UPDATED March 30: As Arlington emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic, the town faces fresh challenges for schools, new families, senior residents, businesses, teachers and almost every aspect of the town. Candidates for the April 1 town election also face these challenges, but they must decide how to address them townwide.

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What do they have to say about thees issues? Video discussions provided by ACMi offer clues.

Select Board incumbents Len Diggins and Diane Mahon challenged by John Leone are three candidates who say they are eager to tackle these challenges. 

In a separate video, School Committee incumbents Paul Schlichtman and Liz Exton, challenged by Laura B. Gitelson and Jill Krajewski, presented their approaches to issues facing the Arlington Public Schools. They discussed their opinions and solutions regarding special-needs students, hiring and maintaining educators and staff, addressing diversity, equity, inclusion in curriculum and fostering a welcoming environment for students.

ACMi's James Milan asked the questions. Watch the videos and read the summaries:

Select Board (vote for two)

Incumbents Len Diggins, chair, and Diane Mahon, vice chair, face challenger John D. Leone

Opening statements

Lenard DigginsDiggins: My goal is to support you. But I also try to be honest and realistic about the likelihood of success. That said, I like embracing bold ideas and aiming for lofty goals. For example, can we transform Broadway and East Arlington into an innovative corridor that is not only an economic engine, but a magnet for new housing developments and the company's new growth in the process?

Can we create housing so that more and more those who work for the town will also have the opportunity to live here? Can we also strive to create neighborhoods that make walking and cycling safer, facilitate the use of public transit, make possible use of shared vehicles and utilize more sustainable forms of energy such as solar and geothermal to a greater degree? The answer to all these questions is a resounding yes.

But I alone can't make them happen. What I can do is encourage those of you who want a future that resembles this vision, and work with you and my select board colleagues, the town manager and staff in town meeting to create the policies and incentives that will lead to such a future.

John D. Leone, 2022Leone: It is time to reassess and set our priorities and decision making for where we want to be in five to 10 years. As we emerge from the pandemic turmoil, I believe that the focus on long term planning is imperative and critical for maintaining a sustainable community for both new and old residents alike.

I will ensure that long term thinking, planning, and policy decisions remain squarely on the table of the Select Board. I will bring an energy and direction of purpose to the board that is sorely needed at this time. I have been and will continue to be with your vote. A listener, a friend and a voice for all residents of Arlington's as we work together to make Arlington the best it can be we can do better.

Diane MahonMahon: I've been proud of my record and service, and I'm just as excited as I was the first time I was a candidate. Arlington is a great community due to the involvement of its citizens and our commitment to continue to grow and adapt with the issues before us.

We are facing many challenges, and I hope to continue to work towards solutions. As a member of the Select Board, I have learned one of my best qualities as a Select Board member is to really take the time to listen to all of our residents. And always keep an open mind to finding solutions and reexamining if there is something we can do better together.


Q: Which of the many concerns strikes you personally as the most urgent and what would you have the Select Board do to address it?

Diggins: The most urgent issue is clearly the town-manager search. The town manager sets the tone for the dynamic not only within the town, but also between the Select Board and the community group, also the rest of the staff. I have built that relationship with the top manager in the case of Adam Chapdelaine, we met once a week on average for 30 minutes, and it was a regular meeting. My intention is to continue that with the next town manager.

Leone: I think right now the most urgent issue facing the Select Board is the town manager and the hiring of a competent capable town manager. We've had various hosts of town managers over the past several decades. So when we hire a new person, we've got to make sure that person is capable, strong and able to do the job Arlington has a very strong Town Manager Act. And our town manager is the top dog in the town, so to speak; he's basically the powers of a mayor, but he or she will report to the Select Board, and the Select Board has to keep a tight rein on that in the future.

Mahon: For me, the most important issue facing the Town of Arlington is sort of twofold financial and environmental. And that sort of branches off financially because money really fuels what the Town of Arlington is and what the community Arlington has said: This is what's important to us; this is what we need.

I mean environment in terms of climate control, climate resiliency, but also in terms of our diversity, equity and inclusion. You know, what does it mean to grow up and Arlington to live in Arlington to work in Arlington? I want to make sure that environment is inclusive and welcoming, that when we need to band together for an issue, whether it's a financial issue with whether it's an issue of what we recently had with the antisemitic language at one of our schools, to come together and say when things are wrong and support each other.

