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 three seats, and over the next two weeks we’ll publish brief profiles of each of them.
The school board race is technically nonpartisan, but political parties have historically played a role.
Republican-endorsed Lin-Dai Kendall is the only at-large candidate I’ve talked with who has identified herself as a member of the tea party movement. I asked her how her political beliefs inform her views on school policy.
At forums and debates around the county, Lin-Dai Kendall has echoed many of the positions shared by reform-minded school board candidates from across the political spectrum.
The next school board needs to reestablish trust with the community by being more responsive to parents, she has said, and more transparent about decision-making. In the classroom, she wants less focus on standardized test prep and more on rigorous math and science.
She also supports the establishment of an independent audit team that will help find efficiencies and savings in the school system’s $2.2 billion budget.
“The school system right now is assuming that they are going to get more money,” she said in an interview. “Before we go and ask for more money when the economy is in such bad shape, I want to know where the money is going and where it’s being used.”
What sets Kendall apart from other candidates is her affiliation with the tea party, which she describes as a movement “geared toward restoring America’s ideals.”
She raises questions about school curricula — particularly in government and social studies classes — that could launch Fairfax County into the sort of politically charged education debates that have already cropped up elsewhere in the country.
“We are a nation founded on Judeo-Christian values, and that has been downplayed extraordinarily in my view,” said Kendall, an architect and mother of four. “We are teaching revisionist history.”
She wants U.S. history classes to do a better job teaching about the Founding Fathers, and she wants government classes to emphasize the exceptionalism of the United States and its free-market economy.
“It’s the one system around the world that is proven to create wealth,” she said.
The Constitution, she said, should be taught as the immutable law of the land, not as a living document that can change with the times.
Her beliefs are rooted in broader feelings about the country’s political direction, she said.
“I think the recognition of the rugged individualism that made America great has been completely written over,” she said. “We’re heading toward a more socialist way of governing, when that has been tried around the world and hasn’t worked. I don’t get it; why you would want to do something that has failed. Isn’t that the definition of insanity?”
Asked about the role of religion in public schools, she said she believes in secular public schools and the separation of church and state. She said she would support teaching intelligent design and creationism alongside evolution and the Big Bang — an issue that divided school board candidates in the 1990s but has since largely disappeared from the public conversation over schools.
“I think that we should put out all the theories because that’s what they are, theories,” she said. “I don’t want to tell them what is, in terms of our origins, because we don’t know.”
Kendall, who serves as president of the Republican Women of Clifton, said she was partially motivated to run by the current board’s decision to close Clifton Elementary School.
She said she is also running because she is disturbed by the failure of schools in Fairfax — and across the country — to produce students who are competitive in the global marketplace.
“I grew up looking up at America,” said Kendall, a native of Honduras who has lived in Fairfax for 18 years. “It pains me that all these companies seeking high-skilled job applicants are hiring offshore.”
Kendall said she has found solid support from voters as she has campaigned across the county.
“I am going to dedicate my life to rekindling the love affair that people should have with this country,” she said. “There is a very big segment of the population in Fairfax County that believes the way I do.”
She was featured in a Roll Call article in May about immigrants who have aligned themselves with the tea party. Also mentioned in the article was Lolita Mancheno-Smoak, who was born in Ecuador and is also running for an at-large school board seat.
Mancheno-Smoak said she is “not a tea partier,” but her message of fiscal accountability has attracted support from voters who want to rein in government.
Lin-Dai Kendall came to the United States to earn a graduate degree as a Fulbright scholar at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona. More information about her is available on her Web site.
Besides Kendall and Mancheno-Smoak, other at-large candidates are Sheree Brown-Kaplan, who is endorsed by Republicans; Democrat-backed candidates Ilryong Moon (an incumbent), Ryan McElveen and Ted Velkoff; and Steve Stuban, who has no partisan endorsement.
This post has been updated.