live, work, and raise a family. My broad experience in education include guiding my two children through all levels of school, from preschool to college, participating in PTA and on school and county advisory committees, starting a nonprofit preschool, serving on George Mason University's Board of Visitors and the GMU presidential search committee. As a longtime senior staff member on Capitol Hill, I understand all levels of government.
3. While the school system has made great strides over the past decade in reducing the minority achievement gap, there are still wide disparities in test scores and graduation rates between white pupils and their black and Latino counterparts. What would you do to diminish this persistent gap?
The Arlington school system adopted changes in the last decade to narrow the gap, such as improved instruction and accountability, more visible encouragement for students to excel, and better targeted resources. The continuing disparities will require a whole "next level" of APS commitment. Our schools must reach out to students and learn what's needed to make school important in their lives. Ideas include a middle school version of the cohort program, more in-school and out-of-school programs linking academics to the real world, adopting aspects of GMU's early identification program, and offering more minority parent leadership training and opportunities — so families, teachers, and the community work together to support student seeking academic success.
4. Last year 11 Arlington schools failed to achieve their Adequate Yearly Progress targets under the federal No Child Left Behind law. What can be done to ensure more schools reach their goals in the future?
The answer differs for each school and each student. Collectively, however, Arlington schools should review in depth the individual student to determine what is needed to improve academically and do better on standardized tests, with vigorous follow through accompanied by family and community support. Identify which instructional methods are most effective for each student's specific problems in reading or math. Test score requirements for certain limited English proficient students and certain special needs students need adjustment on the Federal level. And continue expanding early childhood education so more children enter school on an even footing with their peers.
5. How can the school system improve its early childhood education offerings?
Partnerships between the school system and the early childhood education programs help ensure children enter school ready to learn and thrive. The Arlington Schools at-risk 3- and 4-year-old programs will attract more students if it offers extended day and improves transportation options. There may be some other early childhood programs that could co-locate in our schools.
6. Two weeks ago a Wakefield student was murdered in what police are calling "gang-related violence." What can the School Board do to be more pro-active in addressing the gang issue in Arlington schools?
This terrible incident reinforces the need for intensified community action. The School Board, with the police department and others, must work to prevent, intervene, and suppress youth gangs. In survey results by the Partnership for Children, Youth, and Families collected from middle and high school students, data indicated nearly a third of middle and high school youth have a friend in a gang. Because middle and early high school years appear to be prime gang-affiliation time, the Partnership is sending information to all parents of 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students about this and other gang-related matters. Parents are encouraged to talk to their student about their concerns, and establish clear expectations and boundaries. We need to offer healthy, constructive alternatives as part of a strong anti-gang initiative. School Resource Officers should again be part of the elementary resource team.
7. In the upcoming year the system's cost per-student will be more than $21,000, the highest in the state. The operating budget will increase by 8.2 percent in fiscal 2007 even though enrollment is declining. Are these numbers sustainable in coming years, and are taxpayers receiving a fair value for their money?
Arlington taxpayers' "fair value" for the funds dedicated for education should be carefully reviewed every year through the annual budget cycle, determining how well spending fits the Strategic Plan and whether resources are effectively serving all students and families. Funding for schools decreases automatically if enrollment drops. Our schools reflect the community values — e.g., all-day kindergarten (not offered in every school in the region), competitive teacher pay, smaller class sizes, extra help for students learning English, and preschool for at-risk students.
8. As rents countywide rise precipitously, fewer teachers are able to afford to live in the communities they serve. What steps would you take to ensure the county can continue to recruit and retain the best educators?
Arlington's package must include items that attract highly qualified teachers: competitive salary/retirement benefits, small classes/schools, mentors and effective staff development, and extra pay for skills and knowledge, such as the salary stipends for National Board Certification. I support sabbaticals and other learning opportunities for teachers, and would seek to develop a student loan repayment program. I support the "Live-Where-You-Work" program, and would work with School Board and County Board colleagues on how to expand it. I seek innovative initiatives, such as new housing developments that legally can give preferential buying and rental rights to public service employees, including teachers, workforce housing, and other homeownership opportunities.
9. Eighty-five percent of the county's population does not have children currently enrolled in Arlington's public schools. How would you foster greater community involvement and better utilize the resources of Arlington residents?
While its clear the Arlington community supports our schools, we need more involvement. Our nationally recognized schools — all four high schools rank in the top 1 percent in the country — are a source of pride for the community. What's needed is for the community to "connect with kids." Greater community involvement in our schools and in the lives of our students makes them feel valued and enriches their educational experience. Adults can provide their talents and offer community service opportunities, as well as mentoring and tutoring. Cultural, artistic, and non-profit organizations that participate with our schools enhance and enrich our student experiences — without a lot of cost!
10. Would you establish a stronger outreach program with local organizations and create vocational partnerships with area businesses?
I've worked with the Partnership for Children, Youth, and Families to find ways to connect youth with area businesses. That's one reason I supported creating middle-school activities coordinators. The connection between the work world and school will further reinforce the importance of what students are studying. One idea would be to use the month at the end of school, when much of the standardized testing has concluded and classes are winding down, to offer such experiences to students and business.
11. Does the school system need a more comprehensive foreign language program? Would you extend it to elementary schools?
Arlington's school system needs a more comprehensive, effective program to teach foreign languages. Research shows that children learn languages better when they are young. Arlington will soon pilot foreign language instruction at the elementary level. Other ways include our partial immersion school model, and Randolph's IB Elementary curriculum. I'm also interested in exploring Latin taught in elementary school as part of the language arts curriculum. Such early exposure will ready our upper-grade students to learn less-often taught languages, such as Arabic or Chinese, or achieve higher levels of foreign language proficiency, such as Spanish IV, before graduation.
12. In an era of rising student obesity, what initiatives do you propose to promote student health and fitness?
Food provided at school, both from the cafeteria and from vending machines, should be nutritious, not junk or empty-calories fare. Lunches should be appetizing and appealing, with adequate eating time. I'd like annual surveys of families and students on the food served at school. In a world of super-sized portions, students should learn about making good food choices. Physical fitness should also be part of every student's day. Offering adequate outdoor play, as well as structured physical activity, is important to elementary students. More "recreational" fitness options for middle and high school students work to prevent the onset of sedentary habits.