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/
Ms. Munnell'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?
There are so many groups of stakeholders, families, teachers, community members, businesses, and the county board. Within families are subsets of parents which have specific concerns regarding learning disabilities, gifted education, literacy and social emotional well-being. It is an expansive process to communicate and listen to all groups. This would involve going to events held by these groups and listening and learning, open office hours for drop-ins, communication through phone calls and emails. I don’t see conflicts between these groups. I see needs to be addressed. As for prioritizing among these groups, I have stated on my platform, literacy is my first concern so we address the opportunity gap, making sure all schools deliver services for reading and special education the same so that our schools are not just equal but equitable.
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?
It elated me to see some positive changes to state laws and posted about them on my campaign and FB page, Friday Feb 25th, both the Senate and House bills - SB3/HB256 - passed. This eliminates a Class 1 misdemeanor charge for disruptive behavior in school or at school events. This will give school administration more discretion in determining discipline for a fight in the cafeteria or showing up to Homecoming while intoxicated.
SB729 would eliminate a requirement for school administration to report certain behaviors to law enforcement. This gives the administration more latitude in handling a student with emotional disabilities.
I would advocate for better state funding. For too long education has been under funded by a Republican-controlled legislature. Now I fear with the pandemic eroding revenues, education will take another hit. While raises are out of the question now, Richmond needs to get them back in the budget, and increased ratio of counselors to students. Now would actually be the time to invest in education as the challenges to schools to provide for our most vulnerable children will only increase.
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?
If I were in such a position to influence the decision of the superintendent, I would advocate for closing schools now. I would recommend use the rest of school year (7 weeks as I write this) for professional learning for all of our teachers. They need to learn how to be online facilitators and develop strategies for reaching all their students. I am a certified online instructor and have taught numerous online courses for education professionals. They will need the ability to prepare online courses for the fall as it seems unlikely we will return at the end of August as scheduled. (I hope I am wrong about this.) And for anyone reading this, say good-bye to snow days! The teachers will be ready to carry on!
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?
The elimination of the furlough day was an excellent choice made by the school board. We cannot overlook the need for more EL teachers, so I agree with closing the FLES program and hiring FLES teachers to be EL teachers for the regular school day. I support the request for additional Student Support Coordinators for elementary schools so that there is sustained professional development for teachers who teach in integrated classrooms. We have tapped the reserves for the elimination of the furlough. The budget now needs to be scrutinized line item by line item and position by position in order to be able to redirect monies to SSCs.
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?
In my history with APS beginning in ’97, the relationship between the two boards seems less than equal with the schools as supplicants instead the most important asset Arlington has. That relationship has improved, however, as the most important asset, I would like the CB to not consider cutting the amount transferred to the Schools. In fact, I support that the CB do more to support the schools.
Two areas that the CB should help with is broadband. This crisis reveals the need for equity of access to broadband internet. Treat internet as a utility and regulated it as such. The Schools cannot do this but the CB should pursue on behalf of the entire community. Second is transportation. Eliminate buses for high school. All high school students should bike, walk, or take public transportation except for those with special requirements. I don’t believe this can happen without the support of the CB as student discount passes would need approval.
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.
These are complicated times. We have plenty of vision on the School Board. But we lack are the insights that emerge from a career of working every day with students, faculty and administration.
After forty years as an educator, twenty of them right here in Arlington Public Schools, I have a perspective on our schools unique from that of my fellow candidates. Priorities established by the School Board impact our students, faculty and staff. As a School Board member, I want to use my experience to shape those priorities and achieve our goals.
It’s time we elect an experienced educator to the Arlington County School Board.