Guide on the candidates up for vote on Dec 4th for State Board of Education

(photo: Keith Ivey)

The DC State Board of Education (SBOE), in its present form, was created in 2007 as an advisory board for the District’s Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE). The SBOE doesn’t have any real authority, per se, mainly offering guidance on academic and graduation standards, teacher qualifications and more. SBOE does have approval authority over “statewide” education regulations like accountability frameworks, school report cards, attendance, residency, graduation requirements and teacher preparation programs, and advises OSSE on education policies. (The history of the school board has been and remains quite tumultuous and political — this Wikipedia article provides a good synopsis.)

The race for SBOE has garnered attention for contentiousness and the amount of money being spent across the District, while the DC Council looks at new legislation that reduces the amount of control the Mayor has over the Office of Superintendent. From the Washington Post:

“The city’s elected school board was stripped of most of its power in 2007 when then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) wrested control of the school system. Now, the school board is limited to setting broad policies governing graduation requirements, academic standards and teacher qualifications.

The contentious races come as the school system reels from controversies and city leaders debate whether there should be more checks and balances on the mayor, who appoints nearly all of the city’s education leaders. The D.C. Council is considering measures that would take away the authority of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) to appoint the state superintendent of education and create an education research center beyond the purview of the mayor.”

Ward 4 Voting Guide

In Ward 4, there are four candidates running in the special election on December 4th to replace Lannette Woodruff, who resigned on July 31st (missing the cutoff for Ward 4 to be included in the general election on November 6th, hence the need for this special election).

Below are short overviews of each candidate (presented below in random order and all content provided by the candidates themselves), along with links to their campaign websites, Facebook pages, etc, if provided by the candidate.

Voter turnout will probably be very low, so try to take some time to go vote on December 4th. Polls are open from 7am until 8pm at your normal polling location/precinct.

Frazier O’Leary (provided by the candidate)

Frazier O'Leary

Lives on Farragut Street NW

Endorsed by the Washington Teachers' Union and Jews United for Justice Campaign Fund.

I retired from DCPS after 47 years in 2017. I have been an adjunct professor of English at UDC since 1981. I have five children.

I want to transfer my passion for teaching to advocate for all of the children in Ward 4. I want to specifically work on cutting the extremely high number of teachers leaving the system, expansion of our early childhood programs, concentration on providing equity in our ELL and Special Education programs, and a level playing field for the public and public charter schools.

I want everyone to know that I will be an everyday presence in the schools of our ward.

Ryan Tauriainen (provided by the candidate)

Ryan Tauriainen
Facebook Page
Lives in Takoma

I am a life-long educator and proud Washingtonian. I have been in education my entire career since college, always working directly with students and teachers. During my career I have worked as a teacher, principal, and district leader in DC. I have also worked in every quadrant of DC and with kids of every ward. In 2016, I was DC's Principal of the Year and have since won 5 national awards in education. My expertise is in early childhood education, school leadership, and curriculum. My husband and I have been together for almost 10 years and live in Takoma, DC.

I will help strengthen our early childhood programming and increase the rigor of our standards. I will help increase awareness and protections for the rights of students with special needs. I will ensure policies to combat residency fraud are followed. I will help to increase confidence in our high school diplomas. I will provide much needed expertise in the fields of teacher retention and family relations as a former principal.

I am simply a person who is passionate about kids and has attained real results for DC students every year. I am not in this race as a stepping-stone toward other political ambitions. I want to share my knowledge as a top principal with the other members and be the first principal to be part of the SBOE.

Elani Lawrence (provided by the candidate)

Elani Lawrence

(202) 818-9371
Facebook Page, Twitter, Instagram
Lives in Brightwood

I am a native Washingtonian and a proud DCPS graduate of the class of 1991 of Wilson High School. I started my career in education as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. After my Peace Corps service, I moved to New York City to be a Peace Corps Fellow and Peace Corps Fellow Associate (a collaboration between NYC Public Schools, Peace Corps and Teachers College, Columbia University). I have 16 years of experience teaching ESL and Spanish in elementary, middle, and high schools in NY and DC. I also have experience as a school administrator in secondary schools and adult basic education programs. Currently, my work is managing ESL programs for adults and family and parent engagement efforts working collaboratively with families to advocate for the needs of their children.

I am the mother of two boys that attend DC Public Charters Schools at the elementary and middle school level. I live in Brightwood with my husband, a special education teacher and my sons.


  1. Equity for all students across the city. It is important to make sure that we are creating policies that work to actively dismantle the inequities across the city and provide more resources, quality teachers and rigorous instruction to all students.

  2. Supporting our educators. We need to make sure from the start that teachers are entering the classroom with the tools that they need to be effective. Teachers need to receive quality coaching and effective feedback on a regular basis in order to continue to improve. When teachers are given the supports that they need to be effective, then they can thrive.

  3. Family Engagement. Research shows us that when schools and families work in partnership that students are more successful. This is a process of building trust with families by establishing meaningful relationships, often across differences. As I parent, I know that all parents want the best for their children. We need to involve parents in our policy making process.

As a DCPS graduate, educator with 22 years of experience and mom with kids in DC schools currently, I think that I can share a unique perspective on the SBOE. As a parent that has worked collaboratively with other Ward 4 parents to advocate successfully for additional funds for out of school time programs for our kids, I understand how to get results.

Additionally, I have spent my career working with and serving immigrant communities and English language learners. This a growing population in Ward 4 and in our Ward 4 schools. Too often the needs of this population is overlooked and as an elected official I would advocate for the needs of English learners, students with special needs, and at risk students. All of our students deserve the right to high quality, rigorous instruction and the supports that they need to be successful.

Rhonda Henderson (provided by the candidate)

Rhonda Henderson
Lives in Manor Park

Endorsed by Democrats for Education Reform and Councilmember Brandon Todd

I am a native Washingtonian, daughter of a public school teacher, and graduate of public schools.

I began my career teaching high school history to inspire and prepare young Washingtonians to serve their communities. I am proud to see them lead organizations, start their own businesses, and become parents.

Most recently, I served children, families, and teachers as an elementary school leader in Anacostia. During morning greeting, recess duties, staff meetings, and family events, I learned important values: listening to families, responding immediately to educators' needs, and maintaining a focus on what's best for kids. After six years in school leadership, I joined EdOps to support local schools.

Outside of work, I mentor with Capital Partners for Education, serve on the board of the Manor Park Citizens Association, and advocate for women and girls' education. "

Children's learning is my first priority. As a member of the State Board of Education, I will focus on elevating parents' voices in education policy, promoting access to high quality instruction for all children through teacher retention and leader development, and ensuring safe travel to modern schools.

Petworth is home to an array of great schools, and a community focused on making them even better. I am excited to work with families to expand access to early childhood and dual-language programs, and to support the West ES community as it prepares for renovation.

The above priorities are elements of a long term vision for our ward: to restore community trust in public schools; to advocate the city council to invest aggressively in all neighborhood schools; and to collaborate with all stakeholders to develop a long-term vision for all of our schools. Through my term as State Board member, we will create the school system our children deserve." "Schools have the potential to honor every child's innate gifts. We must commit our resources and energy into supporting all schools equitably. I have a diversity of experiences -- instruction, school leadership, community engagement -- appropriate to meet the complexities of the State Board of Education. Complementing this skill set is a heart committed to inspiring every child to love learning.

President Obama said, "Ordinary people can do extraordinary things." I believe him. With a bold vision and urgent action, we achieve results for children in the District of Columbia. Let's do this together.

11/29: This article was updated with additional information about SBOE’s responsibilities.