The Voice requested that all candidates for the Democratic Party nomination for the School Board submit answers to a series of questions. For more information on all the School Board Candidates, please visit the Candidate Page https://arlingtondemocrats.org/vote/candidates/
Mr. Priddy's responses follow.
Q: There are many different groups of stakeholders involved in the Arlington Public Schools (APS). How do you intend to prioritize and engage with these groups and address conflicts between them?
As a member of many different groups of stakeholders involved in APS (Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI), NAACP Education Committee, Black Parents of Arlington (BPA), Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Equity and Excellence (SACEE), BLPC for the Career Center Expansion, County Council of PTAs (CCPTA), among others), I have a front row seat to the inner workings of each group and how they interact with one another. I have personally seen their passion around the issues that are critical to the core principles of each group. While each of these committees and organizations are very different, they have many things in common. I believe it would be in their best interest to unite their voices around their commonalities, and leverage the weight of their influence in the Arlington community to achieve some of their goals. This is not to denigrate their individual purpose, but I believe that better communication among and between the groups could benefit everyone.
Q: Decisions made by the state government in Richmond can affect APS. What is your view of Richmond’s impact, and are there specific state-level policy or procedural changes for which you would advocate?
Each May the School Board decides on which legislative positions to send to the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA). The VSBA gathers the initiatives from School Board Associations (SBAs) throughout the entire state and determines which positions resonate with most of the SBAs in order to use their weight and convey that stance to Richmond. This process starts in May locally, goes to VSBA in early summer, and leads into the winter when the Legislature meets. Arlington County School Board has not always participated in the VSBA process. However, last year three of the four recommendations from the School Board were passed. I would like to support that process by participating every year.
As your school board member, I would welcome the role as the legislative liaison of the School Board to VSBA and the legislature. Having and creating relationships with legislatures, learning about the system, and understanding how a school board member could impact decisions is where my strength lies. That would be my focus for advocacy.
Q: The current health crisis has presented unprecedented challenges. How would you evaluate and learn from APS’s response to the COVID-19 crisis to date, and how would approach the start of the new school year in the Fall?
APS’s response to the crisis should be evaluated on two criteria:
1) Health and safety of the students
2) Teaching and instruction
APS’s decision to reinforce what was taught and not introduce new content was the right choice. As we get more comfortable with distance learning, it will evolve and teachers will eventually be prepared to deliver new material. As for health and safety, APS immediately started “grab and go” food opportunities for families while continuously expanding to add more sites. They have also provided mental health support for families. As the PTA President at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, I have interacted with our social worker, counselor, and principal to ensure we have a plan to serve students that need social emotional and mental health supports. Based on these two criteria, APS’s response was appropriate.
As we venture into the Fall, there are a lot of scenarios that have been offered by the education consultant community. The most viable scenario has smaller classes with staggered start times and shifting schedules. Logistically, this is challenging. Therefore, we need to consider the following: What does social distance mean for us given capacity restraints? What conversation are we having with the Arlington Education Association (AEA) to coordinate and get buy-in from our teachers? We need to gather formal, rather than anecdotal, feedback on how our students and parents have experienced distance learning. How are we going to coordinate on the operational side? We will need state level guidance on policy. Are we going to require masks? Temperature checks? What supplies will we have in stock (masks, soap, etc.) so that we are prepared? Having open and transparent conversations to answer the questions above are how we will move forward to solve this issue.
Q: Budgets are practical expressions of an organization’s priorities. In broad terms, what is your assessment of the priorities expressed by the recent APS budgets and, if you would recommend changes, what are they and how would you fund them?
I would prioritize teacher compensation and the practice of adhering to federal guidelines. If budgets are a practical expression of an organization’s priorities, then the DOJ settlement to ensure equal opportunities for English Learner Students is a priority. Staffing changes, additional money for translations, different planning factors are all part of the DOJ settlement which has been included in the budget. The changes I would recommend would prevent future violations of federal guidelines.
Teacher compensation is a large issue as well. As part of the Advisory Committee on Instruction (ACI), we have committees from 13 different groups that provide recommendations on how each group would function more optimally in APS. Most of the recommendations that have been presented this year ask for additional staffing. Additionally, we have a compensation study that was scheduled to be completed this year but was not done. Therefore, we have subject matter leaders in ACI that are asking for more personnel and our personnel who lack competitive intelligence on their wages in comparison to neighboring districts. This is made more challenging by proposed budget cuts due to COVID-19. How do we get funding when we know revenue from the county is going to dip considerably? We must create a priority list and apply our decisions align with these priorities.
Q: Much is spoken about the need for close collaboration between the School and County Boards. How would you evaluate the current state of that collaboration in actual practice and, if you see room for improvements, what would you do to achieve them?
The collaboration between the School Board and County Board has become increasingly stronger over the past two years. This can be evidenced by the larger allocation to fund the schools and the collaboration with the Joint Facilities Advisory Committee. With two new School Board members and one new County Board member (through a special election in July) there will be a need to forge new relationships. In order to create synergy, School Board members will have to regularly meet with the County Board members to build rapport and trust. Having already built relationships with those on the County Board, I have no doubt I will be able to work with whomever the voters select to fill the open seat in July.
As for improvements, the County launched Destination 2027 last year (a health equity program), which has the goal of providing different communities within Arlington with the support tools to be able to access the same resources. With the hiring of the new Superintendent, and the new Chief Diversity Equity and Inclusion Officer, APS can partner with the Destination 2027 initiative and use the fundamental pieces of their health equity program to mirror some of the functions that are in place with the county. This would provide a common message from APS and the county, which would aid in the culture change to promote equity throughout the county.
Q: What is one quality or experience that sets you apart from your fellow candidates? How will that quality or experience influence your perspective as a member of the School Board.
Throughout the campaign I have talked about having a relevant perspective that is not currently represented on the School Board; my children are currently in elementary and middle school. My active engagement and participation in current APS community issues sets me apart from other candidates. One recent experience I had, happened at Fleet Elementary where my son is currently in fourth grade. During the construction of Fleet, there were budget overruns, which led to some items that were key components for accessibility being omitted from the final design. Items such as the second elevator, playground equipment, access to the building among others, were “value engineered” out of the scope of work to save money. Consequently, we have a building that is not accessible for all and we need to have those items installed post construction. I have spoken at PTA and School Board meetings on this issue and helped organize other groups to speak at School Board meetings. I met individually with various stakeholders (parents, APS staff, School Board members, County Board members, etc.) to advocate for the re-issuing of funds to complete the items. This Spring, we successfully lobbied to get the funds allocated. Now I am on a parent committee with a special APS liaison to manage the checklist and ensure the items at Fleet will be installed. This experience showed that I have the ability to understand a problem, leverage my relationships in the community to engage a variety of stakeholders, and find an effective solution.