School Board-Fairfax County At-Large: Omar Fateh
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School Board-Fairfax County At-Large: Omar Fateh

Question and Answer



Fairfax County School Board Candidate Questionnaires

* = Incumbent

At Large

Robert E. "Bob" Copeland

Omar M. Fateh

Jeanette M. Hough

Manar A. Jean-Jacques

Peter M. Marchetti, no reply received

Ryan L. McElveen*

Ilryong Moon*

Burnette G. Scarboro

Theodore J. "Ted" Velkoff*

Braddock District

Megan O. McLaughlin*

Katherine A. Pettigrew, no reply received

Dranesville District

Peter Kurzenhauser

Jane K. "Janie" Strauss

Hunter Mill District

Pat M. Hynes*

Mark S. Wilkinson

Lee District

Tamara J. Derenak Kaufax*

Mason District

Sandra S. Evans*

Mount Vernon District

Karen L. Corbett Sanders

W. Anthony Stacy

Providence District

Dalia A. Palchik

Patricia S. "Patty" Reed*

Springfield District

Elizabeth L. Schultz*, no reply received

Sully District

Karen A. Keys-Gamarra

Thomas A. Wilson

Town of residence: Annandale

Age: 25

Education: MPA from George Mason University

Occupation and relevant experience: Former Campaign Finance Analyst at FEC, Former Academic Advisor/Assistant Instructor at Northern Virginia Community College

Community involvement: Co-­organize youth basketball league, Assist in developing tutoring programs at local mosques

Website: www.fatehforschoolboard.com

Email address: fateh4sb@gmail.com

Twitter handle: Fateh4sb

Name three favorite endorsements: Fairfax Education Association

Questions

What is one issue that defines your call to serve, why does it matter, and how will you tackle it?

Among the many pressing issues that have motivated me to run for office is the achievement gap. This has been an issue that has plagued our County for years. Our minority and economically disadvantaged students continually score 20-­30 points below their peers on standardized tests in areas such as math and science, and reports repeatedly indicate that, while the percentage of total on-­time graduates does trend upwards, students with certain ethnic, economic, and social backgrounds continue to lag behind. The dropout rate among the economically disadvantaged students has nearly doubled in the last four years. There are multiple factors that play into these issues. First, standardized test scores should not be the main indicator of student progress or potential. Second, rather than having teachers teach to the tests, it is important for the School Board to give teachers the freedom to identify their students’ strengths and interests. Finally, we must get parents involved in their own children’s education, and continue to place responsibility on the students themselves to succeed as well. Little has been done to provide substantive help for students in many of the under­served communities of our County, and every year that passes sees another group of talent that will enter the real world with their needs unmet.

What distinguishes you from your opponent(s) and why should voters choose you?

The qualities that separate me most from the other candidates for School Board include the perspective I bring as a member of some of the County's many underrepresented communities (including the Somali and Muslim communities), as a former Fairfax County Public Schools student, and also as a former advisor to countless area students at Northern Virginia Community College. We need a representative on the School Board that understands the needs of our minority students, and as Fairfax is one of the most diverse counties in the country, it is critical to have a School Board that looks like its student body.

How will you address the growing economic divide in county schools?

Several School Board members have boasted of the excellence of our school system while failing to recognize that different children have different experiences in the classroom and different needs outside of it. Many parents in Fairfax County, for instance, must work multiple jobs, and are not able to provide the full support needed by their children, such as attending school meetings and checking their children’s work. It is critical for us to get parents as involved as we can, in part by meeting them on their terms and as much as possible; where it is not possible, it is imperative that we not let students slip through the cracks. In getting parents involved, along with the larger community in general, I will ensure that, as a representative, I am easily accessible to the entire community. In order to achieve our goals, we must also form partnerships with businesses, civic institutions, as well as individual volunteers. Having worked with my local mosque to develop a tutoring program for our County’s youth, I was able to see firsthand how many people within our community are willing to donate their time and efforts to help our children both academically, and in developing them as professionals. In joining with local organizations, we will be able to better address the needs of the full range of students, in areas such as academic achievement and counseling, while providing support and resources that do not require additional funding from the County.

Of course, increased funding ­­from State and Federal sources in addition to the Board of Supervisors ­­is necessary to meet the needs of an ever-expanding student body. To that end, my experience working for the local, state, and federal government has prepared me to cooperate with and coordinate between officials on multiple levels of governance; my educational background, which includes a Master's Degree in Public Administration with a concentration in Budgeting, will no doubt be of use when it comes to seeking increased funding and allocating it fairly and efficiently.

How will you address the achievement gap?

To begin addressing the issue in earnest, the School Board first needs compassionate representatives willing to understand and serve the needs of the full range of County students with new energy and ability. My perspective, as discussed in questions 1 and 3, offers me an advantage in this area. The more practical part of the problem ­­including the funding and program­ based dimensions ­­also demands attention, and my professional and educational background prepares me as well as any other candidate to do so.

More than half of the county budget is devoted to the local school system with a significant budget gap looming, both for FCPS and Fairfax County. What steps would you take to manage the gap and to fund the needs of the school system? What are the top priorities and what could be cut?

Beyond students and parents, Board members must also better engage their fellow elected officials to seek additional funding for our rapidly expanding County. The majority of the Board of Supervisors wants to fully fund our schools, but the dollars simply are not coming in from Richmond. We need to work with state representatives to bring back our tax dollars. I will not advocate for any specific cuts in our budget, as I believe every option will result in a lose/lose scenario for our students, parents, and teachers. We must work first and foremost to provide additional funding, as we are a County that is rapidly growing while our funding levels remain stagnant. We must get both Boards on the same page, and put education­­ in other words, our children­­ first in Fairfax County. Where funding is simply unattainable, the Board has an obligation to pursue other options ­­including, most obviously, opportunities for further public-private partnerships to serve students where possible.

What value does FCPS add for taxpayers who do not have children in the schools?

All residents should value having quality schools in the County, even those who do not have children enrolled. Among the main reasons families and businesses move into the County to begin with is for the school system. With so many first-­rate educational opportunities, the County can continue to attract more businesses and families, and thus continue to see increases in property values. For residents planning to start families, of course, the draw is there. Other residents, more generally, should be encouraged by the school system's ability to nurture and challenge the County's children, developing them into responsible and respectable neighbors and community leaders.