Q: Do you agree or disagree with the statement? Arlington needs to work much harder to attract businesses. If you agree, list what initiatives you would propose and champion in this area and if you disagree, please explain your reasoning.

Leone: I 100 percent agree with that statement. I believe we can do much more to bring more businesses into town, assist those businesses in getting financial need that they want working with local banks for SBA loans, etc.

Without a thriving business community, we've become a bedroom community. And there's no real reason for anyone to stay in town. They will leave town to go shopping elsewhere to leave town to go to restaurants elsewhere. And we have to have a livable walkable town.

Mahon: The town can do different, and we are. I'm really so proud of our planning department. We have Claire Ricker, who's our new planning director, who came from law, who's very well versed, not just in housing, but in businesses.

One of the things I've advocated since I first got on the board [in 1997] was: How do we increase business? How do we take advantage of our industrial zone? How do we go to flag companies and say to them, we have this site; we can work with you with CDBG funding, with grants from the state and attract you here to Arlington. And when I first got on the board, the planning department just didn't have the people power to do that. But now they do.

Diggins: We need to get loans and do work to keep businesses. It all depends on the kind of businesses that we want. If we want more retail businesses then we need more people to be able to shop in those businesses and make them economically viable.

Q: Do you agree or disagree with the statement? Seniors are valued in Arlington.

Mahon: Seniors are definitely valued here in Arlington, and they're definitely valued for me, my core family. Grandma, grandpa were the ones that really had the wisdom and could help guide you through and have the life experience, and I think Arlington recognizes that. We have many, many programs for seniors, but I also recognize there are different kinds of seniors. We have seniors who are in senior housing. We have seniors who are renters and living on very limited greens. And then we have seniors who own their home.

And while some you know may be comfortable in terms of financial planning in the future, some may be, as they say, house-rich and cash-poor. And I think the town is doing a great job in terms of taking everybody's different living circumstances and status in life to see how Arlington could continue to be the community for them.

Diggins: That is something that the town staff in myself as a member of the Select Board really strives to every day -- to make sure that we're reaching everyone, but especially seniors. I would love to hear from anyone who feels that they aren't valued me senior or otherwise, but especially seniors, since that's the point of question. There is tremendous work for seniors with dementia and age and dementia-friendly plans and information online.

Leone: Seniors are an integral part of our community. They are volunteers for boards, engage in meetings and bring diverse economic social backgrounds. They are necessary for our town to operate now, in the past, and for the future. We value them just like we value new residents and children. We have to value all of our residents in the town. And we do provide a lot of services for them and for the seniors as everyone else and should continue to do it as much as we can.

Q: Please provide two or three examples of zoning changes you would support or oppose please be as specific as possible when explaining your reasoning.

Diggins: We are in an MBTA-adjacent community. So that gives us a lot more flexibility as to where we can change. I'd like to see us go beyond and allow perhaps different structures and different parts of town needed. So in parts of town that can't have apartment buildings, I would like to see allowed -- especially if they are mixed use, so that we can have economic diversity throughout town.

Leone: I would like to see some refinement made to the mixed-use zoning, which we now have along Mass. Ave. and Broadway. The mixed use which we have come up with so far is that the amount of commercial space is at a bare minimum so that they can maximize second, third, fourth and fifth floors. For residential, I'm all for increasing the density of residential zoning along the main roads and in the town itself. We have to come up with additional housing because it's just the right thing to do.

Mahon: I have always been advocating for mixed use, with the first and second floor used for business, while third and fourth floors can be residential zones. Hopefully, this can make housing stock available and more affordable.

School Committee (vote for three) 

Incumbents Liz Exton, chair; and Paul Schlichtman face challengers Laura B. Gitelson and Jill Kristin Krajewski

Q: How do you see the role of a School Committee member as it relates to the larger community?

Paul SchlichtmanSchlichtman: The School Committee is basically the liaison between the community and the schools. We take the community values and the community expert expectations and the hopes and the dreams of the community and bring them to the school governance. Under the Education Reform Act, we operate as a board of directors, we hire a superintendent, we evaluate the superintendent, we set policy, we set budget, we're doing this all informed by the values of the community that elects us. 

Exton: The role of the school Committee member as it relates to to the community is to be  a voice for community members and sharing feedback from community members who may not feel always feel comfortable going directly to the administration. I think it's also important for the School Committee to share the school's priorities with the community so they can understand what the school is doing and how the community as a whole can support support our schools thinking about how we are budgeting and planning because everyone in this town contributes to the to the work of our schools and supports our schools.

