School Board

SCHOOL BOARD (in alphabetical order)

Ricardy Anderson, Mason District

What will you do to ensure every public school student in Fairfax County receives a world-class education?

To provide all students with access to a world-class education, I will work to ensure that the most significant element in that child’s education,  the classroom teacher, is provided with the support and resources needed to meet the needs of all students. Every effort must be made to recruit and maintain talented and experienced teachers.  This can be achieved through attractive compensation packages, improved professional development based on teacher needs and robust teacher mentorship programs to grow the expertise of new teachers.   

I also maintain that schools and staff must be equipped with the human and capital resources to deliver 21st-century education to all students. I will advocate for full funding for schools and work with educational and community leaders to fulfill the promise of One Fairfax to support equity for all students in FCPS.  We must end the practice of over-relying on parent/teacher associations and organizations to fund core instructional programming including technology, enrichment activities, and field trips. I will work to ensure FCPS school support roles are adequately staffed to prevent irresponsible student ratios, and work to ensure Title 1 and other needs-based funding keeps pace with the district’s needs.

Do you support increased funding for public schools in Fairfax County? If “yes,” what will you do to achieve this objective, and how should our public schools use the additional funding? If “no,” what changes (if any) should be made to the school budget and programs in Fairfax County? 

Absolutely.  While schools have become accustomed to making do with less each year as needs increase, it’s essential that the School Board continues to work with the Board of Supervisors, the Fairfax General Assembly Delegation, and Congressional Representatives to increase and leverage resources.  FCPS must advocate for full federal funding of IDEA, Impact Aid, Title 1 funds, and funds for after-school programs.  

Additional funding is needed to ensure equitable access for all students in FCPS, which means a focus on smaller class sizes, increased staffing for special education programs, increased mental health personnel, renovation and expansion of facilities as well as additional resources for at-risk populations, especially in our Title 1 schools.   

What will you do to reduce class sizes in our public schools? 

While the Virginia Department of Education maintains Standards of Quality that allows for a maximum of 29 students in Kindergarten, 30 students in grades 1-3, 35 students in grades 4-6, etc., it’s imperative that FCPS remain below such ratios to facilitate classroom teachers to individualize instruction to meet students needs.  Supporting budgets that reflect this priority and securing additional resources for the district will aid in efforts to provide students with better opportunity for individualized learning and greater interaction with teachers. 

What will you do to end the epidemic of vaping in our public schools?

In additional to academic programs, considerable time is allotted to efforts that  develop students who are critical thinkers as well as goal oriented and ethical citizens.  Students have also been guided into awareness and informed decision making through programs such as D.A.R.E and Family Life Education.   Expanding current programs to include lessons that focus on the perils of vaping and its effects on student health will support better decisions by students and repress participation in vaping.   

The School Board has undertaken a comprehensive review of school boundaries throughout Fairfax County. What factors should guide school boundary changes? 

As an experienced school principal, I have had the chance to participate in school boundaries revisions on numerous occasions. I have engaged in the boundary review process that focused on relieving over-overcrowding as well right-sizing schools to more efficiently utilize facilities.  Factors that should guide boundary adjustments should include the capacity of facilities, proximity of neighborhoods and accessibility, community, feeder school alignment and demographics of students. All available data that impact student needs and programs such as language proficiency, free/reduced meal data, and special education needs should be considered.  Additionally, it’s essential that school boundaries are reviewed annually to ensure most optimal use of facilities and service to students. 

Please describe your volunteer activities with public schools in Fairfax County, such as your involvement (if any) with your local PTA(s).

As a principal who has had the opportunity to lead two elementary schools and one middle school,  I fully understand and appreciate the vital role that PTAs and PTOs play in our schools. I have been a member of a PTA and/or PTO since my first year of teaching – even before my children were born.  

In regards to FCPS, I have been a member of the PTO since my son entered Kindergarten and have robustly supported the PTO’s efforts by volunteering to organize and/or support during school events and activities such as Bingo Night, Field Day and Teacher and Staff Appreciation activities.  

Cheryl Buford, At-Large

What will you do to ensure every public-school student in Fairfax County receives a world-class education?

To ensure all our students receive a world-class education, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) needs excellent teachers.  Given that novice teachers usually need at least three years to learn the ropes, our children will be better off if they have fewer brand new teachers, which means that FCPS needs to do a better job of retaining excellent teachers.  

As a former teacher, I know how important it is to treat teachers respectfully and trust their professional judgment. Apparently, FCPS is not doing this very well now.  During the October 24, 2019 regular school board meeting, four speakers explained how FCPS made teachers’ jobs unnecessarily difficult and asked the school board for greater oversight.  Kimberly Adams, FEA president, described how new programs, initiatives and requirements overwhelm teachers.  She noted that teachers worry that if they speak up, they will be labeled as “not a team player.” She pointed out that the Teacher Advisory Council to the Superintendent has identified “workload” as their primary concern. Her bottom-line request was “unburden frontline workforce.”

Every student should be challenged to reach their academic potential.  FCPS needs to address minority and disability gaps, without compromising rigor.  At a minimum, that means offering more effective math and language arts instruction, especially in elementary school. That may mean using more direct instruction and not moving a student on until each concept is mastered.  

FCPS also should offer more career technical education opportunities for students to earn industry-recognized certifications.  Expanding ROTC will allow more students to explore a career path that could provide them with entrée into the middle class.  FCPS also should explore opportunities for students to take more courses at local university campuses, and work with local businesses to offer more internships for high school students.

Do you support increased funding for public schools in Fairfax County? If “yes,” what will you do to achieve this objective, and how should our public schools use the additional funding? If “no,” what changes (if any) should be made to the school budget and programs in Fairfax County? 

I support increasing funding for public schools.  At the same time, FCPS needs to continue working to prove to Supervisors and the public that it is using its budget wisely.  

The School Board should continue lobbying Congress, the General Assembly, and federal and state Departments of Education for more funding.  Given the IDEA, the federal government should be contributing more to FCPS’ special ed programs.  At the state level, FCPS should receive more state money for its English as a Second Language services, especially given the new data showing that only 35% of FCPS English Language Learners pass their SOL exams. 

I believe I am the only school board candidate who has been directly involved in lobbying the General Assembly and successfully secured additional funding for FCPS.  In 2010, as a PTSA legislative chair, I worked with Delegate Mark Keam, lobbied the General Assembly and successfully increased TJ’s annual Governor’s School grant.  As a school board member, I would dig into the annual FCPS Legislative Program, and do everything possible to change the LCI formula or other state laws to get more money for FCPS.

Locally, the County Board of Supervisors needs to issue more bonds for the schools.  For decades, the County limited bonds as one way to retain its triple A credit rating.  At the same time, FCPS has skimped on preventative maintenance.  The result is an unacceptable 37-year renovation cycle and over 22,000 students in trailers, despite local definitions of “program capacity” that seem to assume that crowded rooms with almost no space for teachers or students to move around are OK. Supervisors must bump up County bond limits and look for other ways to retain our valuable triple A bond rating.  At the same time, FCPS needs to use more of its Operating Fund for preventative maintenance and related costs that cannot be funded from bond revenues.  

In recent years, the County has fully funded the FCPS’ annual operating fund request.  As a school board member, I would seek to maintain positive relationships with the Supervisors and County staff, to enhance the likelihood that this would continue.

FCPS also needs to explore alternative sources of funding such as public-private partnerships and the use of proffers. In the last year, the General Assembly reinstated proffers so that communities can negotiate with developers to contribute funds to offset the costs associated with transportation and education expenses emanating from their approved developments.  

What will you do to reduce class sizes in our public schools? 

As a school board member, I would study the results of the current staffing ratios and data on how principals are “trading” teacher positions for supplies or other resources.  I would look at data on actual class sizes at our elementary, middle and high schools.  I would visit schools around the county to see how different-sized classes affect student instruction and teacher retention.  Based on what I learned, I would explore ways to cap elementary, middle and high school classes at reasonable levels.

What will you do to end the epidemic of vaping in our public schools?

