Leaders for Fairfax Schools

Monday, October 22, 2007

THE JUSTIFIABLE pride Fairfax County residents have in their public schools is tinged with nervousness. A stagnant housing market threatens tax revenue, students who don't speak English present challenges and a demanding world requires more of schools in readying students to compete. The 12 members of the School Board to be elected Nov. 6 will help shape the 164,843-student system to face these challenges.

Each voter will select a district representative and three at-large members. Our endorsements in contested races are in bold type. Five incumbents are running unopposed: Jane K. Strauss (Dranesville); Brad Center (Lee); L. Kaye Kory (Mason); Daniel G. Storck (Mount Vernon); and Phil A. Niedzielski-Eichner (Providence). The at-large race, with one open seat caused by Janet S. Oleszek's decision to run for the Virginia Senate, has attracted eight candidates with an admirable range of interests from Paul A. Costantino's commitment to troubled youth to James L. "Jim" Raney's interest in budget efficiency to Martina A. "Tina" Hone's experience in Teach for America.

Our nod goes to one incumbent, Ilryong Moon, and to Christian N. Braunlich and Ralph M. Cooper Jr. The other incumbent seeking reelection, Stephen M. Hunt, should not be returned to office. Views he expressed about homosexuality in a letter to principals in 2005 were ill-advised; other candidates have more to offer.

Mr. Moon, on the board since 1995, has a record of solid achievement. He was instrumental in the expansion of foreign-language instruction, and his experience emigrating as a teenager from South Korea gives him insights into the needs of English-language learners. Mr. Braunlich, a vice president with the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy who previously served on the School Board, is a knowledgeable student of educational issues. We admire his work in making college more accessible to minority students, and we think he would prod the board to deal more aggressively with the achievement gap among ethnic and racial groups. Mr. Cooper, a retired Army officer, is well known to Fairfax school officials because of his long-term work as a parent and volunteer. Drawing on his experiences as an African American raised in segregated schools in Norfolk, Mr. Cooper pioneered efforts to help at-risk students. His work in increasing parental involvement is particularly noteworthy.

In the Braddock District, residents have been well served by incumbent Judith T. "Tessie" Wilson and her tough-minded common sense. Her work in fighting gangs is indicative of the attenton she pays to constituent needs.

Stuart D. Gibson's 12 years of experience representing the Hunter Mill District will be needed in what promises to be a messy battle over boundary changes in the western part of the county. Mr. Gibson is forthright in saying students need to be moved to under-enrolled South Lakes High School, a brave stance given some community sentiments.

The Springfield District, open because of Catherine A. Belter's decision not to run, would be well served by Elizabeth T. "Liz" Bradsher. She was instrumental in creating the public-private partnership that built South County Secondary. Her energy, accomplishments and innovative thinking give her a clear advantage over PTA leader Ramona W. Morrow.

Voters in the Sully District have two good choices, but the edge goes to incumbent Kathy L. Smith over challenger John L. Litzenberger Jr. Her sensibilities as a former teacher have made a difference: Witness her efforts against classes that are too big.

Residents should vote yes for a $365.2 million bond measure to help pay for construction of two new schools, renovation of others, and expansion of full-day kindergarten and vocational education.

Other editorial endorsements can be found at www.washingtonpost.com/endorsements.

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