A story on the Fairfax School Board race should have said that candidate Rita S. Thompson is running with the endorsement of the Republican Party. Mark H. Emery, a candidate for the Fairfax School Board, proposes to increase students' class time by paying regular teachers to work more hours--not by using more instructional assistants, as was reported. (Published 10/29/1999)
Fairfax County voters head to the polls Tuesday to decide whether members of the county's first elected School Board deserve a second term or whether new blood is needed on the panel.
Twenty-four candidates are vying for 12 seats on the board charged with setting and overseeing policy for the 157,000-student school system, the largest in the Washington area. Ten of the 12 candidates elected in 1995 are seeking reelection.
Each voter will be asked to pick three at-large candidates from a field of seven vying to represent the entire county. Voters also will choose one candidate in their district.
School Board seats are nonpartisan--no party affiliation will be listed next to the candidates' names on the ballot. But both major political parties have endorsed full slates of candidates, as they did in 1995. And the current board often has been divided along party lines, with its eight Democrats and four Republicans clashing over educational philosophy.
Some of this year's challengers say they would work to reduce partisan tensions if they were elected. But among the challengers, too, some key philosophical differences exist between Democratic-backed candidates and those with the GOP endorsement.
In general, candidates backed by the Republican Party think the school system has embraced too many unproven educational fads. They want a stronger focus on basic teaching methods such as phonics, a leaner school bureaucracy and tougher student discipline.
Democrat-endorsed candidates generally support moving the school system forward by improving upon the programs in place. They also want to expand efforts to boost student achievement at struggling schools.
Incumbents in both parties have backed measures that hold schools more accountable for student performance, including a plan by Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech that sets goals calling for every school to raise its test scores.
The differences between the parties are reflected in the endorsements made by the two county teachers unions. The larger union, the Fairfax Education Association, has endorsed all the Democratic-backed candidates, while the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers is backing most of the candidates on the GOP team.
One race is uncontested--incumbent Gary A. Reese is the only candidate in the Sully District. Here is a closer look at the candidates in each of the other races.
Ilryong Moon, the incumbent, says he should be reelected because he has worked to raise academic standards countywide, to introduce the International Baccalaureate Program at Braddock District high schools, to reduce class sizes and to speed renovation of older schools in the district. In a second term. Moon said, he would focus on relieving school crowding and ensuring that the schools in his district are getting a fair share of teachers, classroom aides and technology equipment. Moon, 42, is endorsed by the Democratic Party.
His GOP-endorsed opponent, Judith T. "Tessie" Wilson, 50, says Moon has been weak in providing constituent services, a criticism that he strongly disputes. Wilson has pledged to form a community advisory council made up of representatives from homeowner and civic associations in the Braddock District. She said she would meet with this council on a quarterly basis to address concerns and answer questions.
I. Michael Saliba, who was an unsuccessful at-large candidate in the last election, says he would work to fund renovations and get rid of classroom trailers at Dranesville schools, by fighting for the district to receive its fair share of funds. He said he also is concerned about variations in student performance from one county school to another. Saliba, 55, is running with Republican endorsement.
Jane K. "Janie" Strauss, 52, the incumbent, has served as the board's budget chairman for four years. In that role, she has worked with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to improve the district's cash flow and has lobbied the state to increase its contribution to local education. In her reelection campaign, she is emphasizing the board's record of setting concrete goals for raising student achievement. She is supported by the Democratic Party.
Hunter Mill District
Stuart D. Gibson, the incumbent, cites his record in helping to raise academic standards and set measurable goals for each school. After parents in a Reston neighborhood in his district had a bitter dispute over redrawing school boundaries, Gibson worked to change the process for drawing attendance zones so that the public would have more input. Gibson, 48, is supported by the Democratic Party.
His opponent, Thomas A. Wilkins, 69, says the current board has not done a good job of evaluating the effectiveness of county programs. He promises to focus on making schools more accountable, improving the district's reading curriculum and finding solutions to school crowding problems. Wilkins has the GOP endorsement.
Christian N. Braunlich, the incumbent, is stressing the work he has done in expediting the renovation and expansion of crowded and aging schools in the Lee District, which is home to some of the county's older communities. Braunlich, 46, who is endorsed by the Republican Party, is calling for a more phonics-based reading curriculum and other changes aimed at addressing the academic needs of children from poor families.
His opponent, Brad Center, has emphasized the need to improve the test scores of poor and minority youngsters. He supports many of the initiatives implemented by Domenech, including a program known as Success by Eight, which groups children in kindergarten through second grade by skill level rather than by age at certain schools. Center, 38, also has proposed taking a building that now houses the Islamic Saudi Academy--which is working on plans to relocate--and converting it into a high-tech elementary magnet school for students from the Lee and Mount Vernon districts. He is endorsed by the Democratic Party.
Douglas J. Barylski, 40, one of the few challengers who is running without the endorsement of either party, says that the school system too often has adopted curriculum programs whose effectiveness has not been proven by any research. He says that there are better programs available to help struggling students and that he would work to implement them in Fairfax. He has been endorsed by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers.
