Voters in Fairfax County's Mason District will go to the polls Tuesday in a special election to fill a seat on the School Board.

Rafael Franchi, Kaye Kory and C.W. "Levi" Levy all are vying to fill the unexpired term of board member Alfred H. "Fred" Ward, who resigned last month for health reasons.

The race also will provide a preview of the Nov. 2 general election, as all three candidates intend to seek a full four-year term on the board. The polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Kory, 51, has a 14-year record of involvement in Fairfax schools as a PTA officer and parent activist. She is president of the Glasgow Middle School PTA and a member of the board of the county Council of PTAs. She had agreed to run Ward's reelection campaign prior to his resignation.

Kory, who was endorsed by Ward, said she decided to run for the seat in order continue the efforts she had started with Ward in working to ensure that the older Mason District schools achieve equity with newer schools in the county.

"Mason District schools have an excellent faculty and superb administrative support," Kory said. "However, as with many schools in the Fairfax County school system, many of our facilities are an embarrassment for a community of our economic stature, and our children's access to technology must be accelerated to ensure our community is producing a generation that will be competitive in the work force of the next century."

She also wants to work to bring more enhancements to the district's middle schools and to close the achievement gap that exists among the district's diverse students.

"We have some very fine elementary schools with magnet programs and IB [International Baccalaureate] programs--or almost IB--at all our high schools," she said. "The middle schools need to be enhanced to keep that challenging track going."

Kory is married with three children. She has two grown sons, both graduates of Fairfax schools, and a daughter at Glasgow.

She has received the endorsement of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee and the Fairfax Education Association.

Franchi, 72, is a Fairfax County businessman who has worked to improve achievement and opportunities for the county's Hispanic youth. He served on the appointed School Board from 1994 to 1996.

Franchi said that if elected, his top priority would be improving minority student achievement--particularly that of Hispanic youngsters.

By nearly every measure, the academic performance of Hispanic and black students lags behind that of their white and Asian counterparts.

"I have seen over the last three or four years how the grades of black and Hispanic children have continued to be lower than average," said Franchi, who has four grown children, who graduated from Bishop O'Connell High School, and six grandchildren. "I believe with my experience and commitment to children that I have what it takes to help those who are most in need."

Franchi has several theories for the gap, including language and economic barriers that make it difficult for many Hispanic parents to be involved in their children's education. For example, parents with limited English skills may have difficulty assisting their children with homework or communicating with teachers and principals. Parents working multiple jobs--as many new immigrants must--have little time left to supervise their children or become involved in school activities, he said.

"One of my goals is to talk to parents and explain that these things are important," Franchi said.

A former Cuban freedom fighter, Franchi immigrated to the United States in 1960. He moved to the Washington area in 1964. He worked for the Inter-American Development Bank and several U.S. government agencies, including two appointments by President George Bush as director of a minority business development agency at the Department of Commerce and as director of the Enterprise for the Americas initiative. He founded his own import/export business in 1993.

Franchi has been active in Republican politics, including founding the Republican Hispanic Assembly. He has been endorsed by the Fairfax County Republican Committee.

Levy, the publisher of the hand-printed Levite Chronicle newsletter and a perennial candidate, could not be reached for an interview.