Barbara Kanninen for Arlington County School Board

May 14, 2014 by

Kenneth Bernstein –

Perhaps a single seat on a local school board might not seem a matter of sufficient importance for a national political blog such as Daily Kos.

And after all, I am prejudiced.

I live in Arlington Virginia, so my taxes go towards our superb public school system.

I am also a professional educator (although I teach in Maryland), so I take the matter of school governance very seriously.

Besides, we do our elections differently in Arlington, which gives me a chance to explain, or if you prefer, “teach” a bit about how we do things.

Most of all, it gives me a chance to tell about a superb candidate whom I have come to know and whom I am proud to call my friend.

Her name is Barbara Kanninen, she holds a Ph. D. in Economics, she has served as a member of the County Government’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee, and has more than twenty years service to our young people as a volunteer in and to the schools.  In fact, rather than list her many accomplishments, I suggest that you read her biographical material.

And if you would be so kind, please continue to read what I have to say.

What is happening on two days this week is that the Arlington Democratic Party is selecting its nominee for the position on the school board that is open as the result of Sally Bai4d’s decision not to run for a third term.  Sally is one of three openly gay elected public officials in this very Democratic and liberal community, a group that includes Jay Fisette on County Board, and State Senator Adam Ebbin whose district is largely in Alexandria but includes a chunk of Arlington as well.

A couple of notes about how we vote in Virginia.

First, we do not register by party.  Thus in regular primaries for state and federal office, a resident can choose to vote in either party’s primary.

Second, for County offices, the Democratic party holds a “firehouse primary” for contested races.  Technically this is an ungathered caucus, run and paid for by the County party.  We have had several of these in recent years, most recently for a vacancy on County Board prior to a special election in which the Democratic nominee was actually defeated over several controversial issues.  We also had one for the last school board vacancy.  Barbara ran at that time, and lost very narrowly to an incumbent member of the school board.

But Republicans and “independents” who are really Republicans tend to win only in special elections, and this school board seat will be decided in a general election, which means winning the Democratic nomination is pretty much tantamount to election.

The contest will be decided over two days of voting

Tomorrow, Thursday, at Drew Model School in the southern part of the county, at 3500 23rd Street South, from 7-9 PM.

Saturday at Washington-Lee High School, 6 blocks from where I write this, at 1301 N Stafford Street, from 11 AM – 7 PM.

I got to know Barbara when she ran the last time.  I was sitting in my local Starbucks and overheard a conversation she was having with someone whose support she was seeking.  I became very interested in what I could hear and as that conversation ended introduced myself to her.

As it happens I knew her husband slightly through Virginia Democratic politics.

I asked a number of questions about her attitude on educational matters, and was impressed not only with the depth of her knowledge, but also the positions she espoused and the reasons she offered for why she took those positions.

You can explore those positions on the website.

Allow me to offer a few key points from a recent mailer about her plan, which includes the following:

– Promote creative and critical thinking over standardized testing
– tackle overcrowding with strong leadership and constructive community engagement
– Give teachers the respect and support they deserve
– Support children with mentors so ever student has an adult at school who is there to help
– continue investing in the arts and strengthen S.T.E.M. programs
– Be budget-minded by prioritizing funding for teachers and classroom learning

It is worth noting that Barbara has in her own work demonstrated her commitment to these principals.  She is a noted and successful children’s author, she has served as a volunteer in the schools both as tutor and as mentor, she has helped write curriculum.

There are two other candidates.  Neither of the others is horrible, although one opponent at a public meeting in response to a question offered support for No Child Left Behind, which to me is a red flag.

Arlington is very committed to its schools.   The community has NEVER voted down a school bond issue.  We know that the superb quality of our schools increases the value of our homes, so people do not object to the taxes that fund those schools, even though only about 10% of the households have children in public schools.

We pay our teachers superbly, attempt to keep class sizes small, and offer a diversity of education approaches:  at the elementary level parents can chose among a variety of options, including a traditional school, a math focus school, Montessori, foreign language immersion.  We are small enough (about 26 square miles) and densely populated enough (a bit over 200,000 people) to be able to provide this variety in a context in which students do not have to travel that far for a different educational approach.

Barbara Kanninen is dynamic.

When you encounter her you experience her both as someone who will listen to what you have to say but also as a dynamic and enthusiastic advocate.  It would not be an understatement to call her a force of nature.

Barbara is running for school board to maintain and improve our schools, schools to which she has already given long and excellent service in her voluntary capacity.

If you are a resident of Arlington, please consider coming out tomorrow or Saturday and join me in supporting Barbara Kanninen for Arlington County School Board.


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Barbara Kanninen for Arlington County School Board.

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