Abrar Omeish started questioning the fairness of the Fairfax County Public Schools system from an early age. When she was about to start elementary school, Omeish’s family moved out of the Falls Church area, because her parents believed Fairfax could provide their children with a better educational environment.
Now a Yale University graduate with a history of political and policy advocacy, Omeish is grateful for her journey through FCPS, which took her from Mantua Elementary School to Frost Middle School and finally Robinson Secondary School, but she also recognizes that her success stems in part from privileges she was fortunate to have, not just from talent or hard work.
An individual’s zip code dictating the quality of education they receive or the resources they can access is just one issue that Omeish hopes to challenge as an aspiring at-large member of the Fairfax County School Board.
“Kids, depending on where they live in the county, end up having access to different resources and opportunities,” Omeish said. “…That’s kind of what inspired my run. It’s believing that every kid…[should] have an equal chance at the best-quality education, which I know Fairfax can offer. It’s just a matter of making sure that the distribution is fair and we’re proactive about making sure that’s happening.”
Omeish is one of six Fairfax County School Board at-large candidates currently certified by the Fairfax County Office of Elections.
With Ryan McElveen leaving his seat to seek the chair position on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, current at-large school board members Ilryong Moon and Karen Keys-Gamarra are running for reelection against four newcomers, including Omeish, special education advocate Rachna Sizemore Heizer, former U.S. Department of Education employee Cheryl Buford, and entrepreneur Vinson Palathingal.
The field for the school board’s three at-large seats is crowded, but Omeish believes her experience with FCPS as a former student and a representative on multiple school policy committees distinguish her from the competition.
Currently serving as co-chair of the FCPS human resources advisory committee, where she represents Providence District, Omeish has previously chaired the Fairfax County Student Human Rights Commission and served as president of the FCPS Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council.
In the past, she participated on school board committees on student discipline and advanced academics, and she was a member of the selection committee that assembled to find a new FCPS superintendent after Jack Dale retired from the position in June 2013.
Omeish says that her committee work has not only given her insight into how the public school system operates, but also reinforced her belief that students need to be given more of a voice in shaping policy, particularly when it comes to topics like mental health and the availability of educational resources.
She still remembers listening to a discussion about how FCPS can better inform parents about advanced academic programs and noticing that her fellow committee members did not address how to engage students whose parents lack the time or money to be active, regular participants in their children’s schools.
“I would raise my hand as a kid and just say, what about kids that don’t have that [support]?” Omeish recalls. “How are we going to ensure that they have access to advanced academics or that they’re successful or that they know about those opportunities? No one ever really had a good answer for me.”
Omeish lists equity, mental health, the environment, teacher pay, and addressing concerns about the school district’s relationship with law enforcement, including federal immigration authorities, among her top priorities.
At 24, Omeish would be the youngest person on the Fairfax County School Board if elected, and she sees her youth as an advantage, giving her a perspective closer to the students that FCPS serves than their parents or teachers.
“We have to remember the whole school system is actually for the students. That’s the reason it’s there,” Omeish said. “Supporting our teachers or our staff is in fact to support our students at the end of the day.”
Omeish wants to prioritize making space for students to have their voices heard in part because, not too long ago, she was a student advocate herself.
Before graduating from Robinson Secondary School in May 2013, Omeish founded the school’s Young Democrats chapter, and as an eighth grader, she worked with a friend from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology to start a tutoring center for their peers.
Initially launched as a single tutoring center out of the Mason District Government Center, the operation evolved into an organization called Growth and Inspiration through Volunteering and Education that now has 20 centers around Fairfax County.
Officially founded in 2010, GIVE provides free tutoring and mentorship to elementary and middle school students while giving high school students an opportunity to develop leadership skills. The community organization is now completely run by high school students.
Omeish says that the majority of her school board campaign team is also made up of high school students.
“It’s really been a grassroots effort, an inclusive effort,” Omeish said.