The daughter of a former city councilman and judge, Sally Baird learned the value of public service at a young age.
“From the earliest stages of my life, I was taught that dedicating yourself to the community and holding public office is just what you do,” Baird said.
Taking to heart the lessons of her father, Baird said she always strives to be a consensus-builder and a leader who listens to both sides of an argument before coming to a decision. Her experiences as a lesbian have helped mold her into a “collaborator” who tries to find common ground with her opponents.
“Because I know what it feels like to be an outsider, my style has always been to pull people together,” she said in a recent interview.
Her job as a vice president of a nonprofit, tax publishing firm has taught her how to craft multi-million dollar budgets and bring a measure of fiscal responsibility to an organization, she said.
Though a relative newcomer to the Arlington schools community, Baird has become a leading advocate for expanding pre-school opportunities for Arlington children, serving on the Early Childhood Advisory Committee. She also has served as vice president of the Drew Model School Association
On the campaign trail Baird has repeatedly stated that early childhood education is “the best investment” the school system can make. Her goal is to ensure that all low-income, at-risk and minority students attend pre-school.
It is the easiest, and most cost-effective, way to reduce the school system’s minority achievement gap, she said. “If we get these kids in schools early, it lays a good foundation that stays with them for years,” Baird said.
Baird wants to ensure teachers can continue to live in Arlington despite escalating rents and housing prices. She has proposed expanding the Live Where You Work grants, and would like the School Board to look into ways to secure more affordable units for teachers.
“We can’t afford to lose them to neighboring jurisdictions,” Baird said in a recent debate. “We want teachers living in our neighborhoods, shopping in our grocery stores and raising their kids with our kids.”
While Baird said she wants to maintain the strong character of neighborhood schools, she said parents need greater flexibility in where they can send their children. The school system also needs to do a better job of sharing and replicating successful programs
“We need to look at programs that are working best and put them in some schools that are not performing to standards we’d like,” Baird said.
Baird has made greater community involvement in the school system one of the hallmarks of her campaign. If elected she would strive to establish more partnerships between area businesses and their neighborhood schools, and would try to expand community volunteer programs.
“We have to work harder to involve those who don’t have kids in the school system,” she added.
Cecelia Espenoza has made her compelling biography one of the centerpieces of her Independent campaign. Though her parents were migrant workers who never graduated from high school, they imbued Espenoza with the importance of education from an early age.
She has used her own upbringing as an example of what children can achieve if they have the support of parents and the community.
“The reason I’ve been able to succeed was because my parents always had the expectation that I would do well,” said Espenoza, who garnered more than 20 percent of the vote in last year’s three-person School Board contest.
Espenoza has gone onto a distinguished career as a law professor, judge and attorney with the Justice Department, which have given her the skill set necessary to weigh competing interests as a School Board member and make difficult, but necessary, decisions, she said.
Her lead effort in establishing the immersion program at Claremont Elementary School gave Espenoza a deep knowledge of the inner-workings of Arlington’s schools, she said.
On the campaign trail Espenoza has sought to portray herself as an “independent fighter” who will “hold the school system accountable.”
“I’m an individual who takes initiative… and has the drive to get things done,” she said in a recent debate.
It is imperative that Arlington’s Hispanic residents have a stronger presence in the system. Many Hispanic parents are not as engaged in the school community as they would like to be, Espenoza said. By having someone on the board who can relate to them, they will hopefully become more involved in their neighborhood schools and children’s education.
“I can bridge the gap,” she added. “I can empower these parents… and talk to them about the issues they face.”
One of the main focuses of her campaign is for the school system to work harder to close the persistent minority achievement gap.
Schools need to invest more time tracking students who perform poorly to ensure they are receiving enough individual attention, she said. Espenoza has also called for expanding after-school tutoring programs and for more sharing of resources between schools that are doing well in this area and those that are struggling.
Yet the other key to closing the gap is greater parental involvement, she said. “If students don’t have parental support at home, the doors will get closed and the students won’t have every educational opportunity,” she said.
Espenoza supports this year’s $33 million school bond, but adds that she has qualms over how the process played out this spring. In the future she wants greater transparency in how the School Board crafts its construction plan, and would like to see projects brought before voters only once designs are finalized.
“We have to ensure that building designs are complete and hold the system to accountability that we are paying for the best,” Espenoza said.
If elected she would try to hire an ombudsman to sort out grievances between teachers, parents and students.