"Back-to-basics" in the classroom and teachers' salaries emerged as the dominant issues at a forum last week for Arlington County school board candidates.
The new board member, who will take office July 1, is appointed by the County Board and will succeed Ann C. Broder whose term expires this year.
Although the County Board has all but decided whom it will appoint to the school board -- former County Board candidate Simone J. (Sim) Pace -- four of the six candidates showed up to answer questions from board members and an audience of about 50 persons. Candidates attending the forum were Pace, C. Eugene Hubbard, Joan K. McDermott and Karen J. Rosenbaum. The two other candidates for the post are Peggy Keating and Dillard C. Laughlin.
Under the sponsorship of the Arlington Civic Federation, the forum's participants discussed subjects ranging from the role of the new superintendent and possible school consolidations to English for foreign students and whether teachers should have collective bargaining rights.
Pace, vice president of an insurance comany, has been a vocal suporter of the back-to-basics movement and reiterated his view at the forum last week.
Grilled by an audience member on what he meant by basic education, Pace responded "It's one that emphasizes cognitive skills in reading, writing and mathematics. (It) subordinates to those skills creativity, individuality and social interaction. It requires teacher-initiated instruction; homework several nights a week graded by the teacher; a principal who asserts strong leadership; a majority of the school day, at the elementary school, devoted to teaching reading, writing, spelling, language and arithmetic.
"At the secondary school level, it demands a rigorous curriculum. Now what does it not include? Open classrooms, open campus, non-graded classes, individual instruction."
Although Hubbard, McDermott and Rosenbaum said basic subjects -- math, reading and writing -- are crucial to the educational system, they insisted that an emphasis on those areas should not force the elimination of other educational options.
Rosenbaum, who has a doctorate in education and is a curriculum specialist with the Fairfax County schools, drew loud applause when she cautioned against "the simplistic desire to make everyone fit into the same square."
Rosenbaum said her children attend Page School in Arlington (as does one of Pace's three children). Page is an alternative, "traditional" school, which Rosenbaum said best meets her children's needs.
However, noting that Arlington is able to offer a variety of programs -- from open classrooms to traditional schools such as Page -- Rosenbaum said, "The teacher who is teaching in the mode she or he feels most comfortable with can do the best job, and I believe in parents exercising their choices for the kind of system they think is best for their children."
Both McDermott and Hubbard echoed the view that teachers and parents should decide which system or education option are best for individual students.
Pace, when asked again about his educational philosophy, said his emphasis on basics was not to the exclusion of other disciplines: "I'm being misinterpreted . . . I'm not speaking against the humanities. I'm not speaking against foreign languages."
Pace, who also asserted that he was not using the school post as a springboard, said his experience as a part-time teacher at a local community college showed him that too many high school graduates "don't know how to write a simple sentence . . . are not familiar with the fundamentals of math."
McDermott, sounding a theme that the other candidates agreed with, stressed the need to attract and keep quality teachers by making teaching salaries a top priority in the budget. Arlington teacher salaries should be competitive with other jurisdictions and take into account inflation, McDermott said, adding that incentive bonuses should be considered.
McDermott, Rosenbaum and Hubbard all said the County Board's "guideline" to the school board, setting a 7 percent increase in the coming fiscal year school budget, was unreasonably low. Pace said he thought past guidelines were reasonable, but said he could not comment on this year's guideline until he studied the proposed budget more thoroughly.
Hubbard also suggested that the schools need an affirmative action program in human relations because of the growing multi-ethnic enrollments and cautioned that the consolidation of school systems may have to be explored because of overall enrollment declines.
After the forum, Walter Frankland, one of four County Board members at the forum, said the discussion reaffirmed his opinion that Pace would be the best selection for the school board seat. Frankland is expected to nominate Pace for the post at the County Board meeting Saturday.
"He's the top-runner," Frankland said. "This showed me even more that he is qualified, prepared for the job."