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Fairfax County School Board chooses new superintendent, despite protests

Fairfax County Public Schools has found its next superintendent, but in the process, it managed the impressive feat of uniting normally opposing factions of the community in protest.

The Fairfax County School Board voted 9-3 last night (Thursday) to appoint Dr. Michelle Reid as the successor to Superintendent Scott Brabrand, who will step down from the position effective June 30.

Reid will be the second woman to lead FCPS, following Dr. Karen Garza’s tenure from 2013-2016. Her newly authorized contract will start July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2026.

“We are fortunate to have a large group of excellent candidates participate in our process. Among this large, strong group, Dr. Reid was consistently at the top,” School Board Vice Chair and Member-at-Large Rachna Sizemore-Heizer said, praising Reid for “her work around STEM and strong academics” and as someone who can bring a “22nd century education philosophy.”

Multiple board members said Reid stood out from a pool of 72 applicants, per Springfield District Representative, for her “holistic” approach to equity and inclusion. Sizemore-Heizer said she was the only candidate to mention issues of ableism and neurodiversity.

Reid’s confirmation came after more than two hours of discussion, including a failed motion to postpone a vote by Member-at-Large Karen Keys-Gamarra and Mason District Representative Ricardy Anderson, citing a desire to take more time to consider issues raised by the community concerns.

“I strongly believe we should afford ourselves the gift of time to reach out to those who have expressed their concern,” Anderson said. “We have discounted the people who we are elected to represent, the people who are telling us they have questions, they have concerns, and we have fed into the narrative of not being inclusive or transparent.”

Mount Vernon Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders joined Anderson and Keys-Gamarra in voting against Reid’s appointment, citing reservations about her lack of experience in a district with the size and diversity of FCPS.

A German immigrant who grew up in a military family, Reid was appointed unanimously in June 2016 as superintendent of the Northshore School District in Bothell, Washington. Her experience prior to that included leading the South Kitsap School District and various administrative roles in the Port Angeles School District.

She was named National Superintendent of the Year in 2021 by the National Conference of Education.

In remarks to the board, Reid touched on her belief in promoting science, technology, engineering, and math, as well as the arts, while also highlighting improvements Northshore made in expanding access to dual-language programs and other services.

“I’m committed to listening and learning from this community so that together, we can build on the strengths of Fairfax County Public Schools, while developing schools of the future and not schools of the past,” Reid said. “I’m absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to work with each of you as board members and our community to prepare each and every student for a world yet to be imagined.”

Community groups, students object to scheduled vote

Though FCPS had not confirmed Reid as a contender for superintendent until yesterday, she was identified as one of two final candidates earlier this week by the Fairfax County NAACP, which expressed concern about her qualifications and record.

In its statement, the local NAACP questioned Reid’s ability to transition from leading Northshore’s 23,000 students to the nearly 180,000 students enrolled in FCPS, pointing to the Washington district’s demographics — it has just 530 Black students — and achievement gap data as reasons for alarm.

The civil rights group stood by its objections yesterday in a joint statement with local faith leaders, the LGBTQ+ student group Pride Liberation Project, and disability advocacy organizations, including the International Coalition Against Restraint and Seclusion, the Neurodivergent Liberation Coalition, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), and Communication First.

The groups stated that they have heard “troubling information” about Northshore’s record on special education and the use of seclusion and restraint — practices that FCPS has been phasing out — but did not share specific details or data.

“The issue we all agree on is that FCPS needs a superintendent who has commensurate experience in leading organizations of this size, diversity, and complexity, and that the Superintendent of Northshore School District isn’t the right fit,” the groups said.

During a public hearing at the beginning of the meeting, Leslie Houston, who identified herself as a special education teacher, expressed disappointment as a Black woman with Reid’s selection, which reportedly came over Omaha Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Logan.

“Integrity and transparency should be your guiding principles,” Houston said. “This board should promote a sense of openness and fairness, but I stand here today, because you did not do so regarding the superintendent search.”

The Omaha World-Herald reported that Logan had withdrawn from the superintendent search earlier this month, before the NAACP identified her as the second finalist in its statement.

The Fairfax County Parents Association took issue with Reid for a different reason. Formed in 2020 to advocate for reopening schools during the pandemic, the volunteer organization criticized Reid’s history as one of the country’s first superintendents to close schools due to COVID-19.

Frustrated by what they felt was limited student involvement in the search process, which was led by the consulting firm GR Recruiting, more than 200 students joined protests yesterday at Westfield, McLean, Oakton, and Mount Vernon high schools, according to the Pride Liberation Project.

A petition calling for an audit of the search process and delay of Reid’s appointment to conduct more student-centered town halls was signed by more than 500 students, representing nearly every high school.

Saehee Perez, a McLean High School 11th grader who organized that school’s walkout, told FFXnow that the goal wasn’t to promote or attack a particular candidate, but to push the school board to address student concerns before selecting the next leader of one of the nation’s largest school districts.

“In a superintendent, we want somebody willing and planning to push for more equitable policies here in FCPS through supporting neurodivergent students, minority students,” Saehee said, adding that free speech for students is also a priority.

Student journalists at one Northshore school reported last month that the district was requiring them to get permission from administrative leaders to interview school staff.

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