Dale, 62, made his announcement after a tumultuous two years in which he wrestled with tight budgets and frequently came under fire for his handling of such issues as a discipline policy that many parents called overly harsh.
Dissatisfaction among some parents and teachers has made Dale a lightning rod in a high-stakes school board campaign. Half of the 12 incumbents are not seeking reelection this fall.
Dale said he wanted to publicize his decision now so that the community knows his plans before an election that will determine the mission, vision and direction of the school system over the next decade.
In an interview before the announcement at Thursday evening’s board meeting, Dale said he hoped voters would seek answers to key questions that have been subsumed by other issues in the campaign.
“Do you believe all kids can learn? Do you believe we should address the needs of our most needy students equally as well as the needs of our most gifted students so they both can be successful?” Dale said. “That’s a huge philosophical question for which there is no transparency right now among all candidates.”
Under Dale, Fairfax has kept a national reputation for high achievement among large school systems. Since his arrival in 2004, the dropout rate has shrunk, state math and reading test scores have risen, and achievement gaps have narrowed. Black and Latino students still lag behind their white and Asian counterparts, but they are catching up.
But in the past three years, those successes were overshadowed by a series of painful budget cuts.
The number of students has grown about 7 percent since 2008. The system’s $2.2 billion budget stagnated over that same period.
To serve more students at the same level of funding, the school system froze teacher salaries for two years. Class sizes swelled, summer school was slashed and student athletes were required to pay new fees.
Those changes, coupled with debate over the school system’s rigorous grading policy and the closure of Clifton Elementary School, helped stoke parent and teacher anger toward Dale, his staff and the school board.
“Dr. Dale and his current administration seem so anxious to maintain our reputation that they’re never willing to look for the problems,” said activist Maria Allen. “Too many of our kids fall through the cracks.”
Many candidates in the board election have positioned themselves as reformers who would challenge the superintendent’s decisions, greet his ideas with skepticism and force his administration to operate with more transparency.