The Arlington County School Board caucus races are over, and it gives me great pleasure to endorse Ms. Symone Walker as my #1 candidate for the Arlington County School Board. I ask you to join me in supporting Symone on November 3, 2020. Symone is the storybook American dream and an inspirational leader. An immigrant who came to Virginia over 30 years ago, started her education at our local community college, she later received a Juris Doctorate from American University Washington College of Law, and an LL.M. in Litigation & Dispute Resolution.
Invested in our community and the school system, Symone is a staunch community advocate for K-12 Education. She is an intellect, shows an in-depth knowledge of the local issues, shows empathy for others, and is not in this race for higher political ambitions. Symone has worked for the past a decade addressing systemic issues that have collapsed on deaf ears and plagued our communities. A lifelong Democrat, she is not your traditional candidate who has come up the ranks of what many calls, “The Democratic Machine,” or “Well-Connected” of Arlington.
She is the quintessential public servant who has for years supported many of our current elected leaders in Arlington. However, because of her federal occupation, she could not take part in the democratic party endorsement caucus. That does not negate the fact she remains the best qualified to serve our students. School Board positions are nonpartisan by state law, and as such, each candidate is listed on the ballot unaffiliated with a party. A pledge to the Democratic Party is not binding. I am a lifelong Democratic and have a problem with strong-arm political maneuvers to keep control of the outcome in a nonpartisan race. The difference in this school board race is that we know Symone’s character, her zeal, and passion. We know what she stands for. Progressive change, equity, service, transparency, and accountability. I along with so many others in Arlington want the best-qualified candidate to serve our children and families. I PLEDGE TO SUPPORT SYMONE. JOIN ME!
In conclusion, not everyone anointed by a system or culture that disenfranchises the very community they serve is prepared for the public office. Symone has decades of experience serving in leadership positions outside the political environment and within our school community. She brings a renewed perspective to the board. As a parent of two APS students, she is aware of substantive issues and has proven her ability to challenge the status quo and system which has failed so many. Symone has the recognized ability to analyze data and large-scale budget programs. Last but not least, she shows genuine empathy for others and regards every student and family with dignity and respect regardless of their race, color, religion, or zip code. It is time for Arlingtonians to take a stand, and vote for who we know is the best-qualified candidate, Ms. Symone Walker.
Julius D. "JD" Spain Sr., Resident & Community Leader
As a civic leader and community activist, I’ve been working within Arlington Public Schools for the past dozen years in order to increase access to opportunity for all students and shine a light on various inequities still grounded in the school system. In 2020, we are at a tipping point where decisions on school leadership, overcrowding and combating institutional racism will have grave and lasting effects on the education of our children. Difficult times call for difficult measures. We need members on the school board who are willing to look to revolutionary ways to ensure that all our children are able to achieve their potential. We need someone extraordinary to make courageous decisions that will have ramifications for years to come. I believe that extraordinary person is Symone Walker.
Symone has been a passionate and effective community leader for over a decade and is uniquely qualified to tackle the challenges that APS faces as one of our next school board members. As an APS parent for 10 years, an attorney, and a member of various APS committees and working groups, Symone has been in the trenches on educational policy and its delivery in Arlington. She has the experience necessary to ensure that APS meets its goal to provide a high-quality education for every child.
Symone puts students first. A champion for students with special needs, Ms. Walker has developed a deep understanding of the system and the importance of thoughtful strategies to serve a variety of students. She brings fresh thinking and bold ideas and will contribute significantly to forging innovative responses that will work for all our students, keeping in mind their mental health and the outside influences that may hinder their learning. I have observed first hand her ability to work zealously with a range of viewpoints and find creative solutions through common ground, including, most recently, championing an effort to pass legislation for mandatory screening of reading disabilities and instructional intervention K-3 for this upcoming 2020 legislative session. Through her leadership on HB 332, Symone has gotten multiple education and equity advocates, including the Virginia NAACP as well as Decoding Dyslexia Virginia, on board to prioritize this measure to make it their legislative priority.
