THERE IS little drama to many of the races for local D.C. offices in next month’s elections. Winners of the all-important Democratic primary, or incumbents with no or nominal competition, are prohibitive favorites in the contests for D.C. Council (two at-large and four ward seats) and D.C. delegate races. There are, though, spirited contests for the State Board of Education, which plays an important role in shaping education policy.
The school reform ushered in a decade ago, which mandated mayoral control of the school system, dramatically altered the board’s role. Instead of being the governing board of the school system, overseeing operations and controlling the budget, the panel was refocused to help set broad policy in areas such as graduation requirements, curriculums, academic standards and teacher qualifications. With the revamping of No Child Left Behind set to take full effect in the 2017-2018 school year, the board will have its hands full in establishing the law’s metrics of accountability.
Five seats on the nine-member board will be decided Nov. 8. Ward 2 incumbent Jack Jacobson is unopposed for reelection, and Lannette Woodruff, a Shepherd Elementary PTA member, is the only candidate for the seat being vacated by Ward 4 member Kamili Anderson.
In the at-large race, incumbent Mary Lord faces challenges from college student Tony Donaldson Jr. and Ashley Carter, director at a national nonprofit for women and families. Both Mr. Donaldson and Ms. Carter are appealing newcomers with heartfelt interest in wanting to improve schools. But Ms. Lord’s 10 years on the board have given her a depth of knowledge that merits her reelection.
In Ward 7, incumbent Karen Williams is the clear choice over challengers Dorothy Douglas and Marla Dean. Her work as a director of an early-childhood center in Ward 7 has given her insight into how to improve the quality of preschool education and the need to engage parents. She is thoughtful in her approach to issues and passionate about the need to continue school reform.
In Ward 8, incumbent Tierra Jolly faces challenges from Markus Batchelor, an advisory neighborhood commissioner, and Shakira Hemphill, director at Friendship Public Charter School. Mr. Batchelor’s activism in the community and recent experience as a student (he’s 23) would be useful to the board, but Ms. Jolly deserves reelection by virtue of her very able leadership since her special election in 2014. Her foremost achievement was her successful push for the awarding of a state diploma to adult students passing general-education competence tests, thus reducing a barrier to educational and economic opportunities. She has been an effective advocate for underserved students east of the river and, as the only teacher on the board, provides valuable perspectives into education policy.