The Washington Post

Fairfax grad Ryan McElveen aims for school board

On Nov. 8, Fairfax voters will choose three candidates to fill countywide “at large’’ seats on the school board. Seven people are running for those spots, and The Washington Post is publishing brief profiles of each of them.

The school board race is technically nonpartisan, but political parties have historically played a role.

Democratic-endorsed Ryan McElveen was valedictorian of the Class of 2004 at Fairfax ’s George C. Marshall High. At 25, he is the youngest school board candidate on the ballot.

Ryan McElveen brushes off the whispers that perhaps he is too young to help lead the nation’s 11th largest school district.

After all, he speaks Mandarin and has worked in China. He holds a master’s degree and has job in the Boeing Co.’s international policy office.

McElveen has been an activist since he was a teenager — first at Marshall High, where he successfully campaigned to get stalls and doors installed in bathrooms (“a major student privacy issue,” he says), and later at the University of Virginia, where he helped lead efforts to add ethnic and global studies courses to the curriculum.

“I would hope,” he says, “that people would look past mere age in judging me.”

If the at-large candidates can be divided into two groups — those who believe the school system’s leadership is fundamentally broken, and those who believe it is basically sound — McElveen is one of the latter.

“I had a wonderful education in Fairfax County Public Schools, and I want to ensure that all students in the future have that wonderful education,” he says.

“I don’t think the system is perfect, but I think the number of students that come out of our system every year and go off to succeed is phenomenal.”

McElveen jumped into the at-large race in April as a self-described “long-shot candidate, perhaps the under-est of underdogs.”

By July, he was back in, replacing a Democratic-endorsed candidate who withdrew after it became publicly known that she was facing assault charges in the District. She had allegedly hit a woman with her car during the annual Right to Life March.

McElveen says he will make a priority out of making sure that students are prepared with the kinds of courses — such as in foreign language, and science, math and engineering — that they’ll need to be globally competitive in the 21st century.

He says he’ll also push to ensure that parents are notified when their children are brought into the school office to be questioned about alleged disciplinary infractions.

And he wants to do away with athletic fees and raise teacher compensation.

He’s been subjected to the effects of stagnating teacher pay in his own life. His father teaches in Fairfax, but his fiance teaches in Rockland County, N.Y.

“They pay a lot better there,” he says. “That’s why teacher compensation is important to me.”

Some candidates have argued that the school system can find money for improved teacher salaries and other popular initiatives by making deep cuts in the central office. McElveen doesn’t buy it.

“You might save a million or two here and there, but when it comes down to making big investments for the system that’s unfortunately not going to go very far,” he says.

Paying for the programs people want will cost more money, he says — which will likely mean larger contributions from county and state coffers. “We have an increasing population,” he says, “and we need more money to pay for those needs.”

Other at-large candidates are Republican-backed Lolita Mancheno-Smoak, Sheree Brown-Kaplan and Lin-Dai Kendall; Democratic-backed Ilryong Moon and Ted Velkoff; and Steve Stuban, who is running without a partisan endorsement.

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.

Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Video curated for you.