On Nov. 8, Fairfax voters will choose three candidates to fill county-wide “at large’’ seats on the school board. Seven people are running for those spots, and The Washington Post is publishing brief profiles of each of them.
The school board race is technically nonpartisan, but political parties have historically played a role.
Ted Velkoff, who has been endorsed by the Democratic Party, is a former PTA officer who first entered school board politics several years ago, when he served as campaign treasurer for current member Kathy Smith (Sully).
Ted Velkoff often introduces himself to voters as the father of two daughters who graduated from Fairfax County schools.
“My girls got a great education here in Fairfax County,” he says. “I am running because I want to see that everyone else’s kids — your kids, your neighbor’s kids, your grandkids — get the same great education.”
Velkoff says that means moving away from a focus on standardized tests and embracing technologies, teaching methods and curricula that help students develop the critical-thinking skills they need to compete in the 21st century.
“Of course every school board has got to deal with the issues that are current,” such as discipline, grading and boundary changes, he says. “But I think we’re going to do a disservice if we don’t always have this long-term vision in mind.”
A key, he says, is giving teachers room to innovate in their classrooms.
“We’ve got to find ways to enable our teachers to truly educate students, rather than just filling in bubbles on the test,” he says.
A software engineer by training, he has served at several schools as PTA treasurer — a role in which he found himself explaining the school system’s large, complicated budget to other parents. He also was PTA president at Chantilly High.
Velkoff says he wants to reduce class size and boost teacher pay, as well as lobby the state legislature to contribute more to Fairfax schools.
He also says he wants to ensure that kids have “ample opportunity” to participate in the fine arts, athletics and other enrichment activities outside core academic areas.
He praises the school system for its success in raising student performance and narrowing the achievement gap in recent years, and he distinguishes himself from candidates who describe themselves as reformers.
The “anger or feeling of grievance” displayed by change-minded candidates does not reflect the feelings of all parents, says Velkoff — or even most parents.
“I have to tell you honestly,” he says, “in my area out here in the county, I have not seen that level of discontent with the school system.”
Though he has been critical of the school system’s handling of some problems — “some discipline issues have been handled in a way that defies common sense,” he says — Velkoff has often defended the current school board against criticisms that it lacks transparency and accountability.
Such defense — including in a 2010 letter to the editor of a local newspaper — has helped make Velkoff a target of some parent activists who say he will do no more than uphold the status quo.
“I’m not convinced that the activists represent the mainstream viewpoint in the county, and I thought it was important that somebody stand up and say there is another way to look at things,” he says.
“We’re going to find out on November 8 if the activists really do represent a significant number of voters in the county and are able to affect the outcome of the election.”
Velkoff, 57, has a history in the arts — he earned a bachelor’s degree in music composition from the University of Cincinnati and once had ambitions of becoming a professional composer.
After receiving a master’s degree in conducting from Indiana University, he considered a career as an orchestra conductor until, he says, “I realized that I’ve got to make a living.”
That realization led him to a second master’s degree from Indiana University, this one in computer science. He came to the Washington area when he was recruited to work for IBM more than two decades ago.
He went on to work for Lockheed Martin before he was hired for his current position at Integrity One Partners.
“I didn’t see a future in music, as much as I loved it,” he says. “There are times that I really miss it.”
Other at-large candidates are Republican-backed Lolita Mancheno-Smoak, Sheree Brown-Kaplan and Lin-Dai Kendall; Democratic-backed Ilryong Moon and Ryan McElveen; and Steve Stuban, who is running without a partisan endorsement.