Michelle Reid appointed Superintendent of Fairfax County Schools
Virginia’s largest school system has voted to nominate Michelle Reid as its next superintendent.
Virginia’s largest school system has chosen its next superintendent.
The Fairfax County, Va., school board selected Michelle Reid at Thursday’s board meeting after a 9-3 vote. Reid will succeed Dr. Scott Brabrand, whose last day is June 30. Brabrand announced his intention to step down last summer — he was named executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents.
“I am grateful to have this opportunity and am thrilled to serve this community and earn the trust of each of you on the board,” Reid said after Thursday’s vote. “I listened carefully and I will be thoughtful and thoughtful about everything I heard and you will do my best.”
Reid comes to the DC area from the Northshore School District in Bothell, Wash., where she held the same position overseeing the district of 24,000 students.
She takes over at a time when Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin has launched a search for ‘dividing concepts’ being taught in schools and urging parents to report teachers who introduce ‘dividing topics’ into the classroom at an e-mail advice line.
She will also be tasked with helping students catch up after the pandemic forced schools to temporarily close, and comes amid a legal battle between students and parents over admissions policy at the prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
Reid’s nomination completes a months-long search that has come under fire in recent days. Fairfax County NAACP released a six-page letter last weekend that included the names of two people considered finalists for the job – Reid and Cheryl Logan, Superintendent of Omaha Public Schools, who worked in Prince George and Howard counties in Maryland.
However, in an updated statement this week, the chapter said Logan withdrew her candidacy before she was publicly named a finalist. The statement prompted other organizations to express frustration with the hiring process, saying the board had not solicited enough feedback.
At Thursday’s meeting, a motion to delay the vote to allow more time for community input was put forward but ultimately failed. Karen Keys-Gamarra, At-Large Board Member, introduced the proposal, saying the timing of the Board’s final decision was rushed as the announcement of a vote and the contract were released Wednesday evening.
“Despite Dr. Reid’s qualifications, I think the other candidate was more qualified,” Keys-Gamarra said. After naming 50 organizations and community leaders who had concerns about the process, she said, ‘to block this vote, in my view, is sending them a message that they don’t matter’ .
The county hired research firm GR Recruiting to conduct its search, and it administered a survey to parents, students and staff and held a series of town hall meetings before selecting candidates. Several board members expressed support for the process, calling the search “extensive” after receiving 72 applications.
Mason District board member Ricardy Anderson was the only other member to back the motion, saying while it may not have had an impact on the outcome, it is ‘disappointing’ that the community feels they weren’t part of the process. She mentioned that the students were holding walkouts on Thursday and a pre-meeting rally to protest the lack of student involvement in the process.
“These are all calls for help, calls for commitment, calls for inclusion,” Anderson said. “We should have taken a beat to do that.”
Atticus Gore, chairman of the County Superintendent’s Advisory Council, said before the meeting that the county has “strong, committed candidates who want to share their opinions.”
“When we outlined our concerns with Dr. Reid, we saw frustration and anger from some of our peers who were unsure why Fairfax County was even considering a candidate with this background and experience,” said Gore.
At-Large board member Abrar Omeish, who abstained from voting for the postponement, backed Reid’s nomination after hearing his vision for diversity and equity. When explaining her decision, she challenged the idea that there was not enough community input during the research process.
“Our consultants invited the public to provide input in October and held the first stakeholder meeting five months ago in November,” Omeish said. “Thousands and thousands of people have been invited through public forums, town hall meetings and one-on-one meetings. And we’ve been so lucky that bands from all walks of life actually join us.
Following the failure of the motion, council member Karen Corbett Sanders said she would not vote for Reid, saying she was concerned about the passage of a small school district – similar in size to Mount Vernon – to more than 180,000 students. His assertions echoed similar sentiments in the Fairfax NAACP letter.
“We are very concerned about the chances of success for a new superintendent who has no professional experience in any capacity in a school district the size and diversity of FCPS,” he said.
After all of the board members gave their opinion on Reid’s selection, board chair Stella Pekarsky addressed her directly and apologized for the voting process, saying “nothing is easy in Fairfax”. She backed Reid, calling her a “citizen of the world” — for her background as a German immigrant and the child of a military family — which can relate to the county’s demographics.
“I was impressed with his in-depth knowledge of the challenges we face here in Fairfax Public Schools, his integrity and his willingness to work on behalf of our students with everyone in this room and in Fairfax County” , Pekarsky said.
Despite his selection, concerns remain. For example, the Fairfax County Parents Association criticized the length of time schools remained closed because of COVID-19 under Reid’s leadership.
In her address to the board, Reid said she wanted to reassure the Fairfax community that she plans to look out for the best interests of every student, including those from marginalized communities. She said understanding who she represents and spending time in the community is key to understanding “each student’s hopes and dreams.”
“I am committed to listening and learning from this community so that together we can build on the strengths of Fairfax County Public Schools while building the schools of the future, not the schools of the past,” Reid said.
José Umaña of WTOP contributed to this report.