Laura H. "Kaye" Kory, the incumbent, won the seat in a special election in June to fill the unexpired term of Fred Ward, who resigned for health reasons. Kory, 51, a longtime PTA activist, is a strong believer in parental and community involvement in the schools. Although endorsed by the Democratic Party, she has talked about trying to find common ground with Republicans on the board, and in her brief time on the panel she has agreed with her Republican colleagues on some issues.
C.W. "Levi" Levy, 67, an independent who is on the ballot for two School Board seats and three other elected offices in Northern Virginia, has an unlisted phone number and could not be reached for an interview. In his response to a survey that was mailed to him and the other candidates, he said he supports affirmative action, free health care for children of illegal immigrants and free grants to pay for two years of computer training at local community colleges for those able to pass a basic algebra test.
Mount Vernon District
This is the only open seat on the board. Kristen J. Amundson is vacating the seat to seek election to the House of Delegates.
Sharon E. Baroncelli, 37, who is endorsed by the Republicans, believes the school system isn't doing enough to provide instruction that focuses on the individual needs of each student. She says that all students are capable of meeting new state achievement standards, but Fairfax needs a curriculum that puts more emphasis on teaching the basics.
Isis M. Castro, 51, who is endorsed by the Democrats, also says that the county's children need a more challenging curriculum that focuses on the basics of reading, writing and math. In a district that is home to some of the county's neediest children, Castro says that schools could bolster their resources through more partnerships with local businesses. She has received the endorsements of both the Fairfax Education Association and Fairfax County Federation of Teachers.
Ernestine C. Heastie, 55, the incumbent, says the current board deserves credit for making a good school system even better. She cites the board's efforts to raise academic standards and equalize schools' access to technology. Although she voted with her colleagues to set measurable goals for improvement at each Fairfax school, Heastie also has said she is wary of using test scores alone to judge a school's quality. She is endorsed by the Democratic Party.
Her opponent, Jamie E. Ruppmann, says that strengthening the academic curriculum in the early grades and implementing early intervention programs will boost student achievement and decrease disciplinary problems. Ruppmann, 52, is running with Republican endorsement but says she would work to reduce the partisan bickering on the board.
Catherine A. "Cathy" Belter is campaigning on a platform to eliminate classroom trailers, reduce class size and raise student achievement. Belter, 54, who is endorsed by the Democratic Party, says she would work to reduce the partisanship on the board. Like some of the incumbent Republicans, she has talked about the need to constantly evaluate Fairfax's school programs to make sure they are working.
Carter S. Thomas, 47, the incumbent, has been one of the board's most outspoken conservatives. He has pushed for more phonics-based reading instruction and a curriculum that specifies in greater detail what students should know. He also pushed to make it mandatory that every county school set aside time during the school day for recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. He is endorsed by the Republican Party.
Incumbent Mychele B. Brickner, 48, has been a strong advocate of traditional programs such as phonics-based reading instruction and basic math, and a critic of decisions to continue or expand some new programs. For example, she fought unsuccessfully against this year's expansion of Success by Eight, the program of multi-aged classrooms, from six to 12 elementary schools, saying there was not enough data to show that the program was working. She has the Republican Party's endorsement.
Incumbent Mark H. Emery, who had one-year stints as board chairman and vice chairman, takes credit for building a board consensus to increase school accountability. He says that if he is reelected, he will continue to work toward improving the tools for assessing student and school performance; try to increase both instructional time for students and planning time for teachers, by making greater use of instructional assistants and other school staff; and push for full-day kindergarten in all county elementary schools. Most Fairfax schools now have half-day kindergarten. Emery, 56, is endorsed by the Democratic Party.
Incumbent Robert E. "Bob" Frye Sr. is the current board chairman and the longest-serving board member, having been on the panel when its members were appointed by the Board of Supervisors. Frye, 63, says he has worked to curb partisan politics on the board during his chairmanship. One of his main concerns has been the gap in white and minority student performance, and he has called on African American parents to be more involved in their children's school work. He is endorsed by the Democratic Party.
Challenger Robert W. Gardner kicked off his campaign with a 30-hour "trailerthon" in which he visited each of the 550-plus trailers in the school system to draw attention to its crowding problem. Gardner, 48, said that if elected, he would work to eliminate trailers, provide better salaries and more training for teachers, set challenging academic targets for students and increase the area's share of state tax revenue. He is endorsed by the Democratic Party.
Challenger Stephen M. "Steve" Hunt, 41, says he would work to ensure that school system funds are spent wisely, that schools are safe and that students master basic reading and math skills. Hunt argues that giving students a more challenging curriculum focused on the basics will make them more engaged in learning and thus reduce discipline problems. He has the GOP's endorsement.
C.W. "Levi" Levy, in addition to being a candidate for the Mason District seat, is seeking an at-large seat on the board.
Rita S. Thompson, 47, a challenger running without either party's endorsement, is a proponent of parental involvement and says she would work hard to make the educational system more accessible to parents. She also says schools need to focus on instructing students in basic skills and maintaining safe and orderly classrooms.