By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
With the general election less than a week away, candidates for the Alexandria School Board are in the final stretch of campaigning.
Five candidates will compete for three available seats in District C, which encompasses the far West End of Alexandria, including the Landmark/Van Dorn and Beauregard areas.
School Board Chair Ramee Gentry is the only incumbent member seeking reelection. The other two District C board members, Ronnie Campbell and Christopher Lewis, will step down at the end of this term.
Joining Gentry are newcomers Meagan Alderton, John E. Lennon, Dianara Saget and Heather Thornton.
Alderton, a special education teacher, has spent more than 15 years in the education field, including in several roles at Alexandria City Public Schools. She’s lived in Alexandria for 13 years and is the mother of two young children.
If elected, Alderton said her top priority would be student achievement, especially for demographics that have struggled on Virginia’s Standards of Learning tests such as black students, Latino students, English language learners and students with disabilities.
Alderton said her expertise in special education is the reason she decided to run for school board. She hopes to provide a niche voice that the school board doesn’t have at this point.
“I think everybody wants better outcomes for kids,” she said, “but we need the actual expertise to actually know what to do about outcomes for kids academically. We need people who understand not only special education law, which is really important, but understand the actual practices that go into improving outcomes for kids with disabilities and improving outcomes for at-risk populations.”
John E. Lennon
Lennon, a former journalist for the Voice of America, has had extensive involvement in ACPS since he moved to Alexandria in 2002. After he retired in 2012, he’s become more active in the school system through volunteer tutoring and sitting on various groups and committees.
If elected, he said he plans to focus on the interrelated problems that pertain to poverty and the burden it places on families and children. He said he hopes to work on closing the achievement gap by getting children in certain socioeconomic and demographic groups the help they need to be successful.
Lennon said his career experience is what sets him apart from other candidates.
“My life and career have taught me that long-range thinking is the only way that you can really succeed in the short term as well as the long term,” Lennon said. “I have a management and executive background in the federal government … that makes it possible for me to have a perspective that will enable me to help others reach broad conclusions and set broad policies that will affect the children in the city’s public schools.”
Gentry, an exhibitions content manager for the U.S. Holocaust Museum, has been on the school board for three years, serving as chair for the past two.
She said she decided to run for reelection to build on the progress the board has made during her first term and to carry the work forward with a slate of both experienced and new board members. She said some of the board’s greatest accomplishments during her first term were hiring Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D., as superintendent and opening Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School.
Regarding the issues facing ACPS, Gentry said she would bring institutional knowledge to the ongoing maintenance and capacity challenges, and that she hopes to be around to implement the results of evaluations the school has been conducting.
“We need to take what we’ve been learning from the audits that we’ve conducted and the evaluations we’ve conducted and some of the findings that we’ve done in our strategic plan and figure out ways to address the achievement gap issues, because that’s what’s really going to make a difference for us in terms of overall success of the school division in terms of academic achievement,” she said.
Saget, a T.C. Williams graduate and insurance agent, said she is seeking a spot on the school board because of her children’s experiences within ACPS.
Saget said she started noticing flaws in the system when her daughter, who is now 20 years old, was an ACPS student. Because of these problems, she switched her daughter’s enrollment from ACPS to private school in 6th grade. She said she is now homeschooling both of her sons because of the high suspension rate at ACPS.
Saget said she decided to run for school board to properly allocate ACPS’ money and resources to correct problems in the system. She said she plans to advocate for restorative justice in schools because of the suspensions and “school to prison pipeline” she sees at ACPS. She also said her Hispanic heritage will allow her to bridge the disconnect she sees between the schools and Alexandria’s Latino community.
“I feel like the Spanish community, the Latino community, there’s some kind of disconnect,” Saget said. “They don’t understand – ‘they’ meaning the rest of the community that’s not Latino – understand the culture or the challenges that people go through. … It’s just little things that seem like everyone is capable of doing but not everyone will be capable of doing because of their economic status, because of their education. Some things just need to be translated, and I feel like I will be that link.”
Thornton returned to Alexandria a little more than a year ago from working as a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Department of State. She grew up nearby in Fairfax County, but decided to make Alexandria her permanent home upon her return.
Thornton said she wanted to contribute to the community in some way and decided that the skills she’s acquired while in the Foreign Service would translate well to a position on the school board.
“I thought that there were some skillsets that I could help bring to the school board, the main one being my diplomacy skillset, which includes mostly consensus building, listening and community outreach,” she said. “In a city as diverse as Alexandria and especially in a school system as diverse, I think that my unique international background and my position representing … the people that don’t have school-age children here, I thought I could fill in a really unique gap.”
If elected, Thornton said she wants to focus on adding capacity, updating facilities and attracting and retaining high quality teachers.
Voters in District C will be able to select three of the five candidates in the General Election on Nov. 6. To read about candidates in District A and B, who were profiled in the Oct. 18 and Oct. 25 print issues, visit alextimes.com and click on archives.