The Ward 3 seat for the D.C. State Board of Education is wide open this fall. After seven years on the board, Laura Slover decided not to run for another term.

The board’s main function is to set policies around graduation requirements and academic standards. It no longer plays a role in decisions about school system facilities, operations and budget, since the D.C. Council established mayoral control over the schools in 2007. But many of the candidates also see the position as a key advocate for school issues in their part of the city. Here are the Ward 3 candidates. Their responses here are based on interviews.

Stephanie Blessey Lilley

Age: 49

Neighborhood: Palisades

Children in school: One at St. Albans School, two at National Cathedral School

Occupation: Lawyer (not currently practicing); Board member at DC Scholars Public Charter School

Total contributions: $28,298 (eight days before the election)

Stephanie Blessey Lilley. Credit: The Stephanie Blessey Lilley Campaign Stephanie Blessey Lilley (Photo courtesy of her campaign)


Why are you running?

D.C. is ranked as one of the lowest performers in the country, and I think we can do better.  We are doing good work. There is progress. I have been on the boards for two charter schools east of the Anacostia River and I see great successes. I just want to spread that success. I think this is a moment in time where we can turn everything around. We can make a great school  system in this city. There is great momentum and great people who are committed to this.

What experience prepares you for the job? I worked as a corporate lawyer, and the State Board of Education deals with governance issues and legal issues. And I have had experience on boards and understand the different roles that people play. I was vice chair of the board of Septima Clarke [a charter school that was closed for low performance in 2013] and we made that very difficult decision to merge into Achievement Prep Public Charter School. It was difficult but we all had one focus — the well being of the children.

Key priorities:

*Help to develop rules that can allow the D.C. schools chancellor to develop new avenues of competency-based academic standards.

*Find ways to give schools more flexibility in hiring, so their hands are not tied behind their backs with too many rules and regulations when it comes to what credentials teachers need and what defines a high quality teacher.

*Help with the transition to the new Common Core-aligned PARCC test, which is scheduled to be administered for the first time this spring. I’m not talking about complaining that the schools are not doing it well or fast enough, but what can we do to make this transition better? It’s going to be hard. But hard doesn’t mean bad. It means: Role up your sleeves and make it work.

Tricia Braun

Age: 48

Neighborhood: Palisades

Family: One at Georgetown Day School, two at Key Elementary School

Occupation: Lawyer (not currently practicing); PTA co-president at Key Elementary

Total contributions: $11,805 (eight days before the election)

Campaign Photo Tricia Braun  (Linda Fittante)

Why are you running?

I am running because I am a parent who has seen how policies affect our classrooms. I have been very engaged with education over the last 20 years, and I have been working broadly with Ward 3 schools and trying to improve them. I participated in the boundaries review process, talking with parents from across the city, and I have become deeply engaged with Ward 3 issues and trying to make sure that policies improve education without stifling creativity.

What experiences prepare you for this job?

I went to Yale law school, worked in private practice, then I became a prosecutor including a stint with juvenile justice. I have experience working with families and children and understanding the issues of a lot of struggling students inside the system.

I have been home since I had children and very involved in their schools developing policies and programs. I organized a group of parent leaders who wanted to improve Hardy Middle School. We worked through our council member and met with administrators and D.C. public schools officials and presented data showing that what was being offered at Alice Deal Middle School and Hardy was not the same. We made specific academic programming suggestions about what would make the school more attractive, and many of the suggestions were put in place. For example, geometry is now offered for advanced eighth-graders at Hardy, as it has been at Deal.

Key priorities:

*Ensure that we have high standards for students and teachers that do not crowd out a rich curriculum, including science, social studies, the arts, geography and foreign language.

*Bring a parent’s perspective to the board, that is not academic or ideological but pragmatic.

*Focus on how policies can create stronger middle and high school options in the city. We have a desperate need for better middle schools and comprehensive high schools.

Phil Thomas

Age:  29

Neighborhood: Palisades

Children: No

Occupation: Physical teacher at Mundo Verde Public Charter School

Total contributions: $2,290 (eight days before the election)

Philip Phil Thomas (Courtesy of his campaign)


Why are you running?

As a school teacher, I have seen things that schools can do better, and I have seen flaws in the system. I want to bring that perspective and fix the problems I have seen.

What experience prepares you for this job?

I am charter school teacher, and I have been teaching children year-round for the last six years. I have also worked at summer camps at private schools. I went to public school all the way through myself. I am also an ANC commissioner in the Palisades and chair of the education committee for the Palisades Civics Association.

I think i’m the best person for this job because I’m involved in the community and I have a strong work ethic. I go to everything in Ward 3. I am out there and talking to people. I think I can engage parents and make the Board of Education relevant.

Key Priorities:

*Push for a rich curriculum that includes foreign language, science, the arts and music in every school

*Make sure that every school has a social worker and a literacy coach so every kid has a chance to succeed.

*Rethink teacher evaluations so they are more focused on how much a child improves

Ruth Wattenberg

Age: 56

Neighborhood:  Tenleytown/Friendship Heights

Children: One graduate of Wilson High School. Another graduated from Alice Deal Middle School and now attends The Nora School in Silver Spring.

Occupation: Education policy consultant with specialty in Common Core implementation

Total contributions: $12,068 (eight days before the election)

Ruth Ruth Wattenberg (Courtesy of her campaign)


Why are you running?

I have a lifetime commitment to education. I spent my entire professional career involved in education and improving schools for everyone especially children in poverty.

I put my own kids through Alice Deal and one through Woodrow Wilson High School, and spent time improving and working with the schools and understanding what works and does not work. With that experience, combined with my policy experience, I can get right to work on the board and help make our schools great across the city.

What experience prepares you for this?

I spent many years working for the American Federation of Teachers, as the director of educational issues and theneditor of American Educator magazine. I convened teams of school board members and superintendents from the nation’s big cities to agree on ways to redesign, and sometimes shut down, under-performing schools in poor neighborhoods. I supported strong education by bringing in evidence-based practices to support reading instruction during the reading wars. And as an editor, I scanned the education world for the best of what was going on. I tried to find out what are the great ideas that really can change things and get them out there. This is a role I hope the State Board of Education can play.

Key Priorities:

*It’s terrifically important to implement Common Core in a way that does not short-change science, social studies and the arts. This means strong professional development and curriculum materials. It’s also an opportunity to revisit the issue of over-testing in schools.

*Increase the caliber of the kinds of support that the state board can provide to schools. I hope at some point our state board and state education agency can be the folks who really find the best ideas that are going on elsewhere and bring them here. Take for example Common Core implementation. You can go  to other state education department web sites and get really good materials for implementing Common Core.

*State Board of Education members are the only elected advocates for education in the city. Part of that role is to be an advocate and an ombudsman for ward 3 schools and make sure they are getting what they need.