By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
Six candidates are competing for three seats in District A, Alexandria’s most competitive school board voting district.
Just one incumbent, Bill Campbell, is running for reelection in the district, which encompasses Old Town, Potomac Yard and parts of Del Ray. Fellow incumbents Hal Cardwell and Karen Graf aren’t seeking reelection. Five newcomers, Jacinta Greene, Christopher Harris, Michelle Rief, Marc Solomon and Christopher Suarez, are also vying for a place at the table.
While the candidates agree on many of the issues facing Alexandria City Public Schools, particularly student capacity and facility maintenance, they bring diverse backgrounds and solutions to the table.
Campbell has served two terms on the Alexandria School Board and is relying on his experience in his campaign. He has lived in the Northern Virginia area for 33 years and put three children through ACPS. His youngest son is a senior at T.C. this year.
“I bring a lot of experience to the board having been elected twice,” Campbell said. “And as you look around our city, we’re going to have a new mayor, we’re going to have four new council members, we’re going to have a least four new school board members, we have a new superintendent, we’re going to have a new city attorney, and so that’s a whole lot of change in one year and you know, I really want to bring my experience back [and my] historical perspective.”
If elected, he said his priorities would be continuing to build positive relationships with the city, solving the capacity crisis with creative solutions like swing spaces and improving academic achievement.
Jacinta Greene, a lifelong Virginian and Alexandrian since 2002, said she’s always had a passion for civic activism and education. As a volunteer in the school system, Greene said she decided to run for the school board so she can do more to ensure that every student in Alexandria gets a quality education.
Greene is running on a platform of four C’s: closing the achievement gap, commitment to teachers, capacity and collaboration with the community. If elected, she said she plans to leverage the relationships she’s built while serving on various city boards and commissions to advance positive interactions between the school and the city.
“It’s going to take a very strong school board this next term to make key decisions on some very pivotal issues,” Greene said. “I know that I, with my background and with my passion and love for Alexandria and the students here, that I would bring a fresh perspective and work ethic that would be able to make those key decisions.”
Christopher Harris, an ACPS graduate, coach and parent, said he is running for council because he feels it is his duty to give back to the community where he grew up.
Harris graduated from T.C. Williams in 1992 and coached football at T.C. from 2010 to 2015. He has a professional background as an occupational safety engineer and is president of the Alexandria chapter of the NAACP.
Harris said his three priorities, if elected, would be to address overcrowding and capacity, ensure equitable resources throughout all schools and provide teachers with the support they need.
“I will benefit day one from my experience in engineering and construction project management,” Harris said. “I’ve been with three project teams that have actually built schools and I believe that, being that you have the capacity and infrastructure issues, I think I will be an immediate asset and be able to be at the table and be thoughtful and lead the conversation.”
Michelle Rief has lived in Alexandria for 12 years and been an ACPS parent for seven.
As an active member of ACPS’ citywide Parent Teacher Association Council and an adjunct professor at Northern Virginia Community College, Rief said she decided to run because she had concerns about equity in the school division.
She said the most pressing issues facing the school board that she hopes to address are capacity and maintenance, but she also hopes to encourage cultural competency training and inclusive teaching methods.
“I’m seeing a bit of a two track system among our kids,” Rief said. “I see us having a different set of expectations for different groups of kids and I think that’s wrong. The attitude encourages bias.”
Marc Solomon, a former U.S. Department of State intelligence worker who moved to Alexandria in 2014, said he decided to run for council because of his preschool-aged son who will soon enter the ACPS system.
“We’re short [by] over 1,000 seats right now,” he said. “By the time he’s in first grade we’ll be short 1,200 seats, and by the time he’s in high school, if we don’t build anything, we’ll be short 5,000 across the system. The original reason I started was to make sure he and every single child in the city has a seat in our schools.”
In addition to capacity and infrastructure, Solomon said his three main focuses are improving school security without adding more guns, ensuring 21st-century readiness for ACPS graduates and establishing a universal Pre-K program, similar to the system in Washington D.C.
Solomon said his background in security and strategic intelligence sets him apart from the other candidates.
Christopher Suarez, an attorney and former teacher, said he’s been passionate about education for most of his life. Growing up attending public schools in Chicago, Suarez said he saw inequity in public schools that has led him to want to fight for kids. He’s lived in Alexandria for three years.
“I believe all kids should have fair educational opportunity,” Suarez said. “I feel like there’s a lot of great things happening in the Alexandria City Public Schools. We have incredible diversity and a lot of really great stories in terms of the successes of our kids, but we’re not reaching all of our kids.”
Suarez said his three-tiered platform is centered on diversity, opportunity for both traditional and vocational career tracks and transformation in terms of ACPS’ infrastructure.
The general election is Nov. 6. Because residents can only vote for candidates in their voting districts, only those who live in District A will be able to vote for District A candidates. For more information about voting in Alexandria, visit www.alexandriava.gov/elections.