School Board Candidates Meet One Last Time

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The School Board race in District A, the only contested district in the city, took center stage this week as candidates met for the final public forum before Tuesdays election.

In that race, incumbent board members Sheryl Gorsuch and Scott Newsham are facing challengers Bill Campbell, Mimi Carter and Helen Morris.

The main attraction is in the middle, that’s District A, where there are five candidates going for three seats, said A. Melvin Miller, one of the organizers of the forum. We wanted to give the contested seats the spotlight.

With the ballots for both District C and District B carrying no challengers, the focus has centered on the District A race, where, because current School Board member Eileen Cassidy Rivera is not running for reelection in District A, there is guaranteed to be at least one new face on the nine-member board for the next three years.

It is not likely that Tuesdays election results will bear the sort of wholesale change seen in the 2006 election when eight newcomers joined the board.

Any doubts about the topics and tone of Wednesday nights forum were quelled from the beginning, with the majority of questions about significant issues related to boosting student achievement and success.

From the outset, moderator Julian Haley Jr. presented the candidates with a question about one of the school systems persistent talking-point issues the minority achievement gap compared to white students asking them to grade the schools efforts to date and provide ideas as to what can be done in the future.

If the candidates evaluations serve as any indication, ACPS still has plenty of room for improvement.

Of the District A candidates, Carter, Newsham and Gorsuch all gave the schools a D for the measures it has taken to reduce the achievement gap.

Campbell said that giving the schools a D would be generous when many students are not even meeting minimum standards.

Morris did not provide a specific grade, but said the schools still have a long way to go in lessening the achievement gap and learning how to raise expectations across the board.

The District A candidates, as well as several in the two other electoral districts, cited a lack of focus, meaningful action and candid conversations about the achievement gap as factors that inhibit the citys schools.

Haley also asked the candidates how they reacted to the release of graduation and dropout statistics in ACPS, which is marked by the second-highest dropout rate of any school district in Northern Virginia at just over 11 percent.

Here, too, in nearly every case the candidates called the numbers sobering, highly disappointing and embarrassing.

Other questions were somewhat more neighborhood specific, such as the difficulties at Jefferson-Houston Elementary a school marked by poor student performance and high turnover in leadership and staffing and ACPS Superintendent Morton Shermans recent proposal to turn the building into a kindergarten through 8th grade facility.

With the election looming, Miller said that none of the sponsoring organizations the Departmental Progressive Club, the Northern Virginia Urban League, Hopkins House and the Alexandria branch of the NAACP would be endorsing specific candidates.

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