As a school board member, I will ask staff to add anti-vaping modules to the health curriculum. I will work with PTAs to educate parents about the dangers of vaping and provide them with the resources they need to deter their children from vaping. Finally, I will enlist the support of community organizations that serve youth.  

The School Board has undertaken a comprehensive review of school boundaries throughout Fairfax County. What factors should guide school boundary changes? 

My goal, as an at-large school board member, would be to look for boundaries and related facilities solutions that benefit all students and their families, as well as other county residents.  In general, students are best served in their neighborhood schools, unless they choose to attend a magnet school.  In fact, a Fairfax County Community Services Manager who serves low-income families pointed out that neighborhood schools are especially important for low-income and immigrant parents, making it easier for them to be involved in their children’s education.  

The current School Board boundary policy has many factors I would consider in evaluating proposed school boundaries, including some factors that have been removed from the draft revised boundary policy.  In general, boundary changes only should be considered when overcrowded schools are or soon will be near schools with empty seats. When a boundary change is required to make more efficient use of our existing buildings, then a holistic and transparent process should be used to draw new boundaries.  We should minimize student commutes, to give students more time to sleep and reduce our transportation costs.  Students’ social-emotional impacts also should be taken into account, such as by reducing split feeders.

At present, all boundary adjustment decisions are informed and governed by FCPS’ current boundary policy, 8130.7 which has a long list of specific criteria that are applied when FCPS is considering a boundary adjustment. Over the past year, FCPS has been developing a revised policy, using the ‘lens of One Fairfax.’ Unfortunately, the draft 8130.8 policy, removed from consideration criteria such as: the impact on students, families, and neighborhoods; school feeder alignments; projected school enrollment; long-term costs and instructional effectiveness.

Now that the current school board has postponed making a decision about this proposal and announced that it will seek the advice of a consultant after the election, current board members and candidates favoring a revised boundary policy are asking Fairfax County voters to give them a blank check, as it is unclear what the boundary policy will look like going forward.

Please describe your volunteer activities with public schools in Fairfax County, such as your involvement (if any) with your local PTA(s).

My volunteer efforts with Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) began nearly 20 years ago, as the room parent for my son’s first grade class.  I chaired a Character Education program in my children’s elementary school, which included innovative approaches to improve school culture and climate through literature and teambuilding (including with our bus drivers), parent education and service learning projects for each grade.When my daughter attended TJ, I chaired the PTSA Government Relations Committee. I mobilized parents to advocate to their legislators, led delegations of parents and students to meet with legislators in Richmond and secured additional funding for the school.  When my son attended McLean High School, I served as liaison between the athletic boosters and the PTA and assisted wherever I was needed (i.e. accompanying students on overnight trips, serving meals to the football team, etc.) My work isn’t finished; I am running for the school board to focus on results over partisanship and to give parents and neighborhoods a voice.   

Laura Jane Cohen, Springfield District

What will you do to ensure every public school student in Fairfax County receives a world-class education?

Consistent and equitable implementation of programs and policies would be a good start. Once we know that we are comparing apples to apples, we can do a better job of figuring out what programs are working and aren’t.  Across the board, we see issues with inequities in SpEd, AAP, and discipline policies and procedures. We must then work to address those significant issues within those programs.

I believe we have lost sight of the importance of some fundamentals in our educational system.  We love what we see as sparkly new tech instead of investing more heavily in early education. We frequently come up with several shiny new programs without regard to efficacy or equity and then put little to no support behind them. We then expect our staff to implement them with little training, instruction, or support.  

If we really want to change outcomes for ALL our kids, I’d like to see us go back to trying to level the playing field much earlier by investing in things like Universal Pre-K (with the BOS and hopefully the Commonwealth), hiring more reading specialists, hiring more counselors and social workers to aid in improving our students’ mental/emotional health, and hiring more behavior interventionists.

Do you support increased funding for public schools in Fairfax County? If “yes,” what will you do to achieve this objective, and how should our public schools use the additional funding? If “no,” what changes (if any) should be made to the school budget and programs in Fairfax County? 

I certainly support increased funding for our schools.  I believe that is achievable by working with the BOS and our Richmond delegation earlier in the budget process to set priorities.  I believe a major focus for the entire Commonwealth ought to be infrastructure improvement. For us here in Fairfax, that would mean additional money that would speed up the renovation timeline and finally get us closer to the 20-25 year renovation cycle for our schools.  This would mean significantly reducing the number of trailers and improving opportunities for adding programs (like Pre-K or AAP) and reducing class size for many of our schools.

What will you do to reduce class sizes in our public schools? *

I believe that the ability to reduce class sizes is hindered by the lack of physical space in many of our school buildings.  If our overarching goal is to get our kids out of trailers, they have to have some place to go. If we want to add Pre-K programs, again, we will need space. I’d like to see us work with the BOS and the General Assembly to shorten the renovation timeline by investing heavily in our infrastructure so that we will have classroom space to reduce class sizes, get our students out of trailers, and add programs in a more equitable way.

What will you do to end the epidemic of vaping in our public schools?

I believe a multi-pronged approach is our best bet. I’ve been impressed with our schools that have used a peer program to address vaping. I’m also pleased with the changes to the SR&R which require attending an intervention program. Better monitoring of school bathrooms by administrators is also essential. I’m hopeful that the new laws here in the Commonwealth that have raised the minimum purchase age for tobacco products will make a dent. However, strict enforcement of the new laws is critical to reducing the number of underage purchases.

The School Board has undertaken a comprehensive review of school boundaries throughout Fairfax County. What factors should guide school boundary changes? 

Capacity must be the overarching factor in any school boundary adjustments. However, I would like to see a comprehensive review of our programs first. With the need to ensure that our AAP programs have equitable participation among all our students, what will schools look like if we are able to expand our AAP program and allow more, if not all, students to attend AAP in their base school?  Can any of our immersion programs be placed at neighboring schools that have much lower enrollment than the overcapacity schools the programs are currently placed in? Once we have taken a look at our program placement, then we will have a better idea of true capacity issues. With an understanding of where we have real problems with capacity, we can then begin the task of engaging families and students in considering what other factors should be prioritized.

Please describe your volunteer activities with public schools in Fairfax County, such as your involvement (if any) with your local PTA(s).

I was fortunate to have been involved with the Cherry Run PTA for the last nine years, which included 3 years as Staff Relations co-chair and chair,  3 years as Fall Festival Chair, two years as PTA President, and 1 year as FCCPTA liaison.

Karen Corbett Sanders, Mount Vernon District

What will you do to ensure every public school student in Fairfax County receives a world-class education?

Committed to equity and excellence in education, I focus my work on ensuring that we are able to attract and retain world class professional educators with competitive compensation (pay, benefits and retirement), small class sizes, eliminating trailers and problem based learning beginning in Kindergarten.  At the middle and high school level students should have the opportunity to explore careers through increased academy, career and technical education and work based experiences. I have worked to increase these opportunities through partnerships with our business community, non profits and the local military installation.

Do you support increased funding for public schools in Fairfax County? If “yes,” what will you do to achieve this objective, and how should our public schools use the additional funding? If “no,” what changes (if any) should be made to the school budget and programs in Fairfax County? 

FCPS depends on the Fairfax taxpayer for over 70% of its funding.  The Federal (close to 2%) and State Governments (23%) need to do more to address the shortfall in funding education.  Since joining the Board, I have worked tirelessly to increase funding in collaboration with the Board of Supervisors. The Federal Government has chronically underfunded IMPACT Aid to support our military connected youth and IDEA to support our students with disabilities.  The state has limited funding based on the Standards of Quality formula. As a School Board Member, I have and will continue to advocate for full funding of these two programs. In the interim, FCPS is dependent on the Board of Supervisors funding our schools.

What will you do to reduce class sizes in our public schools? 

Contributors to class sizes are Principal’s use of trading teaching staff for other purposes, available space in a building and the state funding which sets the limit on class size to  28 in K-3 and 29 students 4-6, with higher levels at the middle and high school level. Although the board limited class size in the 2019 budget, it is still not enough. We need to have a limit on class sizes throughout K-12. 

