Arlington’s two school board incumbents point to their first-term records and the district’s new strategic plan.Their challengers see a primary need for academic improvement, and more diversity on a board with four Anglo men, one Anglo woman, one Hispanic man, and one Hispanic woman.Challengers Britine Burton and Alisa Simmons, who are African-American, are running against incumbents Jamie Sullins and John Hibbs in the May 11 election.“There’s a lack of diversity on that board that seriously needs to be addressed,” said Britine Burton, a Grand Prairie teacher who is opposing Sullins for her Place 5 seat.“I’m ready to see equitable access in our public schools where all our schools are equitable. And that’s not the case currently.”But Sullins and Hibbs believe that the board’s intensive work on the strategic plan will benefit all segments of Arlington’s diverse student population.They also supported the hiring of Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos, who is Hispanic.“I think it’s important to stay the course,” Sullins said of her reasons for seeking re-election. “I feel very motivated and enthused to see the strategic plan through to become reality.”Place 5Burton, 45, has been an administrator and a program coordinator in addition to her job teaching Advanced Placement psychology and U.S. history at South Grand Prairie High School.Her son, who is now 22, went through Arlington schools.Burton has taught for 16 years and holds a doctorate in education.“Having lived in Arlington for so long, I’ve been seeing the shift in our schools and some of the issues coming up in discipline and academics as well,” she said.Sullins, 52, a “full-time” community volunteer and a former financial analyst for an aerospace firm, is seeking her second term on the board.She believes that the three-year stratetic plan adopted by the board, when fully implemented, will be a “foundational change” throughout the district.The plan has built-in elements that will help bring equity to the district, she said.“It’s not just my opinion, it’s in the evidence of the work we’ve done over the past three years,” Sullins said. “It’s meeting the needs of each and every student. The curriculum management audit will provide information on any type of gaps of deficiencies and we will have an opportunity to fill those gaps.“In addition we’ve been working on several initiatives,” she said, “such as the 10 new plans in career technology, and early college high school to meet the needs of all students in this community.”Place 4Simmons, 49, has been marketing and communications manager for the Tarrant County 911 district for more than 16 years. She has been an Arlington resident for 26 years. Her two sons graduated from Arlington High School.She has served on district-level committees concerning decision-making, calendar, textbook adoption and workforce diversity. At the campus level, Simmons has served on PTA boards at her sons’ schools as well as the site-based decision-making committee at Key Elementary School.Simmons sees academic achievement as the Arlington district’s biggest challenge.“Academic success across the board is imperative,” Simmons said. “One of the largest obstacles faced by all school districts is the public school finance system. The state is not adequately funding public schools at the necessary level for students to meet tougher standards.”Besides school safety, her priorities are boosting parental and community engagement in the schools and making sure the district is living within its financial means with continuous budget analysis.Simmons, who is newly elected head of the Arlington chapter of the NAACP, has sought a school board seat before.Hibbs, 51, was elected in 2010 and is seeking his second term.Hibbs, the western regional manager of Bausch & Lomb’s contact lens division, had chaired the 2009 citizens bond advisory committee and later the citizens bond election PAC.“I said to myself, why don’t you go forward to see that the bond package is implemented the way the citizens intended,” he said.He said the past three years have been tough, with “historic” cuts in school funding and changes in curriculum and accountability standards.But he, along with the rest of the board, sees the strategic plan as a game-changer.Hibbs criticized contenders who he says run for the board just to make a point.“They have not been in the boardroom for the last three years,” he said. “And then they come in and file to run at the last minute? You need to be committed to serve.”Simmons said she typically views school board meetings online.
Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657 Twitter: @shirljinkins