Bethany Sutton: The Newest School Board Member


While many people followed the congressional races November 8, 2022, Arlington also had several more races. Bethany Sutton, the Democratic nominee in the race, achieved one of her longtime goals and won the race for school board. An Arlington Public Schools parent for more than a decade, Sutton has a plethora of experience that she brings to the position. 

“I started out as a [Parent Teacher Association] board member and then a PTA president,” Sutton said. “My kids went to Randolph Elementary School, and I spent seven years on the board at Randolph in one role or another with three years as president of the PTA, so I learned a ton during that time.”

During her time with the Randolph PTA, she helped advocate for repairs for the building, as it was the oldest school building that had not undergone major renovations. Sutton also ran Randolph Elementary’s food pantry.

“The food pantry … which had begun just before the pandemic as an indoor food pantry that people could stop by [to] pick up food,” Sutton said. “When the pandemic hit, and we were worried about kids not being able to get meals at school, like the breakfast and lunches, we sort of quickly started doing food distributions outdoors … in front of the school, and we ran that during the whole time [that] school was out, essentially from March of 2020 to August 2021.”

To keep this program running, Sutton and her colleagues leveraged their relationships and fundraised throughout the community. Now that students have resumed in-person learning, the food pantry is again open at school, with various non-perishable groceries available for families. 

In addition to her work at Randolph, Sutton served on the South Arlington Working Group in 2014, which was a community task force to decide where to place an additional elementary school south of route 50. She later started working with the Advisory Council on Teaching and Learning in 2018, serving as a representative from Randolph. She was first a vice chair, and then chair, which is a position that she still currently holds. Through these positions, Sutton has gotten the opportunity to get to know many different people, and she hopes to continue to use the relationships that she has built as a school board member.

“All this work that I’ve done, I feel like I’ve met a lot of people. I feel like I have people … who I can turn to with different questions about different topics and a lot of people that I’ve referred to as thought partners like if I’m thinking about some topic, I’ll turn to this person or that person,” Sutton said. “At the same time, there’s still tons of people that I haven’t met yet, … lots of parents in segments of the community that I’m really interested to meet and to learn, you know, what their views are on things.”

Sutton will be sworn into her position by the Clerk of the Arlington County Court in the next few weeks. However, she officially begins her new job January 1, 2023. In the meantime, she is acclimating to the new role with weekly board meetings, workstations, and committee assignments and meetings. She works part-time outside her recent SchoolBoard appointment and explained that many of her colleagues do the same or even work full-time.

“Traditionally … a school board has been regarded as a role that you serve in outside of or in addition to whatever your career is,” Sutton said. “The pay is very low … so most people need to have a career and source of income. Serving on [the school] board is … something that they do because they really care deeply about the schools and about our community.”

The need for separate careers presents a challenge for the members of the School Board in terms of scheduling, as they are typically unable to hold meetings during the standard workday and also have to consider when parents and community members will be available.

“One of the things that I think is really important is [to not] make assumptions about when people are available but to be … always thinking about … if we hold a meeting at this time of day, or if we hold a meeting [this] day of the week, who is that going to serve and who [is] that going to leave out,” Sutton said. “I always think about things from that perspective of the full range of people in our community.”

The uses of platforms such as Zoom during the pandemic have made this issue slightly easier though.

“There’s a lot you can get done by using Zoom, and those Zoom meetings often are more inclusive of people,” Sutton said. “If you’re a single parent and you don’t have childcare, then the ability to log on to a PTA meeting from your computer at home [which] makes a huge difference. If you don’t have a car and you rely on public transportation to get to places, it’s a lot harder to get to an evening meeting after work when you’ve already been [using] public transportation all day … We were able to include more people because of being able to log on from home and participate that way.”

The pandemic also impacted what students learned in school to some extent. Sutton noted some drawbacks, though, such as the loss of in-person interaction and the ability to develop relationships. The school board is back to having in-person meetings for any official business, although their meetings are recorded for community members to watch. 

“I think since we’ve been through … this really disruptive period of time, and a lot of students, a lot of parents feel like kids are sort of off-kilter from maybe what they should have learned or what they might have learned,” Sutton said. “There’s this type of learning loss that everybody talks about. I just think it’s really interesting and will be really interesting over the next year or two, to sort of look at what it is that we expect students to know and to be able to do when they finish in our school system? Maybe we need to kind of re-articulate that vision of what student learning should look like.” 

The Arlington County Board and School Board approved a budget for the 2022-23 school year and future ones that sees an increase in the salaries of all Arlington school personnel. Sutton voiced her support for the decision and shared that she has seen its impact on the community.

“While I was out campaigning, I talked to lots of teachers and staff,” Sutton said. “A lot of people that I talked to said that the salary increase … was really noticeable and that it made a difference and that they appreciate it … I think that the work of the school board going forward for the next few years is to make sure that we maintain having really good salaries … [so] if the budget gets tight, we find other places to make cuts and … we continue to give teachers and staff cost of living increases … to keep up with inflation. I think that we really made a great investment as a system in teachers this past year, and I think we really have to make sure that we continue that, of course.”

While APS is not expected to adopt Governor Youngkin’s current model policies regarding transgender students, the proposed legislation has sparked much debate about its transphobic nature and potential to harm school communities. For more information on these model policies, see the article on the Crossed Sabres website A Break Down of Youngkin’s Attempt to Break Down the Transgender Community. Sutton shared her views on the issue.

“It’s one I care a lot about because I do believe in inclusivity, and I do believe in supporting the rights of students,” Sutton said. “I think that [the model policies] go against our values as a community as a whole … I hope … that we really listen to the community and continue to move in the direction of supporting students, understanding both what’s in our policies to support students and what’s actually happening in our schools and whether students really feel like they are included, and feel like they belong, and feel like they are supported.”

Another issue that Sutton is passionate about is mental health.

 “I think about the health and well-being of our teachers and our counselors and our staff, and everyone who is working really, really hard to support kids in our schools and who also have been through a pandemic,” Sutton said. “Teachers especially … endured a lot of stress over the pandemic just trying to teach, … trying to do their job. They also have families at home, many of them have kids at home, their kids are trying to learn through the pandemic [too] … I just think … a lot about [the] overall health and well-being of everyone in our community and how important it is that we are practicing kindness, that we’re really forgiving an understanding of what everybody’s going through or has been through. One of the things that we talked a lot about is that in order for people to be successful in school, it’s really important that they have a strong sense of belonging that they feel like they belong there.”