They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and Chantilly's Kathy Smith overcame serious hurdles to win re-election as Sully District's representative on the Fairfax County School Board.
PARENTS UPSET about upcoming boundary changes that could potentially move their children from Westfield and Chantilly High to other schools organized to support her challenger, Virginia Run's John Litzenberger. Others, in the SLEEP group, favored him because of his support for later, school-start times.
But in the end, Smith, of Poplar Tree Estates, prevailed with 55.8 percent of the votes to his 44 percent. "My home precinct, Rocky Run, knows me and loves me," she said. "I had 842 votes there and he had 416. My worst precinct was Kinross, where he had 889 votes and I had 612. People there were so upset about the boundary."
And actually, said Smith, "I was very nervous because I didn't know how this boundary piece would play out. I had three constituencies against me — the FEA, the SLEEP people and StopRD ['stop redistricting']."
But with a final vote total of 11,667 for her and 9,204 for Litzenberger, she knows all her hard work and accomplishments on the School Board didn't go unnoticed or unappreciated.
Smith joined the board in March 2002 after winning a special election and was re-elected in 2003. Since then, she's established student-achievement goals encompassing academics, essential life skills and civic responsibility. She's also championed all-day kindergarten, foreign languages for students and fiscal responsibility for the board.
"PEOPLE recognize that I care about kids and ensuring that our education system works for all of them," said Smith. "Looking at the number of people who supported me, donated to my campaign and worked on it, tells me they thought I did a good job. I think we're on the right track for kids with the new, student-achievement goals and all we're doing, so I'm excited."
She walked door-to-door as much as possible in the last few weeks — especially in the Lees Corner West and Franklin Farm areas — to meet voters face-to-face. She praised her supporters and tireless campaign workers and said people who encouraged their friends to vote for her also made a difference because "turnout matters." Said Smith: "It's like a teenager throwing a party — you don't know who's going to come."
But Tuesday at 11:35 p.m., Litzenberger called her to concede. He wished her well and asked her to take a look at reducing the number of students taking buses so less buses would be needed.
A Republican, he felt he "did the best I could [against the Democratic Smith], considering the circumstances. There's kind of a trend in Northern Virginia against Republicans, at both the state and local level, and she's a two-term incumbent." Litzenberger said he was also impressed that Democrats had "poll coverage from out of the area to ensure victory."
Smith noted that a 68-member task force is currently looking at school start times and will report back to the School Board in January. Then in the spring, the board will seek community input on whatever the task force recommends.
So what's next? "There's a School Board meeting on Thursday," said Smith. "I better read all the materials and get prepared."