Symone Walker is a true leader, with a knack for finding creative solutions to difficult problems. She has keen insights into the myriad of student needs and ways to increase inclusiveness across our various programs and to support our diverse community. Symone will strive for excellence for all; she will not be satisfied with merely good efforts when it comes to inclusivity for children of color, students with disabilities, and English as secondary language learners. I have no doubt that she will provide the means to deliver a school system based upon equity and excellence that will propel all students to succeed in this new decade and beyond.
(Whytni is a member of the Steering Committee Arlington for Justice and a member of Arlington County Human Rights Commission, and in 2015 she was honored the Citizen Award by Arlington Public Schools)
Whytni H. Kernodle, Esq., Vice-President, Black Parents of Arlington
We are living in unprecedented times that requires bold leadership, strategic vision, and a record fighting for equity for our students. There is only one candidate in this race that I believe meets all of these requirements, and that is Symone Walker.
For over ten years, Symone has been a dedicated fighter for APS students through her own advocacy in PTAs and on school committees and more recently, in her work as the Arlington NAACP’s Education Committee Co-Chair. She has sat in countless meetings with organizations across Arlington working to find common ground to ensure that all students are prepared for the world upon leaving APS. She has written legislation to advance literacy and lobbied in Richmond on learning disability screening and reading instruction. She has fearlessly held county leadership at every level accountable to ensure that our school system lives up to its stated goals of equality, diversity, and community building.
Diversity and equity are trending now, due in no large part to current events that have brought attention to the struggles for equality faced by Black, Brown, and Indigenous people in this country. Symone, whose background as an immigrant from Jamaica who worked her way from community college to earning her JD and LLM, is best positioned to understand this unique moment in our history. She is a prime example of what this country is capable of when all are given every opportunity on their educational journey.
In the coming days and months, especially in light of Senator Kamala Harris’ historic nomination, you will hear from many about diversity, equity, and equality. I would ask you to look at the record and actions of those who claim these mantles. For me, Symone Walker is the candidate that is ready from day one to lead the school board and APS into a future that works for all our children and prepares them for a future bold with endless possibilities. Join me in voting for Symone Walker on Tuesday, November 3.
Dr. Alfred Taylor
I am proud to support Symone Walker for Arlington County School Board. At this time of intense national strife and the most critical presidential election in recent U.S. history, we can’t forget the importance of working toward concrete change for children in our own local community — and that starts with our choices for school board.
I am the parent of an APS middle schooler and two preschoolers who will enter APS as kindergartners in 2021 and 2022. While I’ve been invested in the school system as a parent for 8 years, and will be for 14 more, I believe there is no such thing as other people’s children. This means I’m invested in APS for as long as I live in Arlington, whether my kids are current students or not. It means I want APS to provide a high-quality educational experience for all children, not just mine. We are all responsible for each other. And if something is wrong, we are all responsible for taking steps to fix it. Voting for Symone is one of these steps.
We know, because Black Parents of Arlington has done the hard work of compiling the data, that significant racial disparities persist in APS. Not in a single subject, not in a fluke year, but consistently and persistently throughout the Virginia Standards of Learning, math and reading pass rates, gifted and talented identification, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate enrollment and pass rates, advanced diploma graduation rates, and disciplinary suspensions, the numbers show clear, significant differences in student opportunities and outcomes among Black and white students. Of course, many teachers, administrators, parents, and students are working hard to address these inequities. But they cannot do it alone. A focus on educational equity must come from the top, from elected officials who will hold the APS administration accountable, and whom we as voters can hold accountable if they do not. How can we read a report like this and not demand better for the children of our community in 2020? Voting for Symone is how we demonstrate that demand.
It is great to live in a jurisdiction that values education as an overall matter, but the return on Arlington’s investment just isn’t acceptable. It doesn’t matter that my own family’s experience in APS with our oldest child has been positive; that just shows me that it is possible for every school and every classroom to deliver that outcome for every student — and how far we are from doing so. In addition, COVID-19 and the necessary switch to virtual learning has exposed broader inequities in our county — in housing, healthcare, employment, and broadband access — many of which spill over into education. We have so much long-term work to do, but some opportunities will come sooner than others, and one of those is the chance to vote for Symone.
According to the 2010 Census, fewer than 10 percent of Arlingtonians are Black. Even if that percentage has increased over the past decade, the fact remains: Black families need white allies to help demand change. This means a vote for Symone.
