Five candidates are vying for an open seat on the D.C. State Board of Education this year.  Patrick Mara, who was elected in 2010, is not seeking another term. It’s a competitive race that has spurred far more fundraising than the other two State Board elections.

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 1 candidates. Their responses are based on interviews and campaign materials.

David Do

Age: 27

Neighborhood: Park View

Children in School: No

Occupation: Graduate student in Urban  Planning at University of Maryland at College Park.  Teaching assistant.

Total Contributions: $28,284.07 (eight days before the election)

Headshot_DavidDo David Do (Photo courtesy of his campaign)


Why are you running?

I grew up in California. My parents were refugees from Vietnam. They came with nothing. We lived in poverty. I was an English learner (ELL) student and a free and reduced meals recipient. That’s where I come from, similar to a lot of the kids in Ward 1.  I was also the first in my family to graduate from college. I went to the University of California at Merced.

My senior year, I was one of 18 students who convinced Michelle Obama to come speak at our graduation. At the graduation ceremony, she told me, “David,  you need to reach back and lift someone up so they can see the same bright future.”

What experiences have prepared you for this job?

In college, I was elected to be the director of academic affairs. After graduating, I worked for Mayor Adrian Fenty’s office where I corresponded with constituents. I have been volunteering at Bruce Monroe at Park View — my neighborhood school — for three years. I volunteer my time to clean up the outside of the school, organize books with teachers, or I use my skills to connect computers.

I have also mentored two students who were interns through the Summer Youth Employment program. Both were seniors at the time. I helped them apply to college and prepare for the real world, and I’m still in touch with them.

Key priorities:

*Make sure our neediest students have the resources they need to succeed starting from the beginning.  That means wrap-around services. I remember when I was younger, I needed glasses in the first grade and didn’t have them until the third grade. I was not learning to my full potential. I want students like me to learn to their full potential.

*Make sure students who are high achievers  have a rich, full and challenging curriculum and programming that parents value.

E. Gail Anderson  Holness

Age: 58 years old

Neighborhood:  Columbia Heights/ Pleasant Plain

Children in School: One daughter graduated from Edmund Burke School  in Northwest

Occupation:  Substitute teacher at Cardozo Education Campus, president and a pastor of Christ Our Redeemer African Methodist Episcopal Church

Total Contributions: $1,175.00 (As of Oct. 10, 2014)

Gail E. Gail Anderson Holness (Photo courtesy of her campaign)


Why are you running? 

I have been an activist all of my life. I want to be a voice for those I believe are disenfranchised. I am an advocate and a fighter, and I am here to advocate for what’s right: quality schools, quality education and quality teachers.

I have a passion for investing in the growth and development of children and the new teacher workforce in D.C. public schools.

What experiences have prepared you for this job?

I have a proven record as a leader in this community. I am a three-term ANC commissioner, and I have organized programs to bring in students from Howard University to mentor public school students.

I am a life-long learner. I have a bachelor of arts from Clark Atlanta University; a juris doctorate from the Howard University School of Law; a doctor of ministry from Howard University School of Divinity; and I studied for a master of theology at St. Mary’s Ecumenical Seminary & University.

My daughter is a graduate of Spelman College. She speaks five languages and has a masters of divinity. If I can do it for one, I can do it for others.

Key priorities:

*Hold teachers to the same standards. Teach for America has infiltrated America. These teachers are not in the classroom by the same standards. Many are coming to this urban environment and have never lived in an urban environment. Their issues are different and backgrounds are different. Many of these new teachers come in for two years, get loans paid off, and they are gone. They need more professional development and should also be held to the same standard as regular teachers.

*Revamp teacher evaluations. Teachers and parents have continued to express concerns about the Master Teacher evaluation process. In response, I recommend a comprehensive and timely review of all aspects of the Master Teacher evaluation process so that any improvements that are recommended can be implemented prior to the end of the 2015 school year.

Lillian Perdomo

Age: 53

Neighborhood: Mount Pleasant

Children in School: One child at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, another attended D.C. public schools. One grandchild at Raymond Education Campus

Occupation: Most recently directed a summer arts and culture program at Bruce-Monroe Elementary School at Park View

Total Contributions: $5,407.66 (eight days before the election)

perdomo Lillian Perdomo (Photo courtesy of her campaign)


Why are you running?

I am one of many parents who have struggled to make it in the school system. I was a day-care provider and a single mother making $13,000 a year, and I had to pay rent in the District.

At this point I have the skills and the knowledge about what works and doesn’t work, and I want to help develop supports in the schools for families who need them — through wraparound services or community schools. As a mother of two children, including one in special education, I could have used some sort of coordination and support from the school system, and someone who was referring me and supporting me and that never really happened. When we have a lot of parents and children who don’t know the ins and outs of getting the supports they need, that affects how children learn.

