After serving on the Fairfax County School Board for 19 years, Robert Frye simply decided it was a good time to leave.
"I very pleased with Dr. [Daniel] Domenech and his leadership and I'm very pleased with the leadership team," said Frye. "I've found it rewarding and have enjoyed serving."
His wife, Rotha Holbert Frye, has heard it all before. This is Frye's third tour of service on the board. He was appointed and served from 1978-1985, accepted a second appointment from 1989-1993, then ran for an at-large seat in 1995, which he has not relinquished until now. His term expires Dec. 31 and he has announced he will not be seeking re-election.
"I didn't know him during the first round. We got married in 1987 when he wasn't serving," Holbert Frye said. "He talked a lot about it. I knew it was his passion, but I had no idea what it meant. I soon learned it meant I would hardly ever see him much. The public knows about the two public meetings per month, but it doesn't know about all the other committees, the science fairs, the basketball games."
FRYE SAID when he joined the School Board, it was as an angry parent, after his children faced discrimination in the schools in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Championing equality and fighting discrimination came to shape Frye's role on the board.
"When I became a board member, Bob was back for his second tour of duty. We worked together closely on a number of issues," said Letty Fleetwood, former Providence District School Board member. "During his first term, the board enacted special programs for schools that had special needs. I was involved as a parent at Graham Road Elementary School. Over the years, we had to restate why the schools needed special support and Bob was one of the most articulate board members I've ever worked with."
While on the board, Frye had a hand in changing how each school was funded and staffed using a formula based on individual student academic needs; providing phonics-based reading and basic math textbooks to all elementary schools; establishing plans for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate diplomas at each high school; improving student achievement by working to involve low-income and limited English-speaking parents; making the county school system the first in the region to recognize Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a holiday; increasing support for the College Partnership Program; providing breakfast programs to elementary-school students; including sexual orientation in the antiharassment section of the Student Responsibilities and Rights Handbook; requiring progressive disciplinary actions for repeat offenders; and achieving equity in the availability of classroom computers through a systemic audit. He was also involved in the selection of the last four school superintendents.
Even though he is leaving the board, Frye says class size is still a priority that needs to be addressed, especially at the elementary-school level.
"If students are given a good start, we'd spend less on remediation and discipline later on," Frye said.
WHEN FRYE, who moved to Reston in 1967 and then to Springfield 10 years ago, decided to accept his second appointment to the School Board his wife knew it would be an adjustment.
"It's really a full-time job and at the time, he had a real full-time job," Holbert Frye said. "The first issue I had was, OK this is going to change our lives, but I'm always proud of what he does."
The couple learned to adjust to the demands of public service. Frye said one of the things he had to learn was to say no and stop trying to attend every event he was invited to. In addition, he leaves Fridays open for a "date night."
The couple also managed to find ways to work together. In fact, Hobert Frye served as Frye's campaign manager when the county switched to an elected School Board. She also provides Frye with a bit of an insider's point-of-view. Hobert Frye has been a substitute teacher with the school system for nearly 10 years.
"We went to a seminar on running a campaign and the first thing they said was do not involve your spouse," Frye said. "I was looking for a manager and she said, 'What about me?'"
"He laughed," Hobert Frye said.
"We survived," Frye said.
Hobert Frye says she is usually the one who brings things up at home that are School Board related. She also watches the meetings on television, while pacing the floor.
"There have been times I've gotten my [meeting] packet and I'm ready to go. I know what I think is important and she says, 'Don't forget about so and so' and I know she's watching at home so I don't forget," Frye said.
He said his background growing up poor has helped bring a different perspective to the School Board.
"Some on the board don't know how fees can affect a student, or how PTAs that meet during the day makes them closed to others," he said.
HE ALSO falls back on his background as a "federal bureaucrat," which he said makes him more management oriented and an abstract thinker. Frye worked for more than 25 years for the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, retiring in 1999 as director of the office planning and evaluation.
As for the board's political differences and in fighting, Frye said it's not as bad as it seems.
"It's heated debate and we all fight for what we believe in," Frye said. "We can't fire each other. We all realize people put us there and we have to deal with that. I would say we spend more time with each other than we do our spouses, so we need to find ways to work together."
Although, he said the board members generally try to work together for the good of the children. He admits he was surprised by the way the superintendent's contract renewal was handled. Late last year, the superintendent's contract was renegotiated without the complete knowledge of the School Board. In particular, the Republican-endorsed minority was informed of the proposed contract 48 hours prior to the meeting when the board was asked to vote on it. He said he thought the issue was being presented for information, not a vote and disagreed with the way it turned out.
"I think we should have waited. Even so, you don't hang out a superintendent to a popularity contest," Frye said.
No matter what the future holds, Hobert Frye said the school system will notice her husband’s absence. "I am concerned about who will be on the board. Without Bob, the system school and the county will miss him because he is a champion for those who really need someone to advocate for them," she said.
Fleetwood thinks the adjustment will be a two-way street: "He's a historic figure on the School Board. When he gets off the board again, he'll wonder how he did all this stuff."