What will you do to end the epidemic of vaping in our public schools?

This year FCPS has included the dangers of Vaping in our health curriculum and have funded addiction treatment specialists in our high schools.  Addressing the Vaping health crisis needs to be done in collaboration with the FCCPTA, the County Health Department, medical professionals and FCPS.  Our approach should include educating parents and students on the dangers of Vaping and enforcing the laws associated with the sale of Vaping products to minors.  Collectively, we need to get the word out on the dangers of vaping using all methods available, newsletters, social media, faith based community leaders and more.

The School Board has undertaken a comprehensive review of school boundaries throughout Fairfax County. What factors should guide school boundary changes? 

The School Board has undertaken a comprehensive review of the Boundary Policy.  At the July 22, 2019 work session (the fourth on the subject), the School Board directed the superintendent to hire an expert on boundary policy to ensure that we are including national best practices in our policy and to ensure public engagement.  The challenges facing Fairfax County are that we have uneven growth in the county. There are estimates that the Dulles/Tysons Corridor will increase by over 10,000 students and the Route 1 Corridor growth is expected to result in over 5400 students.  This does not take into account the impact of introducing pre-K which will occupy classrooms in elementary schools. The county currently has over 750 trailers (130 at schools Mount Vernon students attend), with increased traffic congestion, students are spending more time on buses (24% general education students and over 70% special education students spend over an hour a day on a bus).   

Please describe your volunteer activities with public schools in Fairfax County, such as your involvement (if any) with your local PTA(s).

As an FCPS graduate, I have been active in our schools for decades including PTA president at Belle View ES and West Potomac HS, a booster board member at Sandburg MS and West Potomac, a girl scout leader, an advocate for Grand Involve mentors in our Title 1 Schools.  I have also been an Odyssey of the Mind Coach and Board Member, Girl Scout Leader. Member of the Dean’s Advisory Board, Boston University Wheelock School of Education and Human Development.

Tamara Derenak Kaufax, Lee District 

What will you do to ensure every public school student in Fairfax County receives a world-class education?

Fairfax County Public Schools are a rich, diverse community of students, with unique and varying needs. Our system has been dedicated to reaching each student by name and by need. I am the parent of two recent FCPS graduates, each who had varying needs and did indeed receive a world class education. As an active volunteer in the PTA and schools where my children attended—I wanted to give back to our schools and serve a broader community outside of my neighborhood—to ensure that all schools had equity in program offerings and each child would indeed graduate ready to pursue their passions in the world.  

I have now had the privilege of serving as the Lee District representative to the School Board for two consecutive terms. Eight years ago, I ran on a platform of recruiting and retaining the best teachers, equity of program curriculum across Fairfax County and improving school readiness of our youngest learners.  Working in various leadership positions on our Board, I collaboratively worked with my colleagues as the Board’s Chair, Vice Chair (2 terms), and Budget Chair (2 terms) to ensure that FCPS was one of the best school systems in the nation and we have had great success! Through tough budget times, we:

• fought to rebuild teacher salaries;

• implemented curriculum changes, including those for our ESL students, resulting in county-wide improvements;

• adopted a social and racial equity policy; and

• added over 30 Pre-K classrooms within our schools.

I am proud of our Board’s many other accomplishments including:

• protecting LGBTQ students in our non-discrimination policy;

• enhancing our student mental health programs and fostering resiliency;

• improving school safety and security;

• adding additional school counselors and social workers;

• implementing later high school start times and full day Mondays;

• providing healthier school lunches;

• establishing the FCPS Portrait of a Graduate;

• developing a strategic plan and aligning it with our budget for greater transparency and clarity;

• presenting  resolutions on gun violence and sexual misconduct.

Most recently, we have embarked upon the difficult topic of equity across our school system bolstered by the development of the One Fairfax policy; began to tackle the complex issue of schools named after Confederate soldiers;  and we are working to ensure that the needs of our special education students are met as well as reviewing our boundary policy. I look forward to continuing to work with the Fairfax County Council of PTA’s and other community groups and I intend to continue this important work to ensure FCPS maintains its world class status.

Do you support increased funding for public schools in Fairfax County? If “yes,” what will you do to achieve this objective, and how should our public schools use the additional funding? If “no,” what changes (if any) should be made to the school budget and programs in Fairfax County? 

I believe in boldly advocating for public school funding. I worked collaboratively with our local, state and national leaders to ensure that they clearly understood the varied and changing needs of our students—consistently advocating for full funding of our school system’s budgets.  In addition, I have served as the National School Board Association’s Legislative Liaison working with Virginia’s Congressional Delegation to bring to light the lack of funding for our Title 1 schools and the chronic underfunding of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).

During my time as Chair of our Board, we brought to light how consistent underfunding of our school budget was negatively impacting our children.  In addition, we were losing our teachers to surrounding jurisdictions. We commissioned a comprehensive salary survey and budget planning that allowed us to target our teacher group—with 2 recent strong budget cycles, and within a 3 year period, we were able raise our staff and teacher’s salaries. Our teachers salaries are now at 95-105% of surrounding school districts. 

The success of FCPS is contingent upon funding the growing, unique and diverse needs of our student body.  I am hopeful that as we move forward, we can rebuild and restore in several other areas just as we have with teachers’ salaries. I will always work with the community and fellow Board members to establish priorities for continued growth and improvement of FCPS which should include opportunities for parent engagement, creating smaller class sizes, providing overall support for student mental health and well-being and meeting the individual needs of each child. 

What will you do to reduce class sizes in our public schools? 

As referenced in the above question, five out of the last seven budget cycles, or 70% of the time I have served on the School Board, our school budget was not fully funded. This underfunding has taken its toll on our system. One of the things we did, in order not to cut from our robust curriculum, was to enlarge our class sizes. But with continued comprehensive funding, we should be able to maintain optimal class sizes. One positive thing we have done with respect to class size is to allocate “needs based” funding in our schools with socio-economic challenges to right size classrooms and institute caps on elementary class sizes. 

What will you do to end the epidemic of vaping in our public schools?

This past September, our Board added vaping as a prohibited activity in our schools. If a student is caught using vape products on school grounds they will participate in an FCPS intervention program and may receive disciplinary consequences. We have an active student community group educating their peers on the negative consequences of vaping, plus comprehensive information on our website on the risks of e-cigarettes for both parents and students. 

The School Board has undertaken a comprehensive review of school boundaries throughout Fairfax County. What factors should guide school boundary changes? 

Our Board has held work sessions on potential changes to our boundary policy (Policy 8130)  since October 2018. This policy has not had a comprehensive review since 1986 when FCPS student population was 125,000 (today FCPS has over 188,000 students). We are reviewing the policy to determine what factors should be considered when changing a school boundary. We have requested  that the Superintendent hire an outside consultant to identify best practices when reviewing boundary policy and we will work in a transparent manner to engage the community in our policy discussions. 

Please describe your volunteer activities with public schools in Fairfax County, such as your involvement (if any) with your local PTA(s).

My husband Alan Kaufax and I have lived and raised our two children in the Bush Hill Community of Lee District and have always been members and volunteers in our PTA’s. Our children attended Bush Hill, Springfield Estates, Twain Middle and Edison High School—where they were provided with so many educational and personal growth opportunities that we always wanted to give back to the school system. I was a PTA Vice President at Bush Hill and Springfield Estates Elementary Schools. I also served as the PTA cultural arts coordinator at both schools for a combined total of 10 years, where I brought music, arts and curriculum enhancement programs to thousands of students and their parents.

  I am privileged to have volunteered with so many hard-working community members and PTA parents that I now call friends. My experience as a PTA officer and volunteer has prepared me well for my service as the Lee District representative to the School Board. 

In addition to my PTA activities I have also served as:

-Chair, Board Member, Fairfax County Child Care Advisory Council;

 -Board Member, FCPS Superintendent’s Business & Community Advisory Council;

-Board Member, FCPS Advanced Academic Programs’ Committee;

-Member, FCDC Education Committee;

-Board Member, FCPS School Bond Committee;

-Committee Member, FCPS Parent Linkage Committee.

