For any new principal, the coming year at Fairfax High School would look like a challenge, with the school undergoing renovations. But Scott Brabrand feels up to it.
"My mom was a teacher, and my dad was involved in education," said Brabrand, Fairfax High School’s new principal. "They valued public education, really, above all else, and I think I saw in them the value of what hard work and getting a good education can do to help kids fulfill their dreams."
Brabrand grew up around education. For 30 years, his mother taught in Newport News public schools. His father, an industrial engineer, was an elementary PTA president, serving on the council of PTA’s during the time public schools were being integrated.
Brabrand was in public elementary school himself then, and the experience of integration "gave me a great appreciation for different cultures. We need to celebrate diversity and embrace diversity, and celebrate the great things that brings," he said.
A graduate of Georgetown University with a degree in foreign service, Brabrand first worked as a manager at Bell Atlantic, later Verizon. Through the company’s Adopt-A-School program, he began working at Oakton High School.
"I decided to take the leap and leave Bell Atlantic, and go into schools," said Brabrand, who then joined a transition program through Fairfax County and George Washington University. Now, Brabrand has a master’s in education from George Washington and a doctorate in education administration from Virginia Tech.
Brabrand spent 10 years at Herndon High School, where he was a social studies teacher and assistant principal, and was associate principal at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke for two years.
Both those schools prepared him well for Fairfax, said Lillian Lowery, assistant superintendent and former Fairfax principal.
"I like that he’s had experience at eclectic high schools," said Lowery. "Herndon, for the diversity, since its ethnic population is similar to the ethnic population at Fairfax, and also at Lake Braddock, which is undergoing renovations like we are."
For his foreign service, said Lowery, Brabrand had to be fluent in another language. He lived for a time in Costa Rica and is fluent in Spanish.
"I love that, because the Latino population at Fairfax is significant and continues to grow," said Lowery. "It’s good for the principal to be able to have a conversation with students and parents without having to go through an interpreter."
BRABRAND HAS had experience with renovations, having worked at Lake Braddock. "I want to make the process as smooth as possible," he said. "At the beginning of the year, we have to set the right attitude. There may be some bumps in the road, but at the end, we will have a world-class facility."
Although the construction is an important issue, he said, it can’t take precedence over education quality.
"We have to maintain and increase the instruction going on in the school," said Brabrand. "We can’t take our eye off the goal."
"We think he’s going to do a great job, he’s a great fit for Fairfax High School," said Patty Chapman, community activities director at Fairfax. "He’s young, has lots of ideas. He is a people person, and he’s open to everyone and to ideas."
Listening has a prominent place in Brabrand’s style, he said. "I want to enhance the conditions for listening, learning, and leading at Fairfax High. This includes students: we need to listen to, learn, and understand their learning needs. We need not only to lead students, but let them lead as well."
Besides renovation, said Brabrand, the No Child Left Behind act, signed by President George W. Bush in January 2002, provides another challenge, as do Virginia's annual Standards of Learning tests.
"We have to continue to improve students," he said. "Scores continue to rise at Fairfax High."
Lowery agreed. "They have done well academically. They’ve been on an upwardly mobile path for academic progression," she said.
ANOTHER KEY goal for the coming year, said Brabrand, is for the administration to increase visibility.
"It’s a nice office, but I’m hoping not to stay here much," he said.
As far as personal goals, Brabrand would like to "continue to be a good husband and father, and to be outstanding principal." His wife, Debbie, is a flight attendant, and they have twin boys Bennett and William.
"He is a great listener," said Chapman. "We’ve only been working together for two weeks now, but he has picked right up on Fairfax and everything that is going on here."
At a Meet the Principal night at the school, she said, Brabrand "took such effort with each family as he met with them."
Brabrand takes inspiration from the life of Theodore Roosevelt, he said, after reading the former president’s biography by Edwin Morris.
"One of the things a lot of people didn’t know about Teddy Roosevelt was that his mother and wife died on the same day," said Brabrand. "And yet this man takes a moment of great despair and becomes one of greatest presidents of our time."
"We have kids with challenges out there that everyone can be able to see, and we have other kids with challenges known only in their own hearts," he said. "We have to give them every opportunity regardless of these challenges, and the tools and support to be confident that they can overcome those and reach their dreams. That’s the real measure of a successful school."