This newsletter is usually my space to share what I’m learning and thinking about in my role as a school board member.
But this time, now six months into the job, I want to share to share what I’m hearing from all of you: essentially, what’s on your mind.
I’ll be real—it’s a lot. The list below is a snapshot of all the issues and questions that you’ve sent my way that are above and beyond the items that were already queued up for discussion and voting during regular School Board meetings (like the budget or the bell time study).
These are the ones you’re emailing about, raising during office hours, or asking to discuss in a phone call or meeting.
Each of these issues is important to somebody, and so they all deserve some kind of acknowledgement and response.
However, you can see (I hope) how easy it would be to go “an inch deep and a mile wide” on everything, or to get distracted to such a degree that no issue gets completely worked through.
So what to do? For me, I try to make sure I’m focusing the majority of my time and attention in these areas:
1. Basic needs. If students are hungry, or sick, or in crisis in some way, it will be really hard for them to learn.
2. A healthy school (and school district) culture. Students may arrive at school ready to learn (basic needs met!) but if they’re put in a toxic environment, they likely won’t be able or willing to do their best work. The same is true for school staff. (Readers, can you think of a workplace you were glad to escape at some point in your adult life?) Everyone in the school community needs to be safe, seen and valued.
3. Teaching and learning that is relevant, rigorous and research-based. To me, "relevant” means that students understand how what they are learning relates to the world outside of school and to their own experiences, interests and aspirations. “Rigorous” means there is just the right level of challenge, and “research-based” means it’s grounded in what we know about the science of learning.
But enough from me. Let’s hear from all of you.
From January through June, here’s what you’ve asked about.
1:1 assistants for students with disabilities Academic interventions: communication to families Academic progress: dashboard and tracking Accessibility at The Heights Advanced coursework for students significantly beyond grade level Advisory input to policies being revised Afterschool offerings and programs Animal Sciences program at the Career Center Antisemitism in schools + community Bilingual Family Liaison allocations and workload Bus driver and bus attendant concerns Bullying CASEL supporting SEL in APS Collective bargaining concerns Community school model/services Compensatory services for students with disabilities COVID: masking policies COVID: air filtration COVID: isolation and quarantine protocols COVID: parent notifications and content tracing COVID: test-to-stay COVID: outdoor lunch Device (iPads and laptops) access in summer Dogs on school property Education technology (use of Lexia, Dreambox, etc.) Employee Assistance Program End-of-year celebrations for students English learners: preparation for life after HS graduation Extended School Year services for students with disabilities Federal school meal program (end of universal free meals) Health textbooks and resources Immersion and structured literacy Inclusion for students with disabilities Inclusive history curricula Math coaches and math class sizes Medicaid reimbursement for the school system Mental health risk assessments Planetarium staffing Pride Month recognition Psychologist allocations and duties Racism in schools Reading classes in middle schools Reading on grade level in high school Restorative justice Safety: responses to fighting, weapons and more Safety: communication to families when there is an incident Safety on school buses School staff input into district decision making Sexual harassment School cafeterias (those that weren’t fully operational until mid-year) Speech/language pathologist compensation and certification Staff Appreciation Week Student Code of Conduct Substance abuse prevention and treatment Substitute teacher shortages Summer school staffing Summer school eligibility Teachers Council on Instruction Testing coordinator workload Transportation for extracurriculars Trauma-informed practices Tutoring VLP staff placements for next year VLP task force Virtual Virginia eligibility for next year Wakefield pool maintenance
Mary Kadera is a school board member in Arlington, VA. Opinions expressed here are entirely her own and do not represent the position of any other individual or organization.