All it took was 19 words to transform Fairfax County School Board member Ryan McElveen into a overnight Twitter sensation.
“#FCPS is closed tomorrow, Monday, December 9. Stay safe! School Board Work-session will begin at 12:30pm at Gatehouse,” McElveen tweeted at 5:47 p.m. on Dec. 8.
McElveen broke the news of the school system’s first snow day of the winter more than 30 minutes before official word came from the administration at 6:21 p.m. In doing so, McElveen had answered the prayers of Fairfax County’s teenage tweeters and became an instant celebrity.
“The kids caught on really quickly that I had some inside knowledge,” said McElveen (At Large), who receives notification about snow days before they are announced publicly. “From there, it took off.”
In early December, McElveen had 160 Twitter followers. Now he has more than 16,000, the vast majority being Fairfax students who believe he can cancel classes on a whim. (Officially, Jeff Platenberg, the administration’s chief operating officer, makes a recommendation to Schools Superintendent Karen Garza, who makes the decision. School board members have no direct role in the process.)
Nonetheless, Fairfax students have shown their appreciation to McElveen by using photo-editing software to paste his face on the bodies of world leaders, celebrities and superheroes. The memes became a viral hit among Fairfax students.
McElveen, 27, said he saw pictures of his face on the Sistine Chapel, on Mount Rushmore and as a lightsaber-wielding Jedi knight.
“I think it has been what is lacking on school boards not just around here but around the country, which is how to engage students,” McElveen said. “Being young gives me an opportunity to connect with students more and understand their mind-set about things, like snow closures and how critical it is to get that information out as soon as possible.”
McElveen, a 2004 graduate of Fairfax’s George C. Marshall High School, said his goal is to use his newfound Twitter fame to educate students about the school board and how decisions he and his colleagues make affect students.
“I remember as a student that I didn’t understand what the school board did,” McElveen said. “My focus in the short term is how to keep students engaged and interested in the school board. It’s not easy.”
Some of his teenage fans, however, believe McElveen has loftier ambitions.
Twitter user @TheCurtinCall wrote on Jan. 20: “Secretly, Ryan McElveen is going to run for President one day when we are eligible to vote and get 100% of our votes.”