By K. Levek
There is a new elected official in Ward 8. On July 15th a special election was held to fill the vacant Ward 8 State Board of Education seat and a little known candidate, Tierra Jolly, won beating out longtime community activist Phillip Pannell. Trayon White, who stepped down in March to take a job at the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), vacated the seat earlier this year.
In a low-turnout election Jolly won 49 percent of the vote (704 votes) over Pannell’s 42 percent (599 votes). Pannell said the election had low turnout because not enough people across the ward knew an election was taking place. He also congratulated Jolly after her win saying, “she ran a better campaign.” Jolly said she is “elated and ready to learn” in her newly elected role.
Jolly, 31, a lifelong Ward 8 resident said she ran for the seat because she wanted to bring about change not only to the Ward 8 community, but also bring about change on the State Board of Education. She says she ran because she wants to bring an educator’s perspective to the board. “I want to make sure that the policies we are approving are common sense and in the best interest of kids and by extension for teachers,” she said.
Jolly is a sixth generation Washingtonian and currently lives in Ward 8 in the Shipley neighborhood. She is a teacher by trade and has previously taught at Kramer Middle School and currently teaches high school government and U.S. history at her alma mater, Bishop McNamara High School, a private parochial school in Maryland.
When she talks about her victory, she also speaks about the factors that drove her to run. She said while she was teaching in the District’s Public School System (DCPS), she began noticing various evaluation factors for education that didn’t make a lot of sense to her and instead of complaining about them, she decided to run to help change them. “Teaching at Kramer made me want to step up to the plate,” she said. And she did. And she won.
In her new position she said she wants to bring greater focus on preparing children for the college experience, which she believes should include vocational courses. She said with a greater focus on ways to adapt the curriculum to make sure college readiness is a key tenet will help students in the long run. “We need more advanced placement (AP) courses for kids to enroll in,” she said, which she believes will help the transition from high school to college.
As for her home ward, Ward 8, Jolly says she wants to see reading increase across every grade level in the ward. “I’d love to see reading remediation for grades 4-12,” she said. A former Teach for America teacher in New Orleans, she has seen programs like Read 180 implemented to help struggling readers at every grade level. According to the Read 180 website, the program is a comprehensive system of curriculum, instruction, assessment, and professional development proven to raise reading achievement for struggling readers in grades 4–12+. “This is a great program that I would love to implement here in the District,” she said.
The election may have been the most expensive per-vote election in D.C. history. Fewer than 3 percent of the registered voters in Ward 8 went to the polls. D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE) officials said the election cost nearly $300,000 to conduct. With 1,433 votes cast, that figure works out to roughly $200 dollars paid by District taxpayers for each vote cast. Officials from DCBOE said they wrote a letter to Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry, asking for a cheaper alternative than a special election, but neither did he or the council take action to choose a cheaper route.
White told ABC7 News that he felt the cost to District voters was his fault because of his abrupt resignation. He said, “I took a government job and I didn’t know I couldn’t do both at the same time.” White was speaking about the serving on the school board, a job that pays $15,000 annually and serving in his new role at DPR.
As for her win, Jolly said she is very thankful for those around her who supported her effort. “My parents and sister came out to help me knock on doors in the middle of July and I don’t think it gets any better than that,” she said. Putting a face with a name proved to be a strategy for her to win over some voters. While she said the experience was humbling, she was also able to speak with voters whom she had never met, which she believes help transfer votes for her on election day. “Learning politics can be hard,” she said, but she is ready to lead Ward 8 in its efforts to make education a key focus. “I am excited to be in a position where I get to work with all the ward 8 leaders. I’m interested in being a bridge builder.”