Karen Keys Gamarra, At-Large

What will you do to ensure every public school student in Fairfax County receives a world-class education?

As a current School Board Member, I work to ensure continuous improvement in our system. For the past two years, I have worked toward this goal by 1) passing a balanced budget that is focused on providing competitive salaries for our staff.

We have invested nearly 400 million to make sure our staff members feel valued and compensated. If re-elected I would continue to monitor our progress toward this goal.   This investment was also designed to reduce class sizes; 2) I also offered an initiative that the Board adopted to expand access to Advanced Academic opportunities that will eventually also include an expansion of immersion language opportunities at the elementary level;  3) I advocated for significant revisions to our discipline practices to focus less on punishment and more on restorative justice. While we have made strides toward progress, it will be necessary to make sure the new policies are implemented with fidelity; 4) Other initiatives include advocacy for professional development to reduce bullying, address Title IX concerns, teach cyber responsibility, address facility concerns, improve our communications with constituents, promote accountability and transparent procedures.  Each of these initiatives will require monitoring and further recommendations to make sure that we are closing achievement gaps and providing excellent opportunities for all children as we strive to serve each child by name and by need.  

Do you support increased funding for public schools in Fairfax County? If “yes,” what will you do to achieve this objective, and how should our public schools use the additional funding? If “no,” what changes (if any) should be made to the school budget and programs in Fairfax County? 

As our population increases and the needs or our children are identified, additional funding will be necessary.  To achieve this goal, I will work to develop legislative agenda items that should encourage our legislature to meet its obligation to assist Fairfax County in addressing the needs of  our students. This should include addressing the LCI imbalance and raising awareness regarding pockets of poverty in our county. Additionally, I will advocate for universal pre-k to invest in our children early so that remedial measures are less necessary.  

What will you do to reduce class sizes in our public schools? 

Addressing this issue will require additional funding to provide additional staff to teach smaller classes.  

What will you do to end the epidemic of vaping in our public schools?

I am advocating for massive education efforts for both students and parents.  It has become clear that students do not recognize the harmful effects of vaping.  Teachers have discovered that students can discretely use vaping devices in classrooms, buses and bathrooms.  We must support our staff as they often report that such problems have occurred. I will support professional development to assist our staff as well.  Additionally, I will urge our legislature to address the harmful marketing strategies that target young students for profit without regard to the health crisis that is being created.  All such efforts reinforce the need for social well being programs so that our students understand the consequences of their actions and learn to make healthy lifestyle decisions.

The School Board has undertaken a comprehensive review of school boundaries throughout Fairfax County. What factors should guide school boundary changes? 

The answer to this question should be guided by best practices.  The Board has submitted an RFP to address these concerns. As a Board member, I want to hear about those factors that assist all students by enhancing the learning environment.  Some research suggests that capacity is the primary concern but such other factors as socio-economics and diversity have been considered as well. Research suggests that students who attend school in clean, well structured buildings with students of a diverse body actually develop healthy emotional well being and improved academic performance.  I look forward to the results of the RFP as experts provide data driven information to guide the Board’s discussion. It is also imperative that the community have an opportunity to review the information as well and to provide public comment.  

Please describe your volunteer activities with public schools in Fairfax County, such as your involvement (if any) with your local PTA(s).

I have been a PTA member where my children attended school. I have volunteered in their classes. I have volunteered for field trips. I have assisted in raising awareness of the need for a more representative curriculum that reflects the contribution of all citizens and residents.  I have previously served on the Budget Committee as a Kathy Smith appointee.  

Megan McLaughlin, Braddock District

What will you do to ensure every public school student in Fairfax County receives a world-class education?

As a social worker, School Board Member (8 years), and SCYPT Member  (Successful Children and Youth Policy Team, 6 years), I have continued to champion policies and programs that promote an equity of opportunity for every child in FCPS, as well as those that will attract and retain high-quality teachers. During my tenure, I have promoted improvements in teacher compensation, “restorative justice” discipline practices, smaller class sizes, later high school start times, increased staffing for psychologists, social workers and school counselors, more effective special education and mental health services, healthier student meals, full-day Mondays and more recess for elementary school students, and the implementation of data-driven programs like “Project Momentum” to close achievement gaps. 

Do you support increased funding for public schools in Fairfax County? If “yes,” what will you do to achieve this objective, and how should our public schools use the additional funding? If “no,” what changes (if any) should be made to the school budget and programs in Fairfax County? 

Throughout my 8 year tenure on the School Board, I have supported the need for increased Federal and State funding for FCPS. WIthout question, both entities continue to underfund FCPS. With respect to County funds (approximately 78% of FCPS’ budget), I believe that FCPS and County services should be viewed with a mindset of One County/One Fairfax. As such, I support strong fiscal collaboration between FCPS and the County when determining annual employee raises & benefits, as well as the annual allocation of our County revenue to support vital county and public school services. Fairfax County has a decades-long reputation for being fiscally responsible, including its Triple AAA bond rating. When the economy is strong, the County benefits with increased tax revenue to support outstanding County service and public schools. And during difficult financial times, it is essential that the School Board and the Board of Supervisors collectively identifying cost-savings that can minimize the negative effects of less revenue.

What will you do to reduce class sizes in our public schools? 

I continue to be a tireless champion for smaller classes through stronger fiscal and operational oversight. Specifically, I advocated for the creation of the Office of the Auditor General as well as the use of evidence-based research to refine FCPS’ staffing allocations for classroom teachers. I also support class-size caps, limiting the use of staffing trades, and the strategic use of FCPS’ annual staffing reserve fund.

What will you do to end the epidemic of vaping in our public schools?

For more than two years, I have collaborated with concerned parents in prodding FCPS officials to review the rise of vaping in our schools, and to use national models of success for vaping prevention and intervention. Most recently, I have been speaking with Fairfax County Public Health officials about creating opportunities to better collaborate on curbing vaping in our schools. Given the sudden rise in vaping cases within this past year alone, I consider this to be a priority issue.

The School Board has undertaken a comprehensive review of school boundaries throughout Fairfax County. What factors should guide school boundary changes? 

As someone who experienced the harmful effects of boundary changes when I was an elementary school student and then later as a parent, I feel strongly that boundary changes should be limited to addressing building capacity issues. In addition, I continue to be a strong proponent of neighborhood schools with stable boundaries and shorter bus rides for students. This benefits students & families, as well as reduces roadway congestion, pollution and fuel costs. I am pleased that the School Board will be hiring a consultant to assist us in identifying national best practices, as well as strengthen public engagement on this sensitive issue. 

Please describe your volunteer activities with public schools in Fairfax County, such as your involvement (if any) with your local PTA(s).

Prior to joining the School Board in January 2012, I spent almost a decade volunteering on behalf of our public schools. I served multiple years on the Little Run PTA, as President, Board Member and Committee Chair. In addition, I led two Countywide advocacy groups called FAIRGRADE and the Fairfax Education Coaltion. I also worked with additional advocacy groups that successfully championed later high school start times, stopped a harmful bus depot at Woodson HS, and restored crucial HS-level honors courses. 

Melanie Meren, Hunter Mill District

What will you do to ensure every public school student in Fairfax County receives a world-class education?

(Please note that for ease of reading these responses, the term “parent” is used; however, we know that students may have alternative primary caregivers, such as family members or guardians.)

First, I will listen to and trust parents. While everyone in a student’s educational ecosystem has a role to play in that student’s success, since education begins at home, the best observers of the trajectory for that success are parents. Parents act as the bridge between a student’s personal goals and scholastic performance. As such, the role of a School Board representative must focus on that unique viewpoint by listening to parent as presented through: 

– Individuals

– FCCPTA 

– Community partners who are trusted critical friends of the schools

Second, I will seek to foster collaborative work norms among agencies and leaders who are responsible for serving and supporting our students. I see this as conducting regular, seamless communication among the School Board, Superintendent, FCPS staff, County Board of Supervisors, and Fairfax County staff. Our County has incredible resources, and we can make them work best for students through smart and authentic collaboration.