In Ward 1, we have a high number of children who are on free and reduced lunch and who are African American or Latino. Despite all the efforts, we have lost ground in some areas in test scores and we are not improving when it comes to the achievement gap. All this shows we are not doing what we need to do to support our children. With my proven leadership skills, we can help resolve the challenges facing our public education system.

What experiences have  prepared you for this job? 

I came from El Salvador when I was 15 years old, pretty much on my own, and I struggled to figure out how to make it. I eventually attended high school and college. I worked as a day-care provider and later I trained other day-care providers. I worked for nonprofits and the federal government to prevent violence against women. I worked on local education issues in the office former D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz. I was also a parent coordinator for the school system, and over the years I have trained many other  parents to help them become more involved in their children’s schools.

I have worked on political campaigns and I was a delegate to the National Democratic Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Key priorities:

*Ensure that every child has the early education they need so they are ready to go into the school system

*Improve access to quality schools in every neighborhood. I want to create ideal learning environments with more STEAM integration, not STEM , but STEAM — Science Technology, Education, Arts and Math. I also want to increase the number of dual-language programs and promote financial literacy in schools.

Laura Wilson Phelan

Age: 40

Neighborhood: Mount Pleasant

Children in school: Two children at Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School

Occupation: Chief operating officer at the Flamboyan Foundation, a nonprofit that coaches teachers and principals across 30 D.C. public schools to develop strong family engagement practices

Total contributions: $39,705.62 (eight days before the election)

Headshot LWilsonPhelan Laura Wilson Phelan (Photo courtesy of her campaign)

Why are you running? 

I believe I can make a difference. I am a former bilingual teacher and I came to deeply understand what it takes to help students improve, especially disadvantaged students. I understand how challenging it is, especially in classrooms where all of our kids are not on grade level. That experience, including my work with principals and administrator across D.C. in addition to working with the federal government and as a mom, can help me move ideas forward on the board.

What experiences have prepared you for this job?

I was a Teach for America corps member in inner-city California and then I taught for two years in Peace Corps in Namibia, and I did community engagement work there and trained elementary school teachers. When I returned to the United States, I went to graduate school at the Harvard Kennedy School and taught adult education. I became a Presidential Management Fellow at USAID, where I spent two years rotating through different federal government offices to see how the budget is put together and policy is made. Since then I have had various policy, advocacy and management roles with the federal government and non-profit sector.

In my neighborhood I served on the Local School Advisory Team for Bancroft Elementary School and I was an ANC commissioner.

Key priorities:

*Help activate our community and parent base across Ward 1. I would feel successful if we saw a dramatic increase in community and local agencies engaging in public schools in a meaningful way.

*Help the successful launch of Macfarland Middle School. We have an amazing an opportunity with Macfarland opening in the next couple of years. I think we should hire a “planning principal” and a start community process to understand what people want to see in this new school.

Scott Simpson

Age: 30

Neighborhood: LeDroit Park

Children in school: No

Occupation: Press secretary for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Total Contributions: $37,239.85 (eight days before the election)

scott-simpson Scott Simpson (Photo courtesy of his campaign)

Why are you running?

The thing that defines school reform right now is who it’s leaving behind. I think we can make it more inclusive. We are making progress in our schools, but we are leaving immigrant students, students with disabilities and low income kids behind. That’s clearly a national issue, but we have an opportunity to do something about it here in D.C. What we really need to do is commit to taking a look at these disparities and say we are going to eradicate them.

I can be angry about the lack of progress or I can get off the sidelines and help.

What experiences have prepared you for this job? 

I moved to D.C. when I was 18. I joined Americorps and worked at a youth center called SMYAL (Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates,  which works to empower gay or questioning youth.) That was an eye-opening experience to see the tenuous situations that so many of the youth were in. It was not like my high school experience, where I had access to a guidance counselor and AP classes. I worked my way through college, and I graduated from Southeastern University shortly before that school shut down. Then I got a professional studies degree through an adult education program at George Washington University.

I worked in Congress for a little bit and now I get to work at the Leadership Conference. It’s my dream job because we work on the defining human rights and civil rights issues that the breadth of American society faces. I have a large education portfolio, including fair funding for low income students and reforming school discipline policies.

Key priorities: 

*Increase access to social workers in the schools and other wrap-around services and replicate the community schools model.

*Change our approach to standardized testing so that it’s more reflective of student growth. I think we could start telling better stories, if we start digging deep on who is helping students who are still  not proficient but making progress. That is what we have to figure out how to do.