I’ve been involved in PreK-12 education for a long time and in a variety of roles: classroom teacher, curriculum developer, nonprofit leader, and parent. From many angles, I know what goes into making schools great.
The most recent chapter of my story is as a parent and volunteer; my children attended McKinley Elementary where I got involved in the school PTA and was McKinley’s PTA president from 2018-2020.
Guiding McKinley families through the contentious school move process last year was a test of my leadership, and I am really proud of how we responded. Over several months we moved from a narrow interest to a community-wide focus and reached out to families at other schools to identify common concerns, analyze data, and solve problems together.
Then my leadership was tested again when the pandemic hit. I organized volunteers to get groceries, books, and school supplies to families who needed them, in our school community and in others where PTAs have more limited resources. This is work I’m still involved in as vice president of the Arlington County Council of PTAs (CCPTA). In the CCPTA, I’ve been working with others to improve inclusion and representation in school PTAs and advocating for more equitable fundraising and spending by PTAs across the County.
As a parent volunteer, my favorite place to be is helping in the classroom--which never fails to remind me of my own time as a classroom teacher. When I was 22, I got my first apartment and began teaching high school English and Biology in Winchester, Virginia. I taught Native Son, I taught about different kinds of cells, I sponsored the Class of 1996 and the literary magazine and the Young Democrats. There were many days I loved my job so much that I couldn’t believe I was getting paid.
After several years I was ready for a new challenge, so I moved to Charlottesville to get my masters degree. I stayed on to teach at a local high school that turned out to be something different--and much harder--than I expected.
The school was overcrowded, I didn’t have my own classroom, and the principal seemed to be clocking time until retirement. The administrators and the school resource officer, who had a gun, a bulletproof vest, and a zero-tolerance demeanor, made it feel like a prison. I was told that my ninth graders, some of whom were reading at a second grade level, needed to plow through Romeo & Juliet.
I made it work--but it was really, really hard. As a newcomer, and in the days before social media and the virtual support networks it can provide, I felt very isolated. How could school be so wonderful in one place and so soul-crushing in the other? Why hadn’t I learned anything in my teacher training that equipped me to function in a school that was so dysfunctional, and to connect with students whose experience of school was so radically different from my own?
A family medical emergency back in Northern Virginia and an intriguing job opportunity ended my time in the classroom: I went to work at PBS and spent nine years there launching Web-based curriculum and services for teachers and students. In what I think of as my “second chapter” in education, I worked with teachers across the country to figure out how the Internet could help them do their jobs better. I saw how it connected teachers and students so they could share ideas and have virtual experiences beyond the classroom walls. I also saw plenty of wasteful and ineffective uses of technology and became convinced that any device or app was only going to be as good as the goals for its use.
I left PBS in 2007 when my first child was born and began my “third chapter” with schools and education. I found flexible contract work with different national education organizations; my work kept me learning and thinking about education technology, but it also brought me back to the “two schools” question that had bothered me ten years earlier.
What made some schools succeed and others fail? Who were we failing, and how could it be fixed? My work for the past dozen years has given me a chance to see how these questions are playing out in schools and districts across the country. I’ve learned why schools like the one I worked at in Charlottesville have problems with teacher turnover, dropouts, and discipline. And I’ve learned how other school and district leaders are turning things around and creating the kind of schools I want for all kids. For more on what I’ve seen work and what I would bring to APS, please check out The Issues.
Now I’m aiming to begin my next and best chapter as a School Board member to serve a community I love.
If you believe we need someone who knows education, brings good ideas, and can get things done, I hope I’ll have your vote.