Third, I will help clearly prioritize where to dig deep on issues that need to be addressed and create an accountable work process for the School Board, which includes: decreasing class size, hiring a diverse teaching force, conducting meaningful revenue and budget analysis and advocacy at county and state levels, appropriate serving students with special needs, addressing boundary changes, optimizing advanced academic placement programs, supporting student mental health, eliminating vaping and tobacco-use on school grounds, and expanding programming like world language instruction, student athletics, healthy school foods, outdoor learning – and more. 

Do you support increased funding for public schools in Fairfax County? If “yes,” what will you do to achieve this objective, and how should our public schools use the additional funding? If “no,” what changes (if any) should be made to the school budget and programs in Fairfax County? 

Yes, I support increased funding, and I also support careful analysis of current spending to identify any better uses of funding. My decision to step up as a candidate in this race originates in my volunteer work with the successful #IamFCPS campaign that saved millions in education dollars from County budget cuts. I’ve hit a ceiling in my ability to positively impact decision making as a volunteer, and now want to commit my professional life to bettering our public schools. What I will do to achieve increased funding includes the following:

– Analyze our current budget in detail to learn where economies of scale can occur. This is more than the audit process already used. I’d like to:

— See where successful programs and processes in schools can be replicated at little or no-cost in other schools: including costs related to professional development, curriculum and materials, purchasing, and more

— Understand what budget areas are most cost efficient for our investment, and which are not

— Identify where shared procurement and other processes with the County government can be leveraged for savings 

– Seek assistance from government accounting experts (national and international financial government contractor consulting companies) here in Fairfax county to analyze our spending and propose ideas for savings and economies of scale. 

– Establish an advocacy plan for working with our Virginia General Assembly to review funding formulas that impact Fairfax County. Notably, I feel it is important to obtain local taxing authority where possible to keep revenue generated in Fairfax here rather than going to the State before coming back at a fraction of the amount.

– Establish clear norms of collaborative work with the County Board of Supervisors and County agencies to continuously identify cost savings, economies of scale, and budget planning as early as possible in the budget process to maximize our taxpayer dollars.  Our FCPS school budget has been fully funded for 2 years in a row and it’s important this does not change.

The additional funding should be used to decrease class size in our public schools. This means funding the following:

– Hiring and funding more teachers – including using funds for salaries and benefits, efforts to recruit and hire a diverse workforce, on-boarding, mentorship, and professional development. 

– Establishing the physical space that may be needed to host increased numbers of classes, and accelerating the level of understanding of what permanent structures already exist for new classrooms.

What will you do to reduce class sizes in our public schools? 

Above I’ve shared a vision for using funding to reduce class size. 

Additionally, I will ask for a review of policies that are challenges and barriers for hiring and retention, particularly where they impact principals’ efforts to fully staff their team over the summer and at the start of the school year. 

I am most familiar with this issue through the School Board’s Human Resources Advisory Committee (HRAC). I have served as an appointee on HRAC for two years, including as its co-Chair, during which time I’ve led the identifying of strategies for the School Board to improve teacher retention in FCPS. As a School Board member I pledge to work to improve the professional environment of our educators and to increase retention and thus the availability of educators in this time of statewide and national teacher shortages. This includes using the recommendations of the HRAC and stakeholder recommendations such as those from the FCCPTA and teacher advocacy groups.

What will you do to end the epidemic of vaping in our public schools?

Similar to approaches to meet teacher and staff needs, this dilemma must be addressed with the full weight of the legislative community at local and state levels. We at the local level have the unique ability to enforce and conduct strict oversight of school grounds, and we should take every measurable and legal step that we can to interdict vaping. The legislative limits we cannot surpass need to be picked up by our partners in the General Assembly, and we can prepare for that by developing a Tobacco-Free Policy for FCPS. Such a policy is now required per Virginia law HB 2384, as of July 1, 2019, but as the recent health crisis around vaping deaths has demonstrated, we must remain vigilant on enforcing its spirit and to the extent possible, its provisions. As such, materials are already available for FCPS to consider from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth (https://247campaignva.com/). We need to develop that policy now.

The approach should not be all “stick” however – we should involve the most critical party here, the students themselves, with incentives to live healthier lives. As a first step, character education and programs are already happening in FCPS, and we need to be sure that all schools have such strong initiatives. Good role modeling and demonstrating healthy choices through, for example, the Positivity Project, could begin to address this need. In strengthening students’ self-esteem and self-worth we can help them choose to avoid tobacco use.

The School Board has undertaken a comprehensive review of school boundaries throughout Fairfax County. What factors should guide school boundary changes? 

The School Board is undertaking an overdue review of the policy that will be used to examine and update school boundaries. I am following this process, and the factors being considered are appropriate if we want to do things like relieve overcrowded classrooms particularly when there are emptier classrooms in nearby schools; reduce the use of trailers and increase modern, optimal learning spaces; and decrease transit time to schools to promote the neighborhood school model. 

The factors being considered also will allow an avenue to provide all students with equal access to the promise of what a Fairfax County education offers, regardless of where they are in the county or their socioeconomic situation. And yet, such consideration is not at the cost of pragmatism nor community input.

Please describe your volunteer activities with public schools in Fairfax County, such as your involvement (if any) with your local PTA(s).

I’ve been involved with the PTA for years and am thrilled that my two children are both students in FCPS. I’ve been a PTA member every year as a public school parent, beginning in 2015 to present. Since 2016, I’ve been the Green Team Chair of the Wolftrap Elementary PTA, and also the FCCPTA liaison from Wolftrap.

Starting in 2015, I was a Leadership Team member of the #IamFCPS grassroots campaign to obtain critical funding for FCPS.

Also, starting in 2017, I became a member and eventually Co-Chair of School Board’s Human Resources Advisory Committee, as appointed by Pat Hynes. Prior to this appointment I was a member of the School Board’s Minority Achievement Oversight Committee, as appointed by then-School Board member Phil Niedzielski-Eichner, from 2005-07.

Thank you for the opportunity to share my vision and passion for serving our public school students and families. 

Abrar Omeish, At-Large

What will you do to ensure every public school student in Fairfax County receives a world-class education?

I am running on the values of inclusion and equal opportunity for all students. I intend to set ambitious, clearly-defined goals that employ a targeted universalism approach whereby we strive towards meeting the needs of the most vulnerable student profile and, by doing so, naturally go above and beyond for all families. I personally went through our public schools and the world-class education I obtained allowed me to go on to study at Yale. I remember most of my peers were not as fortunate and I want to ensure that our school system believes in the leader in every child.

I hope to:

–Extend myself to parent communities proactively so that all families– even those who may not know to show up– are engaged, heard, and that students are not punished for parental decisions

–Support efforts to expand advance academic programming and opportunities for advanced study (wither through a Chief Academic Officer, partnerships enabling unique experiences, etc.)

–Devise an educational model that cares for the whole child through initiatives bolstering mental health supports as well as social and emotional growth habits

–Examine offerings, student performance, class sizes, recreational resources, teacher exit rates, etc. across the county to derive hypotheses about where supports are needed

–Investigate the reality of the student (and staff) experience for those with special needs and minorities to put in place accountability measures for malpractice

–Incorporate technology wisely such that it is not abuse but so that children are prepared for competitive global markets requiring advanced hard skills while learning online safety

–Review economics/personal finance, history, civics, environmental science, and other such courses to ensure they are taught in engaging and effective ways such that our students are prepared for the realities of our world

–Reexamine school system standards with respect to the environment (solar, electric, recycling, etc.)

–Encourage non-traditional paths through apprenticeships/externships as well as a complete reevaluation of current standards-based learning (exploring alternative learning models)

–Promote creative learning that involves empathy education, the arts, sports, music, etc.

–Support staff through anonymous reporting and peer review mechanisms that protect them from bullying and show them respect and regard for their autonomy

–Ensure we implement ways for the school system to be a safer and more inclusive, welcoming place for all communities in the ways it impacts students and staff 

There are so many more I can list. Most importantly, though, to listen compassionately to all members of our community!

