Since 2008, Fairfax County Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Susan Quinn has been in charge of perhaps the most arduous challenge facing the administration every year: crafting the school system’s $2.5 billion budget.
English-language learners have composed the fastest-growing population of students entering the school system during the past six years. And with those groups of students — from countries as far-flung as Angola, Vietnam and Jordan — come added needs in schools, including classroom specialists who teach English as a second language.
Quinn knows firsthand what it’s like to be one of those students. When she first moved to the United States at age 10 from Seoul, she spoke only a few words of English. In school, she was one of only two students who received extra English instruction. The other was her sister.
“I knew how to say my name,” Quinn said. “You could ask me, ‘How old are you?’ and I would respond, ‘My name is Susan.’ ”
Quinn grew up in Aurora, Colo., where her father worked at a Coors distribution center and her mother worked for Frito-Lay.
“They moved here to make a better life for their kids,” Quinn said. “We valued education in my culture and in my family.”
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Colorado State University, Quinn moved to Fairfax County. A certified public accountant, Quinn worked in the Fairfax schools’ office of finance and later served as budget coordinator, where she oversaw a $1 billion salary budget for 20,000 employees. She later served as the school system’s comptroller and was credited with improving the administration’s financial management and efficiency.
Quinn worked for the Fairfax County government from 2002-07, where she was responsible for coordinating the county’s independent audit report and other financial programs. Quinn was appointed the schools’ chief financial officer in 2008 by then-superintendent Jack D. Dale.
At the school board meeting to confirm her new title, school board member Ilryong Moon recognized Quinn’s appointment as particularly significant. She became the first Asian American to serve on the school system’s leadership team.
For the past year, Quinn has been working to help the school system address multi-million-dollar shortfalls to balance the $2.5 billion budget.
“I’m a business major, an accountant by trade, so numbers are numbers,” Quinn said. “But I know those numbers impact our students.”
Though she doesn’t interact directly with students, Quinn said that she’s proud to work in a profession that educates future generations.
“Considering the diversity and size of this organization, how all the different pieces fit together to keep it going is just amazing,” Quinn said.