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First Year

For new School Board members: What Next?

Hiring a new superintendent, dealing with the new South County school and working on the new administrative offices were all important matters for Fairfax County School Board members last year. Yet these issues have taken up so much time that neither of the local representatives, Brad Center and Dan Storck, has been able to focus on the issues that really matter to them — and what they campaigned on.

After a full year on the board, Center and Storck reflected on how things are going and what the next three years hold in store for them.

“The biggest surprise has been the incredible amount of time this position takes,” Storck said. “Kris [Amundson] and Isis [Castro] warned me that it would take a lot of time, but it’s still more than I expected.”

As an example, Storck said that he received more than 600 emails regarding the South County School. He was not able to respond to all the South County emails, but he did read all of them. As he enters his second year as a board member, Storck said that he has a better sense of what are the most important things to spend time on and has narrowed his focus to work on Mount Vernon District issues.

He is proud of the fact that he and Brad have gotten the at-large members so involved.

“We invite them and ask them to be involved. When they know more about our community, they are more likely to support our issues,” he said.

FROM CENTERS’ point of view, the learning curve has been the biggest surprise. “I knew an awful lot about the schools in Fairfax County when I was elected,” Center said. “I was very involved, but this is such a big system and there are so many things going on that I will never stop learning.”

Center said because it’s such a big system that making changes is a challenge.

“It’s a big ship and it takes a long time to turn that baby,” Center said.

The one thing that he is excited about is that the board has changed the way they do the budget — the targets are now tied to each other.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Center said. “But we had a vision, the board spoke and it happened.”

Center said that he and Storck have worked hard to improve the way the board communicates with the public.

“The community relations office had not met with the School Board. We wanted to make sure that Kitty [Porterfield] knew what the board was doing,” Center said. “We are now doing a good job of getting the word out, with things like Keep in Touch and Channel 21, but we’re not as good about getting input in.”

To do this, Center said that they need to have a better survey mechanism. Even so, they do hear from many of their constituents. While the 600 emails that Storck received about South County was unusual, he said that he does receive about 40-50 emails regarding School Board issues every day. Storck does respond to each of these emails. Center said that often it’s just a matter of directing the person to the appropriate source.

“Parents call about just about everything; they don’t always go through the proper channels,” Center said.

REGARDING the new administrative building, Storck said that it was a very positive surprise. Although there has been some criticism about the operation, Storck said, “It is truly no-lose proposition. We have to spend the money either way. This way they can take the money and spend it on something that’s worthwhile.”

Center agrees and said that the new administration center will allow them to have new elementary schools.

Now that many of these issues are behind them, both men are hoping to focus on instructional aspects more. Center said that the boundary meetings took a ton of time, and now he wants to make sure that they’re focused on the minority student achievement. Storck is hoping to focus on high school programs.

“I feel very strongly that we have to offer more combination programs — academic and professional; professional and technical. We need to provide programs for all students,” Storck said.

He’s concerned about the at-risk students and thinks that they need to have a school within a school to manage these students. When it comes to discipline, he believes that principals need more options to work with students who don’t fit into the normal mold.

“We need distinctive programs — with parental involvement,” Storck said.

Looking back, Center said that he doesn’t know that he would do anything differently. “It’s been a great year. You can’t be all things to all people, but I know why I’m here — to make sure that our kids get a quality education,” Storck said.