Do you support increased funding for public schools in Fairfax County? If “yes,” what will you do to achieve this objective, and how should our public schools use the additional funding? If “no,” what changes (if any) should be made to the school budget and programs in Fairfax County? 

Yes. This is an investment in our future. While it is understandable from a state perspective, we are affected by the state decision such that our county does not receive its share in taxpayer dollars back. Necessarily, this impacts our schools and leads to a circumstance where we are not fully funded. One such example is our compensation of staff, a metric in which we used to be a neighborhood market leader.I look forward to:

–Expanding public and private partnerships to provide services at free or reduced costs to the school system and/or growing revenue earned through the Foundation for Fairfax Schools

–Surveying the community about alternative revenue mechanisms that they would support

–Continuing to work with our partners at the state and local level to explore cost-reducing partnerships that use taxpayer dollars wisely through collaboration to mitigate overlaps; utilizing existing county resources to fill school system gaps

–Invest in energy efficient programs like solar and electric that reduce costs over time

–Planning for a zero-based budgeting process whereby a thorough countywide examination of taxpayer dollar usage in the school system is conducted on a cyclical basis to avoid bias and jadedness

–Qualifying for federal grants as a result of achievements like LEAD certifications and pursuing full funding for special ed/Title I centers

–Improving oversight and accountability over expenditures decisions and programs

What will you do to reduce class sizes in our public schools? *

Class sizes are a result of many issues related to aforementioned reforms. Addressing this matter requires both short and long term thinking to implement changes towards safe, comfortable, and sustainable learning environments (for example, avoiding trailers that parents do not prefer). When issues related to school funding, teacher exit, and the fair distribution of resources are addressed, we will be better situated to address class size concerns.

In the short term, until funds are allocated such that more teachers can be hired, more classrooms can exist/be built, and more funding can be channeled towards schools, I would like to examine classroom models that mitigate the impact of their size. For example, noredink is a welcome initiative to help students improve their writing despite teacher limitations. The flipped classroom, collaborative learning groups, and peer-to-peer instruction exercises can support even better learning while realistically facing less teacher availability.

What will you do to end the epidemic of vaping in our public schools?

Vaping is an issue I am deeply concerned by and have spent extensive amounts of time speaking to students about. Contrary to what we may believe, students themselves have many worthwhile proposals to support their peers. Overall, as studies demonstrate, disciplinary action will prove less effective than rehabilitative or incentive-based efforts. We can learn from the anti-tobacco movement of the past to implement best practices as well. Some ideas I have:

–Listen to families and conduct private focus groups with students to derive insights; work closely with families

–Introduce positive role models (athletes, celebrities, etc.) to children who discourage vaping

–Encourage student government groups to address the issue through relateable social campaigns

–Incorporate educational content about its harms in relateable and engaging ways in required school settings

–Train peers in basic peer intervention strategies to discourage bad behavior

–Incentivize anonymous/private “get clean” programs that include an honor or prize upon completion

–De-stigmatize it such that students may even have a space to engage in a supervised setting that discourages use and encourages a rehab process (rather than hiding in the bathrooms and doing it regularly) to make the activity less “cool.”

–Include resources and awareness in staff trainings to confirm their understanding– most in-school vaping is done in plain sight or in public spaces

–Consider the feasibility of vaping detectors that students become aware of and are discouraged by

–Understanding its rings and networks of transmission, especially if through shops close to school

–Working with the Board of Supervisors to address this as a public health matter and pushing for legislation that regulates its access so that it is less available to minors

The School Board has undertaken a comprehensive review of school boundaries throughout Fairfax County. What factors should guide school boundary changes? 

The single-most important factor in school boundary changes is an understanding of the community’s wishes and realities. This requires active and attentive listening to its various stakeholders and community groups to make fair and informed decisions. It necessitates an understanding of the community’s needs, strengths, and weaknesses.

I look forward to advocating for an open and transparent boundary review process that, in its inherent structure and in a similar way to the budget process, requires community input. I hope to suggest that it exhibit a cyclical nature so that the community knows to expect it and can participate accordingly.

Please describe your volunteer activities with public schools in Fairfax County, such as your involvement (if any) with your local PTA(s).

–Co-founder, GIVE (www.giveyouth.org), youth-led, youth-run non-profit organization that has provided free tutoring and mentorship to thousands of families in 20 locations across the county over the past ten years

–Co-Chair, School Board Human Resources Advisory Committee

–Former President, Superintendent’s Advisory Council

–Former appointee, FCPS Superintendent Selection Committee

–Former appointee, School Board Advanced Academics Committee

–Former appointee, School Board SR&R/Discipline Ad Hoc Advisory Committee

–Former Chair, Student Human Rights Advisory Committee

–Led anti-bullying campaign to amend the SR&R bullying definition/policy

–Parent accompaniment advocate

–Gold Award advisor and youth mentor

Stella Pekarsky, Sully District

What will you do to ensure every public school student in Fairfax County receives a world-class education? 


• First and foremost, hire, support, and appropriately compensate diverse, high quality educators. Teachers are the number one factor in students’ academic success and all kids deserve the best teachers. We must also provide the support and resources teachers need, such as behavioral supports, when serving high-needs student populations. 
• Continue to partner with community groups to provide wrap-around services so our students have their basic needs met and come to school prepared to learn. This will help address chronic absenteeism and keep kids in our schools learning. 
• Provide a high-quality curriculum that emphasizes critical thinking skills for ALL kids and sets high expectations. We have to break away from the “siloing” mindset and allow children to cultivate their strengths and find their individual path to success. Providing them opportunities through advanced academic classes, academy classes, or career work training opportunities will allow students to explore different paths to individual success. 
• Continued focus on the ‘Portrait of a Graduate’ skills that will prepare our students to be successful post-graduation. Curriculum and instruction should support skill development in areas such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, empathy towards others, resiliency, and creativity/flexibility in thought and ideas. 
• Continue to address disciplinary procedures so that they are consistent across schools and student populations. Schools are institutions of learning and should remain focused on that goal. 


Do you support increased funding for public schools in Fairfax County? If “yes,” what will you do to achieve this objective, and how should our public schools use the additional funding? If “no,” what changes (if any) should be made to the school budget and programs in Fairfax County? 


Budgets set priorities for our system and if we believe every child in Fairfax County deserves the best quality education, we must fund it. State funding for schools has not returned to pre-2008 recession levels and the federal government does not adequately fund IDEA. We have an obligation to provide the resources that our students and teachers need to be successful in the classroom. We have to compensate our educators and staff competitively so that we can hire and retain the best. I will continue to advocate for funding that meets the needs of our kids while ensuring we are being good stewards of taxpayer money. 


What will you do to reduce class sizes in our public schools? 


Increasing classroom sizes across some of the Sully District’s schools has become an area of concern from parents and teachers. I support prioritizing funds in annual budgets to ensure smaller classrooms sizes. This will allow for the best learning experience for our students and an individualized approach. I will advocate to our county and state elected officials for adequate funding to keep classrooms small. 


What will you do to end the epidemic of vaping in our public schools? 


Vaping has become the health epidemic of our time. Through my role in FCCPTA leadership, I am proud to have advocated for changes to the SR&R to focus on students getting help for their addiction instead of punishment. We need a robust health curriculum that teaches our students the health consequences starting in elementary school. I will continue advocating to our state legislators for common sense measures that will keep vaping products out of the hands of children and hold manufacturers accountable. Lastly, we need a community approach and partnership with the Health Department, hospitals, and area physicians so we have reinforcement of the message that vaping is harmful to students and parents. 


The School Board has undertaken a comprehensive review of school boundaries throughout Fairfax County. What factors should guide school boundary changes? 


First and foremost, all school boundary changes should be part of a transparent process that allows for robust community engagement and input. Boundary changes should be guided by best practices and evidence based criteria. I believe our students are best served in community schools with short bus rides.


Please describe your volunteer activities with public schools in Fairfax County, such as your involvement (if any) with your local PTA(s).