Laura GitelsonGitelson: The role of the School Committee is complex, but I do think one of the important roles is to act as a liaison between the community and the administration and to do that in a variety of ways. School Committee members benefit from being present in the community and realizing what our community values, and taking those values to the policies and supervision that we give to the superintendent.

I believe that my experience being in the schools spending a lot of time in Peirce, where my children go, and planning on if I'm elected, spending time in other schools, gives me a perspective that is important to bring to the administration. Paul's right, our job is not to supervise the individual teachers in the schools, but it is really important to facilitate the two-way communication between our parents and our students and our teachers and the administration.

Jill KrajewskiKrajewski: I think the importance of the School Committee is having visibility. Visibility in the community and knowing that the community can have a voice, and that voice may not be making policy, but that voice is certainly asking questions about policy and understanding policy well enough to ask the right questions and being able to use an open meeting to inform the community.

Having an understanding of who is in the community and what the community feels about the various issues is super important. I think that can be done through many informal ways as well as some of the formal ways.

The School Committee has continued to have Saturday morning discussions and open conversations, but also just being out and about and listening to parents and community members and really seeing how our community can get the value we want from our schools.

Q: What is one lesson you've learned in the past year either professionally or personally and what will you take forward from it?

Liz Exton

Exton: I am a public school teacher, and I've worked in the public schools for the last 15 years. The last three years have been incredibly challenging for classroom teachers and administrators. The mental health challenges that students are experiencing are are very significant and so I would say one of the lessons that I've learned in the last year around that is that is important not to give up on students and continuing to believe in them and provide them with the supports that we think that they need and if that doesn't work to continue to change those things. The School Committee may have gone in a direction that's not working, and being able to make a change and pivot and do something differently to support our students is important.

Gitelson: A year ago I was finishing up my work as cochair of the Police Civilian Advisory Board Study Committee. What I learned from that process, where we brought together stakeholders from all over Arlington, is how important it is to bring those stakeholders together to go out and find them where they are if they're not coming to your meetings and to use those opportunities to build a process to create something that hopefully will make help make the town better for everyone. We ended up with a permanent Police Advisory Board, which was approved by unanimous vote for select board and 92 percent of Town Meeting.

Krajewski: Sometimes, the right choice is to pull back in a policy. This is what I learned this past year as we came out of Covid and we had teachers at my school [in Needham] very interested in a new schedule. As the negotiations chair, I listened, I gathered data, we had surveys, we had focus groups and we found that people were all over the board around schedule.

What ended up happening as the result of the process was deciding that we could not go forward on a schedule if it wasn't going to meet the mission of being able to better serve all students. To be able to at the end of a lot of work and a lot of data pushed for rather than negotiating a new schedule, but to negotiate a process to look at schedule in the longer term, we'll better meet the needs of our community. I think this applies to the School Committee directly, because being able to push back and stop is important.

Schlichtman: The thing I'm learning this year is, while emerging from those little Zoom boxes, that we've all been parked in and to start reestablishing relationships with other people. It was really difficult, especially doing the work of the School Committee, to have relationships with the community and with your colleagues on the committee. When you're restricted to Zoom, and getting back out, you're meeting a lot of new people who didn't even live in Arlington three years ago. We are reestablishing the reason why you like your colleagues and you like the members of the community. It's much easier to develop that apathy and bond when you're able to meet in person.

Q: What aspect of the Arlington public school system is most pressing at this time, understanding that there are many, and how would you address it?

Gitelson: The first one that comes to mind is the equitable access to education and the priorities that we see in the strategic plan, which mean looking at curriculum in a way that will work for all students and all learners. One way we can make learning better for all is by supporting strong professional development for our teachers.

The other way we can do that is by really living our values we need to enforce or we need to talk about the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion from the time our kids enter whether they enter at prekindergarten or they enter at kindergarten, or if they enter sometime along the way, all the way through. Only through infusing that into our curriculum are we going to grow the learners and future voters that will really take all of us into the next part of history.

Krajewski: I think in our goal of collaborative partnerships is the first thing I would like to see worked on. A building of trust with families, and I think particularly the families I've heard from are the families whose students are not making adequate progress. I feel like what we can do is listen and provide a road map to how you access special education and other services the school provides and work on clear communication throughout the process.

