Candidates for the Fairfax County School Board courted parents at Annandale High School on Tuesday night, offering their views on several topics ranging from overcrowding at AHS, diversity, needs-based funding and more following the Parent-Teacher Student Association meeting.
Several of the questions referenced the School Board’s decision in July to approve the attendance area recommendations for the Annandale Regional Study and remove Wakefield Chapel and Bren Mar Park Elementary School from the AHS pyramid. The decision failed to pass on a 6-6 tie.
Mason District School Board representative Sandy Evans, who is running unopposed, supported the amendment to keep the AHS community together. She said the chances of the School Board revisiting the decision is unlikely, but noted the socioeconomic balance at the school are too high.
“I fought really, really hard to keep from losing the neighborhoods that we have at Annandale High School… but I think that we need to move on and we need to see what we need to do next,” said Evans.
Vice Chairman Ilryong Moon said he would stand by the decision of the School Board even though he disagreed with the decision. “I want to make sure we supports those students and make sure they get the tools they need to be successful,” said Moon.
It was unclear whether the other candidates supported or opposed the decision, but Ryan McElveen was the first candidate to respond to the question and said he was also disappointed in the School Board’s decision. His experience as a graduate of Marshall High School, McElveen said, gives him an understanding about diversity that shapes his outlook.
“Looking at boundary studies, we need to understand schools are abut communities. They aren’t just about numbers,” said McElveen.
Of the biggest challenges facing AHS, Nell Hurley listed retrenchment, maintaining the core in the IB classes to keep electives, and ongoing problems in the community as core concerns.
“When you’re losing the population, you’re losing that base to support all of the rich courses Annandale offers,” said Hurley.
When asked about the differences between herself and her opponent, Megan McLaughlin, Hurley said, “I am simply more qualified, I have more experience, I have more kids... I think we have pretty much the same values, I think I put a little more emphasis on watching the budget.”
McLaughlin argued her record of having a voice on a variety of topics in the county and her focus on other topics and not just the budget make her the better option. “I am working to get results, said McLaughlin. One cause McLaughlin revealed she’s passionate about is fighting for the middle students.
“This is a school system led by a superintendent who is not data driven,” McLaughlin said of Jack Dale, before adding that she would push him to look at the numbers if she was elected. Lin-Dai Kendall said she supports a multi-tiered system, but said it’s critical to strengthen the whole academic curriculum and renewing focus on the basics.
Ted Velkoff, who said his goal was to ensure all students “receive the same education my daughters received, expressed his support for both the Priority Schools Initiative in FCPS and needs-based staffing.
“I think that there is no greater investment that we can make as a society than to invest in early childhood education,” said Velkoff. Sheree-Brown Kaplan said she also fully supports needs-based funding.
In response to the question about No Child Left Behind and its effectiveness, Kaplan said the data collected is the only good thing about the initiative and the bad part is “teachers are forced to teach into the test.”
“I want to keep the good and change the bad,” said Kaplan.
Two of the more controversial questions were directed to Steve Stuban and Lolita Mancheno-Smoak about his endorsement outreach and her connection to Republican strategist Catherine Lorenze, respectively.
“[Catherine] offered her help pro-bono and provided polling data, which I knew nothing about, and a template for a campaign plan and provided help in getting my website set up… but Catherine is her own person and so am I. Just because she provides technical expertise does not mean she speaks for me,” said Mancheno-Smoak.
Stuban, who identifies himself as a “legitimate independent” in this race, said his restrictions as a government employee don’t allow him to seek endorsement from any political party or advocacy group, but that he would accept endorsements from all parties and groups.
When asked if they would support turning Holmes Middle School into a secondary school, which was one of the non-boundary options presented in the Annandale study, Stuban said he would be willing to consider non-boundary options to solve overcrowding. McLaughlin said, if elected, she would represent the views of the parents and community rather than her own.