First as a teacher member, and then as a parent member, I have been involved in the PTA for over 15 years. I have served as room mom and chair of many different PTA committees, PTA President several times in several schools, as well as the VP of Outreach for FCCPTA. I believe the PTA is an essential partner to our teachers and staff and am proud to have worked through this organization to improve the learning experience for many students. I am proud to also have been an active parent leader in the groups More Recess for Fairfax County & Virginia, which led legislative changes to allow for increased unstructured time for students

Rachna Sizemore Heizer, At-Large

What will you do to ensure every public school student in Fairfax County receives a world-class education?

Equity of access, equity of resources, and equity of opportunity is vital to fulfilling the Fairfax Promise of a world-class education for every child. Overcrowded classrooms and schools, inconsistencies in resources and programs from school to school, achievement, and discipline gaps,  have all lead to inequities in services and inequities in results. We can address these issues through oversight, strategic use of resources, holistic supports, public private partnerships, and implementation support. 

We need to look at the gaps in each school so we can strategically target resources to ensure equity of programs across the county. We need to recognize that our student population has changed in Fairfax County and target our programs to address the needs of this changing population. One example would be to expand community schools in areas of need to help provide holistic supports to students and their families so students are more available for learning. Finding ways to reach our students from various cultures and providing support for teachers and staff and families through the use of liaisons and other support personnel would help create community and equity. Providing a better living wage to teachers would actually help address equity issues in our schools; when teachers are not forced to work two or three jobs, they are less tired and better able to meet the needs of their students in their classes. 

We need oversight from leadership to ensure consistency in program implementation along with strategic and equitable use of resources to close gaps and provide all our students the high-quality education for which FCPS is renowned. We need to ensure quality enrichment programs are available to all students. We need an equity lens in reviewing our current advanced and enrichment programs and in addressing discipline and achievement gaps. 

Building more public private partnerships to bring enrichment programs to schools that need them the most would also help address inequities by targeting those partnerships to schools with the greatest needs in terms of achievement and discipline gaps and a higher  population of students who receive free and reduced priced meals. 

We need to address our infrastructure and overcrowding issues so all of our schools are safe learning environments with the appropriate resources. We need to ensure all of our teachers and staff have proper training and support to implement programs and policies and ensure our building level administrators have proper training to understand the populations they serve and how to support the teachers and staff.  We need to use an equity lens in all our decision making -in planning the use of resources, programming, placement of new schools and looking at boundaries of existing schools. We also need to ensure we have robust early childhood education programs to even the playing field for children entering schools.  

Do you support increased funding for public schools in Fairfax County? If “yes,” what will you do to achieve this objective, and how should our public schools use the additional funding? If “no,” what changes (if any) should be made to the school budget and programs in Fairfax County? 

I absolutely support increasing funding for Fairfax County Public Schools. While the school board does not decide funding levels for FCPS, I believe the school board must work with our board of supervisors to make the business case for investments in our public schools.

Our public education system is the bedrock of our community and economy and it should be funded as the priority it is. I will also add that while I believe we should increase funding for FCPS, I also think we need to be savvy about how we use our resources. Smart long-term investments, like modernizing our bus fleet with electric vehicles and clean renewable energy, help us to direct even more of our budget to serving our students. 

My top priority for additional funds would be improving equity across the county. We have inconsistencies and inequities in resources and programs throughout our county that we need to address so each school has the resources to provide a high quality education for all our students. I’d use additional funding to provide enrichment opportunities for all students and strategically use resources to close gaps and provide additional supports and materials to our teachers in our classrooms. I’d love to support more opportunities for inclusion, advanced programming in all our schools, appropriate programming for our twice exceptional students, more inclusive schools, expand career and technical education and workforce development opportunities, address class sizes, and fund additional counselors and behavior interventionists so we provide a safe and inclusive school environment that provides high expectations learning, meets all our children’s needs and sets them up for success on the path that is right for them.

What will you do to reduce class sizes in our public schools? 

Overcrowded classrooms and schools are major issues. I do not believe that these issues are likely to resolve themselves in the next few years as a large cohort of students move through our schools. Our increased class sizes make it very difficult for our teachers to effectively teach our students. We need better support in the classroom and efforts to reduce class sizes. Overcrowded schools lead to inequities across the county, particularly in program availability across schools. We need to address our aging infrastructure. I would also work collaboratively with our Board of Supervisors to increase funding for our schools as well as our state legislators to improve the funding formula from the state to have more fund available to address class sizes.

We have current and ongoing infrastructure issues that are inadequately addressed through our current Capital Improvement Plan (CIP.) We need creative solutions to address our infrastructure issues so all our schools are safe learning environments with equitable facilities that meet the needs of a 21st century education. We cannot be educating students in trailers and other inadequate facilities; they are not safe learning environments. 

We also need to have a serious conversation about our school boundaries to ensure we are using our existing space to minimize overcrowding while keeping kids in their communities. FCPS boundaries were last drawn over 30 years ago with small changes since. They do not reflect the population growth and change that has occurred in the county. These boundaries have left some schools overcrowded, while others have room to accommodate additional students. We need to make sure we have ample community input and transparency in the process but it is vital we ensure capacity is balanced at our schools so we don’t have overcrowded schools next to underutilized schools.

In order to achieve smaller classrooms, we also need to do more to recruit and retain teachers. Fairfax County has significant issues with teacher retention and recruitment, especially in critical areas such as special education and in recruiting diverse teachers. We need to address our teacher shortage as well as the factors that are causing our high teacher turnover in order to retain and recruit world class teachers and provide a high quality education for all. 

What will you do to end the epidemic of vaping in our public schools?

E-cigarettes are not safe. The current tragedies in the news of acute lung disease and death illustrate this all too clearly, and these products are having the additional serious impact of addicting an entire generation to tobacco products. We must treat this epidemic as the public health crisis it is. For students who face disciplinary action for e-cigarette use, we need to instead provide them with the opportunity to participate in programs that help them quit as alternatives. We also need to provide all our schools with resources and best practices to incorporate education on the dangers of e-cigarette use in the classroom and to pass along to parents. 

The School Board has undertaken a comprehensive review of school boundaries throughout Fairfax County. What factors should guide school boundary changes? 

As a parent of a child currently in high school in Fairfax County, I understand that there are many concerns over any potential changes to school boundaries. However good governance and fiscal responsibility also means we cannot have overcrowded schools and students in trailers while other schools have space. I understand the need for keeping students in their communities. My own son was sent away from his base school in kindergarten to a school outside of his pyramid. I experienced first hand the negative effect that had on his ability to form friendships and bonds in our community. Keeping children in their communities is vital as we are looking at our boundary policies. Having ties to one’s community helps support our students’ sense of belonging and increase the possibility of family engagement, both factors important for student wellbeing. Strong schools make strong communities so it is important to create strong schools in all parts of our county and provide opportunities for success and enrichment for all our students. 

Boundary changes are difficult at any time and must be undertaken with transparency, careful review, and plenty of opportunity for community input.

Factors that should guide boundary changes are:

Capacity – our boundaries should maximize school space in order to alleviate our overcrowded schools and reduce dependence on trailers while planning for future areas of growth. We need to relieve overcrowded schools and better utilize schools that have existing space.

Short bus rides and efficiency of transportation. We need to keep our students on the buses for as short amount of time as possible.

Safety of our students’ walking and bus routes

Keeping communities together.

Please describe your volunteer activities with public schools in Fairfax County, such as your involvement (if any) with your local PTA(s).

I have worked collaboratively with teachers, staff, administrators, community organizations, and state and local elected officials to enact improvements to FCPS and to our public education system. I serve on several community and school organizations that support public education. I have given public testimony at the state and local government levels to point out a variety of issues and suggest solutions to improve our education system. I am not afraid to speak up when I see an issue and work until that issue is resolved. I’ve presented trainings at the FCPS Special Education Conference and other community organizations to give families tools to advocate for their children. 