A lot of us in Arlington like to say we are anti-racist. We turned out en masse in June and July for protests and vigils in support of Black Lives Matter and our local Black community. We said our eyes had been opened and we understood we must play a role in moving this country and this community forward. We committed to doing what was necessary to ensure different outcomes. Maybe you, like me, stood outside the county building, wearing your mask, raising your sign, and promised to fight with the NAACP. Maybe you, like me, remembered lives lost and sang the words of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” with the Black Parents of Arlington on the field outside Drew Elementary. Or maybe you stayed home because of COVID-19, and that’s ok, too. But whatever you said and whatever you did, if you meant it in June when you said you would be an ally, you should mean it this fall, too. You should show it with your vote for Symone.
Doing the work of anti-racism means listening to Black leaders who are telling us how we can best support them. You cannot simply lament inequity in theory and then not take a path placed in front of you by those with lived experience for how to address it. Symone is the most qualified and experienced candidate on the ballot for school board. She’s a civic leader and parent advocate who is so committed to pursuing equity that she was willing to run as an independent when the federal Hatch Act prevented her from participating in the Democratic caucus. She has been a voice for special needs students, for students in economically vulnerable households, for students of color, and for all of us as we navigate the uncharted waters of learning during a pandemic. So I am listening, and I urge you to listen, too. Symone is endorsed by the president of the local NAACP, by the vice president of Black Parents of Arlington, and by other long-time leaders in the Arlington Black community. When they say that Symone Walker is the one to get the job done, I plan to vote accordingly.
A lot of candidates say things about equity because they know that well-meaning voters in Arlington like to hear it. But Symone is the candidate who is committed to making it happen. As Symone says, “[A]ttending a particular school should not determine the quality of education a child receives” and “[n]either ZIP code, nor race, nor language should be determining educational outcomes in Arlington.” Symone has my support because I know she will hold the School Board, APS administration, and all of us accountable until this becomes a reality.
Natalie Roisman, APS Parent
I am so excited and proud to endorse Symone Walker for Arlington County School Board. From her experience in civic leadership, such as being on her children’s schools’ PTAs, to her advocacy with groups like Black Parents for Arlington, I believe Symone brings a unique and refreshing perspective to the Board.
What immediately made me gravitate me toward Symone was her positions on mental health in schools. As a mental health and suicide prevention advocate as well as having several years of experience as a volunteer crisis counselor myself, I believe Symone has the right ideas to ensure that our schools staff, from our teachers to our SROs have the proper training needed to help our students that struggle with trauma, stress, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation, issues that are not only affecting students in Arlington, but all across the nation.
Michael Angeloni, Mental Health & Suicide Prevention Advocate
I first met Symone Walker in a conversation on race that I was facilitating. Symone was always present, really listening, thoughtful and honest in her responses as a parent, a professional and as an African American woman. For example, to help the group understand White Privilege, Symone said simply, “White privilege is not an indictment of character; it simply describes what is.”
I am endorsing her for school board because she has a remarkable set of qualifications in one person: an ability to listen, a commitment to honesty, to being non-judgmental. She
understands literacy as the cornerstone of student success for all students, and is a fighter for tearing down the barriers that hold back Black, Indigenous and students of color (BISOC).
Although Symone is a lawyer, she understands child development not only from her own
experiences as a parent but from thorough study of the literature and conversations with
teachers and other parents. She believes that the key to success for all children is literacy in all of its forms, in or before third grade: reading, writing, speaking and numeracy—fluency with numbers.
Symone pushes back against the ways in which Black, Indigenous and students of color (BISOC) are disadvantaged in APS: disproportionate admission to special education; disproportionate suspensions for offenses involving teacher discretion; not being recommended for gifted and talented programs; being passed on when they meet a low standard and need help. She is an effective lobbyist because she builds coalitions for change. For all these reasons, I’m voting for Symone—and hope you will, too.
Martha Swaim, Teacher, Past President of Arlington Education Assoc., Co-Founder, Challenging Racism
Over the course of this year, we’ve seen historic change across the country, including right here in Arlington. We’ve seen increased attention focused on the critical and vital role that mental health services have in our society and the calls for the need to allocate more funding and resources to mental health services. As a founding member of the Arlington Mental Health & Disability Alliance (AMH&DA), I’ve been on the frontlines as an advocate and voice for individuals who need mental health services, especially those individuals whose illness lands them in the crosshairs of our criminal justice system, and fighting to make sure our tax dollars are being effectively allocated for these critical needs.
