School Board Candidate Aims to Attract Democratic Votes

(Friday, September 29, 2006 6:26 AM EDT)
School Board candidate Cecelia Espenoza says her experience working on issues in the county school system makes her the ideal candidate to tackle major problems confronting Arlington.

Among those issues: Closing the “achievement gap” between white and Asian students and their black and Latino counterparts, getting parents and the community involved in the schools, and determinining economic priorities.

In an interview with the Sun Gazette, Espenoza said the main problem she sees in addressing the achievement gap is the lack of a “longitudinal measuring system” - taking a long-term approach to assessing achievement.

She also thinks tests like the state-mandated Standards of Learning (SOLs) are the “floor” when it comes to measures of student success. The goal should be to see how much above the floor Arlington's students are, Espenoza said.

She said she is pleased with developments in the schools' foreign-language expansion, but hopes Arlington finds more sources of funding to keep the programs going.

“This is very exciting, but we need federal dollars,” she said.

Espenoza has been an Arlington resident for six years, living in South Arlington with her husband and their son, who attends middle school.

An attorney, Espenoza ran for School Board last year as an independent, finishing third and winning about 20 percent of the vote.

This year, Espenoza again is running as an independent, as federal law prohibits Department of Justice employees from seeking the endorsement of political parties.

Espenoza is seeking the seat of retiring School Board Chairman Mary Hynes, the only one of the five seats on the ballot this year. All five School Board seats are elected countywide.

In the interview, Espenoza said she wants to make sure that Arlington stays up to date with its educational methods.

“We need to make sure we're giving the best educational delivery,” Espenoza said. In a media- and technology-driven world, “we need to be creative and flexible,” she said.

Although Espenoza pushes for economic prudence in School Board spending, she believes large investments in new school buildings are worth it. Schools need a shelf-life longer than 25 years, and the buildings should be environmentally sound, she said.

“We get what we pay for,” she said.

Espenoza advocates for more parent and community involvement in the county's schools, especially regarding the issue of gangs.

“Gang members are looking for a family, a place to belong,” she said. “The community should fill this void.”

Esponoza's 2005 School Board campaign found her running behind Democrat Ed Fendley (who won) and Republican William Barker. This year, Espenoza said, she is taking a different approach to campaigning.

“Last year, I didn't target the Democrats,” she said. “This year I'm targeting all registered voters.”

Running as an independent presents its challenges, Espenoza acknowledged. She expressed surprise at the number of Arlington Democrats who simply voted the party line in last year's election. This November, she plans on giving voters sample School Board ballots to help combat the Democratic sample ballots.

But Espenoza believes campaigning as an independent has its advantages.

“The value of running as an independent is that I can be a voice for everyone,” she said. “The School Board is a place where being nonpartison makes sense. The focus should be about what's best for the children.”

Among others issues in the campaign:

* Espenoza believes that teachers should be subject to evaluations that determine how much students gained from time in their classrooms.

* She thinks high schools should work with colleges to match curriculums, so students are not surprised by the rigors of advanced study.

* She would like to expand career options and training for students who don't plan on attending college.

* She is supportive of the new technology schools are using to track students' aspirations and needs from the time they enter middle school until the time they graduate high school.

* She advocates for more recess time, or at least holding recess before lunch, instead of after, so students eat more at lunch and are more productive.

* She is a strong supporter of immersion programs, because they give students the experience of being bilingual, biliterate and bicultural.

* She sees merit in developing additional countywide magnet schools in Arlington, which could focus on social sciences or other issues.

* She would like to move school boundary lines from front streets to back lawns, because children tend to make friends with those on their streets more than those who live behind them.

Cecelia Espenoza is making her second bid for the School Board as an independent.

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