Only seven of 26 candidates who have currently filed to run for Fairfax County School Board seats showed up at a forum where they could present their views last week. Virginia Moms for America and Virginia Mavens co-hosted the forum in West Springfield on March 15. All announced school board candidates were invited to participate.
At least seven of the 12 incumbents are not seeking reelection, so the candidate field is changing rapidly. Currently 26 candidates have announced a run for school board, according to data from the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project. Current School Board members who are running for re-election include Rachna Sizemore-Heizer, Abrar Omeish, Ricardy Anderson, Karl Frisch and Melanie Meren.
With an open invitation, the candidate panel included Linda Pellegrino, Saundra Davis, Cynthia Walsh, Cassandra Aucoin, Anthony Sabio, Debra Tisler, and Kristin Ball. Sabio is running to represent the Providence District, Ball is vying for the Mason District, Tisler is running for the Springfield District and Walsh is running in the Sully District. The remaining candidates are running for at-large positions.
Although School Board seats are supposed to be nonpartisan positions, Pellegrino and Tisler are currently listed as Republican candidates while Aucoin, Sabio, Ball and Davis are listed as Independents according to VPAP.
Other people who have filed to run for school board seats include Democrat Robyn Lady who is running for a seat in Dranesville; Democrats David Thomas, Geoffrey Akey and Independent Harry Jackson are vying to represent Hunter Mill; Democrat Mateo Dunne and Independent Earl Sims Jr. hope to represent Mount Vernon; Democrat Sandra Buck Anderson is running to represent Springfield, Seema Dixit is another Independent running in Sully; and Democrats Marcia St. John-Cunning and Stanley Tenney, are running to represent Franconia. Independents Chris Lewis, Kyle McDaniel and Democrat Hamid Munir are running for at-large seats. None of these candidates, nor any incumbents attended the forum.
The candidates in attendance were representative of the county.
Sabio is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran with experience in the Secret Service and Central Intelligence Agency. Touting his counterterrorism and counterintelligence experience, He shared that he works in the security sector, and is a program manager for budgets of more than $40 million throughout Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia.
Tisler, a mother of four, explained that she is a community advocate who works with “families and parents that are struggling to access what’s called a free and appropriate public education for students with special needs.” She is a former Fairfax County Public Schools teacher with a master’s degree in special education and has spent almost 30 years in education in some capacity.
Ball “recently left the higher education sector where I was a professor of communication for 27 years,” she said. With a Ph.D. in communications, she previously taught at Radford University and George Washington University, where she served “a lot of first-generation students.”
Walsh, whose son passed away in 2021 and is the author of “Breaking the Autism Code” contends that “equity sort of makes education less and I want to address the COVID learning loss as my number one goal.” She has another son, who graduated from Chantilly High School and is currently attending college.
Aucoin, who grew up in a military family said her parents instilled the importance of a good education. "We need to be getting getting back to the basics, reading, writing, and science and math," she said. "I do believe scholastic achievement is at the forefront of what we need to be pushing in our school systems."
To ensure fairness, “we’ve invited every single candidate who’s running for school board regardless of party because we want to give them a chance to share the points,” explained the forum moderator.
The forum featured a lightning and a speed round. Candidates were presented with questions just before things kicked off. “None of these candidates have seen these questions, and we picked questions based on pertinent issues that are important to us,” said the moderator.
After brief introductions, the moderator covered everything from whether candidates had children and if they attended Fairfax County Public Schools, if they read the U.S. and Virginia constitutions, philosophy on education, and their top three campaign issues.
The answers were as varied as the candidates themselves. Sabio’s education philosophy extended to non-traditional school training.
“Not every child needs to go to a four-year college. Some children want to go to trade school. My adopted son, for example, wanted to be a carpenter. School just wasn’t for him. Why has that become something that has been frowned upon?” Sabio asked rhetorically.
Tisler’s education philosophy focused on restoring academic excellence. “We need to restore access to a free and appropriate public education, which also means that our students are enriched and that their needs are being met, where they’re at and where they need to go as individuals, not as a collective institution,” she said.
Ball is interested in “equality of standards for all of our students so that we can help those who need help and also provide some assistance for those who may be higher achievers,” she said.
Pellegrino shared that her decision to run is driven by “education and not indoctrination.” She stressed that “we are losing our rights, the children are suffering. So my three points are school safety, high academic excellence, and fiscal responsibility.”
On the other hand, Davis felt that “when children leave public school, they should be competent in something that will provide them with the opportunity to support themselves and a family if they would like one.”
The FCPS Board serves approximately 181,000 students. Elected board members will shape the future of these students. As more candidates announce their intentions to run, the ballot landscape will change as Nov. 7 approaches; however, the issues, which have only gotten more divisive, will persist.
Forums like this need to be professionally recorded and put online so that everyone interested can watch it. When groups do hold these sessions, their websites should be listed in the article so we can find out more about them.
Richard Saunders I fully agree that we should have these forums video taped to share with more of the community. I think all of us running for School Board would welcome that.
Please feel free to reach out to me anytime to share your concerns and visit my website for more information on my stance with being common sense back to our schools.
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