School Board Candidate Seeking Pulse of the Public

(Thursday, September 28, 2006 7:51 AM EDT)
If you hear a knock at your door, don't be surprised if it's School Board candidate Sally Baird.

Baird embarked on an aggressive door-to-door campaign in February, and plans to keep at it until the Nov. 7 election. “I want to hear what the random person is thinking about the schools,” she said in a recent interview with the Sun Gazette.

From those discussions, Baird has determined that early-childhood education and County Board-School Board cooperation are priorities she will pursue if elected.

Giving youngsters quality education in preschool has very positive effects on their performance throughout their academic careers, Baird said. But she recognizes that the gains made in early development years have to be nurtured.

“The schools need to help maintain a level of support,” she said.

She also supports more foreign-language options for younger students.

“All evidence shows that students learn languages better before the age of eight,” Baird said. “The question is how you fit foreign language classes into the school day.” Baird said she is willing to explore options such as using early-release Wednesdays to try and offer more language classes.

Baird has been an Arlington resident 18 years; she lives in Nauck with her partner, Karen Foster, and their two sons, who attend Drew Model School.

This spring, Baird won the Arlington County Democratic Committee's endorsement for the School Board seat of retiring School Board Chairman Mary Hynes. She defeated Sharon Davis, who had been the party's endorsed School Board candidate in 1999.

(In Virginia, political parties can't officially nominate School Board candidates, because the positions are technically nonpartisan. But parties get around this prohibition by “endorsing” candidacies.)

Hynes's seat the only one of the five School Board slots on the ballot this year. All five seats are elected countywide.

In the Sun Gazette interview, Baird said she has mixed feelings about the standardized-testing process in place in Arlington schools.

“We're using the measures we have to use,” she said, noting that the state and federal governments require school districts to use certain testing measures in order to obtain federal funds.

Baird expressed concern that the this testing system does not address students in their younger years. Students receive remedial attention only after they've failed, and even then, the remedial help is temporary, she said.

But Baird does acknowledge that this kind of standardized testing helps the schools system make improvements.

“We are forced to pay attention to what we aren't doing,” she said.

Baird said she is dedicated to building stronger ties with the County Board, to make decision-making smoother on issues that concern both boards.

“It's about building relationships and trust,” she said.

One place to improve that relationship: Planning for renovation of the county's school buildings.

“Neither the School Board or the County Board had a pool in their plans for [the new] Washington-Lee,” she noted. The omission delayed further planning, and Baird believes that better communication between the two boards could have prevented this.

The cost of school renovating and construction concerns Baird.

“We need to see what our schools need to teach effectively,” she said. But she doesn't think buildings need lots of expensive bells and whistles to be effective.

Critics have said that Baird doesn't have the experience on the local education scene her opponent, Cecelia Espenoza, does. But Baird doesn't think experience should determine how people vote. It's about listening, learning, pulling information together and getting people on board, she said.

“I bring a new perspective,” she said. “I feel perfectly equipped.”

Among other issues Baird is focusing on:

* She wants to see the school system's Title I schools (those with large number of underprivileged students) provide more nutritional meals to its students.

* She thinks transition programs for middle-school students entering high school are sufficient, but is concerned about students' transitions from elementary to middle school.

* She believes Arlington's policy on sending students to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology is sound. If Arlington schools are not the perfect fit for certain students, they should have the chance to meet their educational needs elsewhere if necessary, she said.

* She wants to make sure enrichment programs in schools with higher-income students do not put lower-income students at other schools at a disadvantage.

* She voiced concern about the lack of affordable housing in Arlington and the impact it has on teachers.

* She advocates for making school spaces more available to the community during off-school hours.

Sally Baird has won the Democratic endorsement for the School Board seat being vacated by the retiring Mary Hynes.

Return to index of articles