The need for mental health services is often identified early on, especially in the school system. That’s why it’s so important that the school board has an advocate who understands this and will fight and speak up to ensure that our kids get the mental health treatment that they need, that school guidance counselors positions are fully staffed across APS, and that the county has a proactive, rather than reactive, policy on mental health for our students and that APS follows through with implementing restorative practices. The candidate in this race to make that happen is Symone Walker, and I’m very pleased to endorse her in her race for the APS School Board.
Symone’s platform envisions an APS where mental health is prioritized and is a seamless, integral part of our public schools because each school has the recommended ratios of certified counselors, social workers, and psychologists. Symone’s vision for mental health in APS is a holistic approach where mental health professionals, teachers, students, administrators, and parents, work together collaboratively to address student challenges, mental health, bullying and other behavioral factors. This is the type of forward-thinking, innovative, and service-delivery oriented approach we need on the school board, and Symone is the candidate to deliver it.
Symone Walker has my vote for Arlington School Board. APS has a lot of resources, but resources and good will are not enough. We need a school board member with the skill set to envision and develop practical solutions. Symone has that in spades. She will come to the School Board with an impressive 20-year career as an attorney, and two advanced degrees in law. Symone also has deep knowledge of APS processes as a result of her community engagement. She can and will ensure that APS policies and practices are sound and fully implemented across the school district.
Juliet Hiznay, Special Eduaction Attorney & Advocate
It is my honor to endorse Symone Walker for Arlington County School Board. I believe wholeheartedly that she is the best candidate for the job. I am an APS parent and employee, and I have a vested interest in our schools. This dual background has given me direct experience with the challenges facing APS. It has taught me that solutions to our challenges are fraught, oftentimes with stakeholder disagreement and funding deficiencies. Yet I have also found that APS can be an incredible place to be a learner and an employee. It is filled with dedicated and passionate people who work hard serving our community. Symone is one of those dedicated and passionate people. She has a demonstrated commitment to APS students and staff, and I am proud to support her candidacy.
I have lived in Arlington for over a decade and also co-run Tuckahoe Elementary School’s outdoor education program and serve there as a long-time substitute teacher. I have been in K-5 classrooms and find great joy in teaching and enriching Arlington children. Additionally, I am a parent to three APS students in grades 5, 8, and 12. Like many parents, I have lived through my share of boundary changes: two have affected my own children, as will another this year. Due to that, my family will likely have been a part of 5-6 APS schools by the time my three children graduate. Two of my children have an IEP, so I have first-hand involvement with special education in APS. I have chaired PTA committees, volunteered, and attended many a school board meeting and office hours to advocate on issues. In other words, this is all to say, I have been with APS long enough to know how supporting our schools can be a never-ending task. Those who choose to serve on the school board face hard decisions and constant criticism. During this campaign, Symone has proven she is prepared for this. She persevered through unique hurdles as a candidate. She has also shown an exceptional willingness to engage and listen with families. These are both crucial qualities for a school board member. She hasn’t just released statements, but has been a presence on parent social media sites, willing to state her views and listen to new ideas. It is also noteworthy that Symone has two children who are current APS students. Being a parent while serving on our board would bring an accountability that we rarely see on our school board, and I think it adds a vital voice to the decision-making process.
Finally, Symone’s advocacy work has proven to me that she will stand up for our most vulnerable learners. She has a proven commitment to our neurodiverse students. She has been involved in SEPTA and pushed legislation for mandatory screening of reading disabilities for K-3 students. She has also spoken out to support school policies that affirm transgender and gender-nonconforming students. She did this before her candidacy, and spoke to the school board to protect and give full equity to our LGBTQ+ students. She has made it clear that she prioritizes taking steps to cultivate a culture of equity. Early voting in Virginia has begun, and I am looking forward to casting my vote for Symone. Arlington would be lucky to have her serve as a school board member, and I hope my fellow voters will support her as well.
Andrea Kaplowitz, APS Parent & APS Employee
Lifetime Arlington Resident and Community Activist