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. Sims'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?
I will prioritize my time and energy based upon the overall needs of APS. As I have done throughout the years as a community activist, my prioritized time will be spent with those who truly need help in advocating for themselves: parents who may not have the bandwidth to fully engage in the advocacy process, children whose home lives are not ideal - those populations have always been my primary focus and the spirit of my crafted policies.
From Karla Hagan - “Terron worked with both the Arlington Montessori Action Committee (AMAC) and the Green Valley community to find a solution to longstanding challenges at Drew Model School. He worked hard and earned the trust of both communities. As one of the founders of AMAC, I saw firsthand Terron’s effectiveness in developing strategy, working with multiple communities, and advocating with the School Board and APS senior staff. It was a long and sometimes contentious process, but in the end we achieved an excellent outcome thanks to Terron’s hard work to develop and champion solutions that worked for both communities.”
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?
The Dillon Rule needs to go. Local jurisdictions need to have much more leverage in crafting policy towards the benefit of their citizenry without permission from the state. Arlington’s Richmond delegation works hard in representing us, but too often roadblocks and obstacles are placed in their way and stops them from doing even more good.
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?
COVID-19 has created an interesting set of circumstances for every school system in our country and brought to light a lot of disparities that most were not aware. Sadly, the issue APS parents are facing with respect to the lack of education during this period was predictable to those who are aware of the disconnect between the electronic devices issued to our students and instruction. I was made aware several months ago that the previous assistant superintendent of instruction did not work to ensure that instruction was applied to devices; thus, the gaps in instruction that exist in our schools and classrooms when utilizing electronic devices.
I believe that knowing that these pre-COVID-19 issues existed is what drove APS leadership to come to their decision to discontinue instruction for the remainder of the school year. There are others, but instructional application to electronic devices and other forms of technology are the biggest.
Before COVID-19 struck, one of my goals as a school board member was/is to fix APS' issue of not ensuring that instruction is applied to electronic devices prior issuing them to our schools. Now, not only do we have to fix that, but now also the issue you have addressed. We have to create a system of instruction that will properly educate our students in a COVID-like environment, and doing so needs to be a priority.
I plan to meet with a private school principal whose school is successfully educating its students during this COVID-19 period, take the best practices, and macro it for APS. We must ensure that, if the school year begins before we are able to open the school doors, that teachers are adequately prepared and resourced to teach and that our students are as well.
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?
APS is a non-taxing authority; thus, it relies on Arlington County government for its budget dollars. Despite that authority, APS still must serve as wards of our tax dollars. The APS budget process that occurs at the beginning of every calendar year functions much more as a short-term activity than an actual process. Before the 2008 international economic crisis and BRAC, APS’ budget process was excusable only because Arlington County government had enough revenue to fully fund APS. That reality no longer exists and will not for the foreseeable future.
The size of APS’ budget warrants an annual long budget-build process, culminating with senior level budget reviews and the vote. Said budget must forecast out five years and include every requirement for all schools and departments, even if none are needed for the budget year. Executing a budget in this manner enables the superintendent to build a budget strategically and clearly outline priority and funding timelines.
Having an annual long budget process enables those building the budget to properly research the needs and costs of potential budget requests, from paperclips to salaries to field trips. Implementing an annual long budget process will require the schools and departments to communicate amongst themselves, which will then foster collaboration, operational efficiencies, and potential cost savings throughout APS.
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?
There are several operational functions where APS and Arlington County government can partner where doing so will maximize our tax dollars and save both entities money. Contracting is at the top of the list: i.e. employee benefits; IT services; supplies.
Having been as involved with both Arlington County government and APS for as long as I have, I have never been able to figure out why these common sense partnerships do not currently exist. Because the school board is a non-taxing authority, Arlington County government is the actual government entity, it ought to be leading most, if not all, of the government operational functions. The two partnering will streamline operations and ensure that budget discussions go smoothly on both ends. I am willing to work with County staff and the new Superintendent to build this relationship moving forward.
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.
The singular quality I have that has prepared me to serve on the school board is experience. Since 2006, I have tutored and mentored in the county in various programs at Hoffman-Boston, Drew, Williamsburg, Wakefield, and Harvey Hall. I worked with the Teen Network Board and AHC’s teen tutoring program, where last year, I received its Volunteer of the Year award and currently serve on its board of directors. I have served on various APS committees and commissions, such as the FACE and Whole Child working groups and the previous Strategic Plan steering committee. I have chaired the Superintendent’s Committee to Eliminate the Achievement Gap for the past several school years, which we re-titled “Equity and Excellence”. My years of education advocacy have led me to serve the role of both friend and advisor to countless school board members, APS senior staff, principals, and parent advocacy groups and PTAs in creating consensus in policy and messaging, and most importantly, solving problems. I also chaired the county’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory committee in 2008 and worked intimately with the county board and its staff in steering us out of the international economic crisis.
APS is at a pivotal point. Aside from there being two new school board members, we will soon have a new superintendent and all of the assistant superintendents were just recently appointed this school year. The relationships that I have forged with senior and mid-level staff and principals are real. Much of the work we do together and that I do on their behalf has been behind the scenes, as it should have been. There is respectable trust amongst us because of all of the work and advocacy that we have done together for over ten years.