The other operational types of things I think we could work on are looking at where we can help families feel more of a belonging, there is before and after school care and we need to make sure it's available for those who want it. I think the last thing to work on operationally is how do we attract and retain diverse staff and what are the challenges to that, how do we balance compensation versus belonging and staff.

Schlichtman: When I chaired the superintendent search committee, we did a series of focus groups. But there was one consistent theme that came through: special education. The report was written that said responders in a broad consensus of those who participated in focus groups were clear that issues of special education need to be addressed as a highest priority. The next superintendent, parents, and community members were consistent and specific about what they believe are systemic and structural problems that have festered for a number of years.

Now the new superintendent in our strategic plan is looking to address this, but confidence and trust are lagging indicators. We still have work to do, and I think that one of the biggest priorities we have is the School Committee is working together with the superintendent to provide her with the resources and support she needs to correct that problem.

Exton: I think teacher retention is a pressing issue. We pay our teachers here in Arlington 5 percent less on average than the town manager. As I said before, teaching in the last three years has become incredibly challenging and we need to support our teachers in many ways, but number one financially.

I think that another way to support our teachers is with professional development, providing teachers with choice in how they want to be supported and what they want to learn, providing teachers with the time to have that professional development. It is in our calendar but I think we need to maintain that. Finally, we need to make sure that our paraprofessionals have the support that they need to be successful in the positions that they're placed in, they need to have training to have support from teachers and other paraprofessionals so that we can keep them in our district.

Q: How do you define a successful, and by successful I mean one we could all be proud of, student experience in the Arlington Public School system?

Krajewski: As a long-term teacher, what I value most in my students is whether they have a sense of belonging. I've seen that with my own children when they feel like they belong in a classroom or on a sports team or in some kind of extracurricular activity, they shine and they enjoy and they truly learn more.

I think what we need to work as a district in empowering teachers to make space to build connections with students and to build a classroom community to bring students with different backgrounds and perspectives together.

This takes time this takes professional development and tools for teachers to have to help students engage with each other. This may mean taking a close look at the curriculum, how can you build in the space for students to interact with each other and truly build relationships and still have a rigorous academic experience?

I believe and I believed this for 20 years, that this can be done. Time can be perceived as a cost, but I do believe that when students have a connection they ultimately learn more and they ultimately take a better experience.

I would hope that this as a part of our district priorities and when we discuss equity and excellence that building in curriculum and and professional development along belonging really matters as a professional I've worked to bring in a ninth-grade program where students are in a cohort and are able to do interdisciplinary work together we teach collaboration skills, and that is the kind of experience that I would like every student to have everywhere. 

Schlichtman: I look at the school climate walking through the high school, and I really find that the climate and the high school's superb students get along well with each other, and it's just a calm, relaxed, positive learning environment.

I look for engagement and I'm also looking for that sense of belonging and this is where we have an issue that needs to be addressed. When we take a look at student surveys, we see that there are five focal groups that we're targeting in a strategic plan students who identify as Hispanic the LGBTQIA+ students, multilingual learners, families who don't speak English at home and low-income students . Their sense of belonging is reflected in our surveys is below the school as a whole, and that sort of an urgent need for us to address.

I agree with the other candidates that students need to feel a sense of belonging in their classrooms and in their schools, and one way we are supporting that is eliminating fees for elementary music and high school athletics so that we can give more opportunities for more students to participate in those extracurricular curricular activities, because that's another place where students can develop peer relationships, which will build their sense of belonging. Finally, I think that we really need to work on ensuring the quality of our actual buildings: the environment, the lighting and the air.

Gitelson: I agree with my fellow candidates that the sense of belonging is really important, but I do think that before a sense of belonging comes a sense of safety. Nobody is going to learn well in a community where they don't feel safe and they're not going to feel like they belong in a community where they don't feel safe. If we can get both of those things, I think then we can create a sense of joy in learning which is what I really want all of our children to get. I think we do that by helping kids reach their full potential by helping kids understand that who they are matters and who their identity is matters. When things come up that make them question whether they matter, responding in a very strong way, which I do believe is something that we do well in Arlington, and do better now than we have in the past.

These ACMi videos were published Friday, March 23, 2023. The report was updated March 30 to a news summary by Cayla Kwok, an Arlington High School intern. It is based on edited transcripts.