On Nov. 8, Fairfax voters will choose three candidates to fill countywide “at-large’’ seats on the school board. Seven people are running for those three seats, and we are publishing brief profiles of each of them.
The school board race is technically nonpartisan, but political parties have historically played a role.
Democratic-endorsed Ilryong Moon has served on the board for 12 years and is the only at-large incumbent running for reelection.
Incumbents are under attack in this fall’s school board race.
Critics have said the board doesn’t listen to parents and stubbornly defends Superintendent Jack D. Dale’s policies and decisions without asking tough questions.
Ilryong Moon, 54, the only at-large incumbent in the race, is one of the targets. In 2009, when the board voted 7 to 3 to extend Dale’s contract, Moon abstained. It was one of the most important votes of the last four years, and critics say Moon’s abstention showed a lack of leadership..
But Moon says he took a thoughtful and deliberative position, characteristics he says have defined his 12 years on the board. He says he abstained because he supported the contract renewal but disagreed with its four-year length — too long, in Moon’s eyes.
He says his institutional knowledge will be important for the school system’s stability as six other board incumbents retire, taking with them a combined 48 years of experience.
“I am very patient. I do not jump to conclusions and I am willing to consider all sides,” he said. “The next board needs to have someone with my background, experience and proven leadership.”
A Korean-born lawyer who immigrated to Northern Virginia as a 17-year-old, Moon graduated from Alexandria’s T.C. Williams High School and went to Harvard on a scholarship.
After law school at William and Mary, he returned to Northern Virginia and built a general law practice to serve the growing Korean American community.
He never would have gotten so far without public education, he says. So when the board shifted from an appointed to an elected body in 1995, he threw his hat into the race and won.
He served as the Braddock district representative in the 1990s before losing a reelection bid in 1999. He then returned to the board in 2003 as an at-large member.
In 2009, Moon ran for the Braddock district seat on the Board of Supervisors and lost to John Cook by 89 votes. “Heartbreaking,” he says of that race.
He struggled with whether to take on Cook again this year, retire completely from public office or run for reelection. In the end, he says, he mounted another bid for the school board because half his colleagues are retiring, and he thinks his experience can be valuable.
“Serving on the school board in Fairfax County is not easy. It takes a toll on you,” he says.
Moon — and other incumbents in contested races for reelection — cite the system’s success at boosting student performance and narrowing the achievement gap despite the recession and its tight budgets.
He also shrugs off the accusation that he has not listened to parents. During debate over the county’s discipline policy, he introduced an amendment that echoed aims championed by parents activists. It would have required principals to notify parents before their children are questioned about alleged infractions.
The amendment failed. Moon has said that, should he win reelection, he wants to monitor the impact of discipline reforms and perhaps revisit parent notification.
He also says he will make a priority out of helping schools adapt to 21st century technologies. But most of all, he wants to make sure Fairfax schools continue along their current path.
“I’ve been saying throughout the course of this campaign that we’re not a perfect system,” he says. “There are areas we need to improve on, but we don’t need to make a drastic change.”
Other at-large candidates are Republican-backed Sheree Brown-Kaplan, Lin-Dai Kendall and Lolita Mancheno-Smoak; Democrat-backed Ryan McElveen and Ted Velkoff; and Steve Stuban, who has no partisan endorsement