The Ward 7 school board election is a footrace between three distinct views of what a school board member should do in the next four years.
One candidate is looking to change the city school system, a second is aiming to revitalize it with the help of parents, and the incumbent wants to continue to steady course of improvement that she says the school system is on.
Rufus (Catfish) Mayfield, one of the founders of PRIDE Inc., a city youth organization, wants to change the system. "If I don't win, it's not because I'm not the best qualified candidate," he said. "It's because the voters aren't ready for the truth. They can see for themselves that the kids aren't learning anything."
Gloria Anderson, a mother of two children in public schools, is campaigning as the candidate for greater citizen participation in the school system "to revitalize it."
"I've got no magic formulas," she sai. "I want a better education for my children and that means a better education for all children. Parents have to know what the school board is doing if anyone is going to help. They don't know what is taking place now."
Anderson has the endorsements of Ward 7 City Councilwoman Willie Hardy, the teacher's union, the central albor council of the AFL-CIO and District Council 20 of the school services workers' union.
Minnie Woodson, the incumbent who was appointed to the school board in January after teaching in the city schools for 27 years, wants to make the present school system work. "It is in an embryonic state, and it is going to need to be nurtured," she said. "Competency based education is the right step. For the first time teachers know they're working with an idea the school system is going to stay with beyond the next superintendent."
The winner in the three-way Ward 7 race will serve a two-year term, filling the remainder of James Featherstone's four-year term. Featherstone resigned from the board in the fall of 1976 when he took a job with Federal City College.
The three distinct opinions about the school system have yet to clash because there has been only one public meeting for the candidates. Anderson and Woodson attended the meeting, but Mayfield did not.
"There really wasn't much discussion there," said Woodson. "A person who has done something is asked something. A person who has done nothing can be asked nothing. I was asked many questions and Mrs. Anderson was asked one question."
Anderson has accused Woodson of failing to communicate with parents in the ward. Anderson said that as a parent in Ward 7 she has never received any information from her school board representative, Woodson.
"My feeling is that she (Woodson) as a retired teacher knows more about the system than I do," said Anderson. "But as a new person I can be more open to new ideas that will help to improve the system. I don't think she is the most open person on the school board."
Mayfield who has yet to attend a public meeting with the other candidates, said he plans to go to two debates for the candidates in early November. The election is scheduled for Nov. 8. He said he didn't attend the meeting with the other two candidates because he didn't know about it.
Mayfield, the father of three children, two of whom are in public schools, said he doesn't know much about either of his opponents for the school board seat.
The school board race is Mayfield's first solo public venture since he ended his college speaking tours and "Voice from the Ghetto" newspaper column in 1969.
He became a public figure in Washington as a founder in 1968 of PRIDE Inc., a group designed to help District teen-agers, especially poor and unemployed blacks, through the racial unrest of the late 1960s.
In 1969 Mayfield resigned his position as chairman of the board of PRIDE Inc., in a fight over the direction the organization was taking. He began touring the country as a speaker on the experience of poor blacks in the city.
Since then Mayfield, who spent 27 months at Lorton on a stolen car charge as a teen-ager, has been working as a radio talk show host and master of ceremonies at discotheques.
He said he went through a three-year period of using drugs and marijuana but now doesn't smoke or drink.
Mayfield said he does not have concrete plans for revamping the school system; "I have to wait and see what I can do once I'm inside and know what's going on," he said. "I'm committed to children and education, because that is what is holding the black man back today just like during the '60s, 10 years ago."
Anderson says the way to improve the school system is to improve communications among the school board, parents and teachers.
"I didn't know about the budget cuts and problems with kindergarten classes in the schools until I read about them in the paper," said Anderson. "I think the school board representative should be letting people know about these things as soon as she knows about it. There are people with influence in Ward 7 who could use their power to help the schools but they are not informed. Someone has to let them in to the system, to tap their resources."
Active in community affairs since she moved here from Philadelphia in 1968, Anderson has worked as a teacher's aide in a special reading program and served on the boards of three city youth programs - The Capitol East Child Center. Washington Pre-School and the Juvenile Justice Project. She currents has a salaried post as a social planner with a non-profit group. "Anacostians Concerned for Senior Citizens."
Anderson said she decided to run after a number of people asked her to consider it.
She said she really doesn't know why the teacher's union and the city councilwoman's endorsement has come to her. "I think it is fair to say I care about the community and children, and I think people know that."
Minnie Woodson thinks the reason she failed to get endorsed by Hardy of the teacher's unson is "because I fight my own battles."
Woodson was one of the first members of the teacher's union in the 1940s but quit within three years, she said, because she differed with the union's stand on some issues.
She said she started a Ward 7 newsletter on board education matters, and she holds two meetings every month. One is held at neighborhood libraries, and the other is at the Far Northeast Southeast Council, which she started four years ago.
Woodson said one of her achievements as a school board member is the job she did in helping to implement the superintendent's plan for equalized instruction in schools throughout the city. Woodson said she has also helped to put school board policy in writing for the first time in the board's history.
"The school system is a phase of growth," she said. "I think I've become part of that growth and I have plans to help it keep growing."