After serving as PTA president of three schools and director of the Fairfax District PTA — the liaison from local PTAs to the state — Chantilly's Lynn Terhar is announcing her candidacy for the Fairfax County School Board.
"It seems like the next logical step," she said. "It's the evolution of a PTA mom who starts out advocating for her own child in the classroom and broadens to working for the schools and the school system on school and countywide issues. I'm now putting myself in a position to be one of the decision-makers."
The Pleasant Valley resident made her announcement to some 40 family members and friends gathered, Feb. 15, to celebrate her 51st birthday at the Virginia Run home of Doug and Susan Spaulding. The entire School Board is up for re-election in November, and Terhar's seeking an at-large seat.
She and husband John, chief engineer at the National Geographic Channel, have three sons, Steven, 22, a senior at Virginia Tech; Michael, 20, a newsroom system-specialist for AP; and Daniel, 18, a Westfield High senior.
Terhar received a bachelor of science in business administration from Miami University of Ohio, was PTA and PTSA president for Stone Middle and Chantilly and Westfield high schools and is a Coalition for Good Schools board member. And last May — in recognition of her many achievements, especially in education — Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) named her Sully District's Lady Fairfax.
But that's not all. As Fairfax District PTA director since last April, Terhar helped start new PTAs and coordinated with the state on the Reflections program. She's taught local PTA officers how to fulfill their duties and advocate effectively for children. And her group worked closely with the County Council of PTAs to organize last month's Rally for Education at the General Assembly.
In addition, she's one of just two citizen representatives to the Virginia High School League executive committee, representing parents statewide. She's also vice-chair of the Fairfax County Schools Superintendent's Community Advisory Council — representing entities such as the teachers' union and real-estate, political, business and homeowners' groups.
"We receive information from him [about various programs] and the budget," said Terhar. "And he hears our reactions to things such as parents' concerns about student safety."
She said another reason she's running for School Board is partly out of frustration. "As a lobbyist and an advocate, you see what's being done and what needs to be done," she explained. "And you reach a point where you say, 'Well, I'll try to do it myself.'"
Terhar wants more cooperation within the School Board so its members will work better as a group and with the Supervisors: "I think a lot of it has to do with sitting down and talking realistically about school-system problems — mostly the budget and the fact that the state is under-funding us."
She said there must be some acknowledgment that the School Board goes to the Supervisors to make up the difference. "It's not fair, but there's no place else to go," said Terhar. "And rather than having an adversarial relationship, we need to work together to come up with some creative solutions."
She also emphasized that this county needs to do a better job of recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers. "We have to pay them enough, give them adequate benefits and [also] let them know how much we value them," she said. Also needed, said Terhar, is more monitoring of new teachers, more staff development for classroom technology use, welcoming atmospheres in the schools — for both parent and staff morale, and better communication with parents.
For example, she said, "We should make sure parents understand what security systems are in place, how they work and how parents will be impacted so that parents feel comfortable that students will be taken care of in an emergency." As for facilities, she said new construction is always a big issue in Sully whereas, in other areas, renovation — such as at Woodson High — is needed.
"We need to keep advocating for state and federal funding, as best we can," said Terhar. "And we need some sort of evaluation and prioritization to make sure the schools that need it the most are getting the renovation and additional classroom space."
Furthermore, to make sure she touches all the bases, she's already met with the cluster directors to learn about the different needs in the schools countywide and about which programs are working. And she believes she's qualified for the School Board for many reasons.
"I bring a good perspective of a parent who's knowledgeable about the school system and who's been involved with PTAs all over the county," said Terhar. "I bring a view of parents' concerns, expectations and desires about what a good school system should provide for their children."
She believes in accountability "as long as it's fair and we provide students and schools the tools they need to be successful," she said. "Schools are going to be held accountable, depending on their test scores. Right now, the No Child Left Behind Act defines failure, but hasn't provided the resources to insure success."
As a result, said Terhar, the most vulnerable students and schools will suffer because of it "because we haven't provided the money. These students include ESOL, special ed, economically disadvantaged and minorities with big gaps in these testing scores.
The School Board needs to use our resources as effectively as possible to help these students succeed."
With all her experience, said friend Sue Spaulding, Terhar "would be absolutely wonderful" on the Board: "She's concerned about kids and has always been active in the schools." Sully Estates' Jim Mitchell said she's more qualified to be on the Board than anyone he's ever met and he's always gone to her with school-related questions.
"Lynn's greatest strength is that she listens to everybody," added Virginia Run's Deb Leser. "She sifts through all the information and then comes to a conclusion. She doesn't make enemies or pre-judge anyone, and she makes sure everyone has a say. I think our School Board needs a balanced, open-minded person who'll listen to and work with everyone on [it]."
To help Terhar or for more information, see www.terharforschoolboard.com.