FCPS superintendent search needs more student input, group says

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand (via FCPS/YouTube)

(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) As Fairfax County Public Schools nears an announcement of its next superintendent, students, faculty, and community groups have started to voice concerns about the transparency of the months-long process.

Organizers of the Pride Liberation Project, an FCPS student-led LGBTQIA+ advocacy organization with over 100 members, urged the school system to solicit more feedback from students, saying that the community outreach for the superintendent search was inadequate.

“Given the immense influence a superintendent has, it is imperative that FCPS take the necessary steps to hear the concerns of students,” Pride Liberation Project leaders said in a statement shared with FFXnow. “Unfortunately, the recent search process for a new superintendent did not do this.”

Prompted by Superintendent Scott Brabrand’s plans to step down from the position on June 30, FCPS hired the consulting firm GR Recruiting in October to conduct a nationwide search for his successor.

The firm launched its outreach efforts by meeting with FCPS employee groups in December. In January, it conducted a survey, hosted six virtual town halls, and met with stakeholder groups representing students, parents and other community members.

However, an emailed invitation was needed to participate in the survey, and only 9,523 of the 225,761 people who got invited responded, GR Recruiting told the Fairfax County School Board at a work session on Jan. 31.

School board members expressed disappointment at the low response rate for the survey but decided that there wasn’t enough time to consider resending it.

The firm reported that the town halls drew 337 attendees, and a total of 275 individuals were invited to 45 small stakeholder group meetings, including one for 11 students.

John R. Lewis High School student Andrea-Grace Mukuna, a Pride Liberation Project member who participated in the student stakeholder meeting, says the meeting itself went well, but she felt it “was a bit off” that it wasn’t open to more students.

According to Mukuna, the meeting was limited to members of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council, which consists of student government representatives from each school, and the Student Equity Ambassadors Leaders program.

She says the invitations to the meeting were also sent out close to when it was scheduled, and it was held shortly after the end of the school day, making it harder for students who were busy or whose schools ended later to participate.

The Pride Liberation Project argues that a group of just 11 students can’t sufficiently convey the needs and perspectives of a student body as large and diverse as FCPS’.

“We need you to hear our voices, and we need you to not only cater to a small group of elite students that you asked to attend these meetings,” Mukuna said. “We want this to be extended to all of the 180,000 students across FCPS so they have the opportunity to put in their voice and what they believe matters in the superintendent search.”

FCPS did not immediately respond to FFXnow’s request for comment on the group’s concerns.

The Fairfax County School Board released a statement yesterday (Monday) asking that the confidentiality of the superintendent applicants be respected after the Fairfax County NAACP publicly identified two reported finalists, one of whom had withdrawn her name a week earlier.

“The hiring of the next superintendent will be confirmed through a public vote by the School Board. We will communicate with you as soon as we are able to add this to an upcoming agenda,” the school board said, stating that a public announcement will be coming “in the next few weeks.”

The Fairfax County NAACP said in a statement that it hopes the school board hires a superintendent with the “qualifications, experience, and knowledge to lead a school system of the size, diversity, and complexity of FCPS.”

The group also expressed support for an open letter released by the Fairfax Alliance of Black School Educators, which advocates for Black students and faculty in Fairfax County.

“The members of FABSE would like to understand the hiring criteria and process of selecting the next superintendent of FCPS,” the FABSE said. “Like the NAACP, our membership was asked to provide input on the characteristics of the superintendent that we’d like in FCPS but were not invited to be a part of the interview panel. Representation, ‘being in the room,’ is a critical strategy in ensuring the voices and perspectives of all stakeholders are affirmed, respected, and included in the decision making of the Board.”

Photo via FCPS/YouTube