In 2018, I lobbied the Virginia State Department of Education to create an alternative assessment path to allow certain students with disabilities to earn the verified credits needed to receive a standard diploma. In 2018, VDOE responded by creating the Special Permission Credit Accommodation that creates an alternative path to a verified credit for certain students with disabilities who are passing grade level classes but who cannot demonstrate knowledge on a standardized test such as the SOL. Based on my recommendation, VDOE made this accommodation retroactive so it is available for any current high school students. A VDOE representative informed me this will allow tens of thousands more graduating students statewide to get into colleges, postsecondary programs, and receive federal financial aid.

In 2018, I participated with other community activists, FCPD, and FCPS leadership on Chairman Bulova’s commission revising the memorandum of understanding between FCPD and FCPS to clarify the training requirements, roles, and responsibilities of school resource officers and ensure they have appropriate training to understand youth behavior so we are ensuring we have safe school environments without criminalizing youth and disability related behavior.

I have been a member of the Fairfax County School Board’s Advisory Committee for Students with Disabilities since 2012. I have co-chaired the Subcommittees on Executive Functioning and on Inclusion and provided guidance to the school board on numerous issues relating to students with disabilities. 

I lobbied for and started the FCPS Inclusion workgroup in 2015 and served as the only community member of this workgroup for many years. We are a workgroup of central office and building level administrators and now three community members. We recently revised the IEP forms used throughout the county so the forms better fostered inclusive education. These forms are being rolled out this year.

As the Awards and Grants Subcommittee Chair and a Board Member of the Fairfax County Special Education PTA, I made sure we support our teachers and staff by creating a mini-grant program to help fund projects and created an end-of-year awards program to recognize all the ways our teachers and staff and administrators go above and beyond.

In October 2018, I presented at the National Education Association Foundation’s Symposium on the Promise of Public Education in Washington D.C.. My presentation was “Disability is not a Single Story: The Value of Strengths Based Education for Students with Disabilities.” The central theme of my presentation was to discuss a strengths-focused approach to the education of children with disabilities as an important perspective on how we educate children with disabilities.

I’ve worked with the Fairfax County NAACP to organize and moderate state and local panels with state and federal legislators, law enforcement, and community organizations on juvenile justice reform and addressing the school to prison pipeline to ensure we work towards keeping our schools safe and create a positive learning environment while reducing discipline referrals and not criminalizing youth behavior.

I provide free training and workshops in the community to help other families become better advocates for their own students to help their students succeed in the public education system. Just in the last two months, I presented on “Effective Advocacy” at the Parents of Autistic Children, NOVA’s meeting, on “Effective Advocacy and IEPs” at the Autism Society of Northern Virginia, and recorded a webinar for the Arc of Northern Virginia on the new Special Permission Credit Accommodation. 

In 2018 and 2019, I presented with at the FCPS Special Education Conference with Kelly Brady, a specialist with FCPS Department of Special Services on “Neurodiversity and a Strengths based education for students with disabilities” 

In 2018, I and two other parent activists presented at the FCPS Special Education Conference on “Tips to help your child transition from Child Find to Preschool, Preschool to Elementary School, and Elementary School to Middle and High School ”

In 2019, Susan Kannengiesser, an FCPS Procedural Support Liaison, and I will be presenting at the FCPS Special Education Conference on “Tips for Successful Middle School, High School, and Post-Secondary Transitions”

Since 2011, as a private citizen and as a member of the Fairfax County Special Education PTA advocacy subcommittee and the Parents of Autistic Children of Northern Virginia’s School Liaison Subcommittee, I have given testimony to the school board and met with school board members and administrators regarding the need for more behavioral interventionists, better support for special education teachers and staff, more opportunities for social inclusion, how to better serve our twice exceptional students, improving equity in our AAP and advanced programs, ideas for improving processes for opening new programs across the county, the importance of social inclusion programs, and many other topics to improve education for our students.

Through my work on the Board of the Falls Church-Fairfax Community Services Board, I have worked to improve Human Services across our county, including lobbying to fully fund our schools.

Elaine Tholen, Dranesville District

What will you do to ensure every public school student in Fairfax County receives a world-class education?

In order to make sure we offer a world class education, I want to provide for the specific needs of each child that comes through the doors of our schools.  Every school needs the staff and resources necessary to meet the needs of children in that community. I want to be sure our teachers and school support staff are paid well and have adequate benefits and are respected as professionals so they can provide the best learning environment for our students.  

I want to provide safe, efficient and environmentally sound learning spaces for our children and make sure that the best practices in teaching and learning are used in our schools. As a former classroom teacher and program manager, I know what good instruction looks like, have trained teachers and administrators to use teaching and leadership tools and plan to continue supporting these efforts. I have the K-12 experience to implement policy and changes so that children and education are positively improved.   

Do you support increased funding for public schools in Fairfax County? If “yes,” what will you do to achieve this objective, and how should our public schools use the additional funding? If “no,” what changes (if any) should be made to the school budget and programs in Fairfax County? 

Yes, the schools can use additional funding.  I will look to increase the budget through efficiencies such as energy conservation, increased collaboration and communication with the Board of Supervisors and advocacy for education in Richmond. I will work with our communities to determine budget priorities and will work to be sure our constituents know what we may need in a Bond and other funding mechanisms to provide for those priorities.  

I hope we can use additional funds for teacher and staff salaries and to be sure that teachers have the support staff they really need to do the best job in the classroom–counselors, psychologists, behavioral interventionists, IA’s, SPED support, ESL, etc.  I would also like to see our facilities maintenance backlog worked on and our renovation window of 37 years decreased.  

What will you do to reduce class sizes in our public schools? 

As described above, if we budget for fully staffed schools and make sure we are proactive in our facility needs so that we do not have overcrowded schools, we can reduce class size.   FCPS MS and HS class sizes need to be returned to pre-recession levels.   

What will you do to end the epidemic of vaping in our public schools?

The use of e-cigarettes – commonly referred to as “vaping” – is a dangerous trend that could have serious implications for the health of our children. According to a recent CDC study, one in five high school students reported vaping within the past month and many of the FCPS high schools are having issues with Vaping. While there is still much to learn about the long-term health impact of vaping, preliminary studies raise major concerns. “Healthier than cigarettes” is far too low of a bar. These products are addictive and have no place in our schools. Their use is more easily concealed than traditional tobacco products, presenting an enforcement challenge for educators and administrators. Similar issues with cigarettes have been addressed through a two-pronged approach, educating students about: 1. The dangers of the activity and 2. How companies attempt to conceal these dangers by making the product seem “fun” and “cool”.  We can do this.  

We also need to make sure our teachers, parents, and administrators are informed about this epidemic by increasing and distributing the FCPS educational resources available and by providing training for adults to recognize vaping and vaping materials. We need to educate our students about the dangers of vaping, consistently follow the discipline rules covering this in the SR&R and for those students and families having more extreme issues, treat the vaping as an addiction, not just a discipline issue, and make sure families have access to the health care and treatment the student needs to recover.  Continuous dialogue on the issue needs to happen with our elected officials in Richmond. The recent change in the age for the purchase of tobacco products in VA to 21 is a step in the right direction. Keeping track of current health care professional advice and best practices and following those will be key to keeping this out of our schools.   

The School Board has undertaken a comprehensive review of school boundaries throughout Fairfax County. What factors should guide school boundary changes? 

School capacity should be what determines whether or not a boundary change is necessary.  If a boundary change is needed, a focus on creating/keeping viable neighborhoods/communities that support children in the best way possible should be the focus.  Community input to determine the best, most efficient way to do that must occur.

Please describe your volunteer activities with public schools in Fairfax County, such as your involvement (if any) with your local PTA(s).

Over the years, I served as a Vice President of the PTA at Great Falls ES, the Landscaping/Outdoor Classroom Chair for the Colvin Run ES PTA, Room parent at Colvin Run and Co-chair of the Teacher Appreciation PTA Committee at Cooper MS.  In addition, I was the National Wildlife Federation Volunteer of the Year for the work I did to promote schoolyard wildlife habitat and outdoor classrooms. I also served as the Fairfax County Master Gardeners Youth Gardens contact working with many FCPS schools to develop gardens and outdoor classroom spaces before I became employed by FCPS in 2009.