A former Fairfax High School principal who now leads a small district in Lynchburg is in line to become the next superintendent of Virginia’s largest school system, the Fairfax County School Board announced Thursday.
Scott Brabrand is the top candidate for one of the most demanding jobs in public education: superintendent of 185,000-student Fairfax County Public Schools. The district is known for perennially strong academic performance. But like others nationwide, it faces numerous challenges in lifting the achievement of disadvantaged students, especially the many who live in poverty.
The board is scheduled to vote on Brabrand’s appointment on June 8. If confirmed in the position, he would start on July 10, filling a vacancy left when Karen Garza resigned in September.
Brabrand, 49, is in his fifth year as superintendent of Lynchburg city schools, which has about 8,000 students.
But he knows the Fairfax system well. Before moving to Lynchburg, he was an assistant superintendent in Fairfax, overseeing a cluster of schools with about 22,000 students. As principal of Fairfax High from 2005 to 2009, he expanded enrollment in Advanced Placement courses significantly.
A native of Newport News, Brabrand earned a bachelor’s degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, a master’s degree in education from George Washington University and a doctorate in education from Virginia Tech.
“Dr. Brabrand’s deep knowledge and understanding of FCPS, coupled with his creative leadership abilities, will ensure FCPS’ continued excellence serving our students, our schools, and our community,” School Board Chair Sandy Evans (Mason) said in a statement. “He brings a tangible passion for education and for FCPS.”
The Fairfax system is more than 20 times larger than Lynchburg’s and in some ways more diverse. But Evans said the board was impressed with Brabrand’s record in that city and in Northern Virginia. She said Brabrand developed a reputation as an official who took time to connect with the community in Lynchburg and that people surveyed in Fairfax County wanted a leader who would do the same.
“The community wanted somebody who would be out there in the community talking with students, talking with parents. . . . That is a strength of Dr. Brabrand’s,” Evans said. “He’s been described as tireless in going out in making these connections.”
Michael J. Nilles, chairman of the Lynchburg school board, said much the same.
“He’s not one of these administrators who stays in the central office,” Nilles said. “He’s in the schools a lot.”
During Brabrand’s tenure in Lynchburg, students made significant gains in math and reading scores on state achievement tests. The share of third-graders passing math exams rose from 47 percent in 2014 to 68 percent in 2016. In that time, the share who passed third-grade reading tests rose from 55 percent to 68 percent. Passing rates were also up in those years for Algebra 1 students and for eighth-graders in reading.
Fairfax board vice chair Jane Strauss (Dranesville) said Brabrand will be the first superintendent in recent times to have had prior experience in Fairfax County. She predicted he will have a steadying influence.
“We were not looking for a dramatic change in direction,” Strauss said. “If you’re looking for somebody who understands the careful care our school system requires, he understands it.”
Garza left Fairfax schools abruptly last fall to join a nonprofit education group in Ohio. Steven Lockard, a former deputy superintendent, served as interim superintendent during the search to replace her.
For Brabrand, moving to Fairfax will mark a homecoming.
“I have had direct experience with many of the major roles in Fairfax County Public Schools,” Brabrand said in a telephone interview. “I’ve been a teacher. I’ve been a school-based administrator. I’ve been a principal. I’ve been a leadership team member.”
He added: “Combined with my experience in another school system, that puts me in a unique position to be able to address the concerns that Fairfax County Public Schools faces today.”
In Lynchburg, Brabrand sought to focus on diversity in staff recruiting, with an emphasis on hiring more African American principals. About 37 percent of the city’s students are black, and about 5 percent are Hispanic.
Brabrand said he wants to work on diversity in Fairfax hiring, too. A recent study of teacher hiring data in the Fairfax system found evidence that the district discriminated against black applicants.
“We need to do everything we can to have the diversity in our student body be reflected in the staff,” Brabrand said. “It enhances the exchange of ideas between teachers and students and frankly between teachers and teachers.”
Asked how he landed in the field of education, Brabrand said he was an assistant manager with Bell Atlantic in the 1990s when he began volunteering in a class that taught students English as a second language. He said he fell in love with teaching and decided to switch careers. He became a high school social studies teacher.
“That hour of the week transformed my life,” Brabrand said. “I fell in love with Fairfax County schools then. I just knew that this was what I wanted my life to be.”