EDUCATION CONTINUES to be the most important issue facing the District of Columbia, and nowhere are the challenges greater than in Ward 8. That’s why voters there would do well to pay attention to the candidates vying to represent them on the State Board of Education in a special election this month.
The July 15 election will fill the unexpired term of Trayon White, who resigned to take a job with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, and it has attracted scant notice. That is typical of elections held off-schedule, but the low profile of the reconfigured school board is also a factor.
There is no question that the elected school board lost power when education governance was changed in 2007 to give the mayor authority for operating the public school system. Still, the board’s role in setting standards and shaping policy remains important to continuing education reform.
Two candidates are vying for election. The winner will serve out Mr. White’s term, which expires in 2016. Ward 8 voters are fortunate because both hopefuls — civic activist Phil Pannell and teacher Tierra Jolly — have solid credentials and thoughtful ideas. Ms. Jolly, a Teach for America alumna who went on to teach in Ward 8’s Kramer Middle School and now at Bishop McNamara High School in Prince George’s County, has valuable firsthand insights that could help inform education policy. She has appealing ideas about vocational education and, as someone who grew up in Ward 8, she understands its challenges.
But we give the edge to Mr. Pannell, whom we endorsed in his two previous bids for the board, believing that he has a more expansive view on policy and that his longtime activism in Ward 8 would help him focus attention on local schools. Once an executive assistant to school board president Peggy Cooper Cafritz, Mr. Pannell understands the role of the board and how policy can make an important difference. His work in starting and supporting a parent-teacher association at Ballou High School has made him a champion of efforts to improve parent engagement. Equally important is his full-throated support for charter schools.
All registered voters in Ward 8 can vote in this nonpartisan election.