New Board Chair Leads Fairfax County Public Schools

New Board Chair Leads Fairfax County Public Schools

Corbett Sanders reviews current educational issues.


Karen Corbett Sanders


Karen Corbett Sanders was raised in Fairfax County. She is a retired international business executive, a community advocate for health care and education and a past PTA president. She has served on international boards of directors and operating companies as well as the quality board of Inova Children’s Hospital and the Dean’s Advisory Board of Boston University’s Wheelock School of Education. She was elected to the School Board in 2016 to represent the Mount Vernon Magisterial District. She served as vice chair during the 2017-2018 school year.

Fairfax County School Board Budget

Overall, FY 2019 Budget is $2.9 billion that includes an additional $53.1 milllion as part of a multi-year plan to enhance teacher salaries, and $43.9 million for a step increase for all eligible school employees. The district’s cost per pupil is projected to be $15,318 for FY 2019, fifth out of the 10 area school districts. Eighty-six percent of the budget is allocated to instructional programs.

English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) provided ESOL services to English learners in Grades K-12, Level 1 to Level 5 in all FCPS schools and centers during FY 2018 at a cost of $77.1 million (approximately 2.5 percent of the operating budget) to provide ESOL services to 27,572 students. An additional $15.8 million is provided by state and federal grants.

Special Education: 26,730 students are projected to receive special education services in FY 2019. Special education is approximately $537 million, or about 18.7 percent of the operating budget.

Projected FCPS enrollment this fall is 190,168 students.


Mount Vernon School Board Member Karen Corbett Sanders was elected chairwoman of Fairfax County School Board July 12 for the 2018-2019 school year.

Q: How do you feel about being elected by your peers as chair for the upcoming school year?

A: I am honored and humbled. It is a great school system that prides itself on fairness and professionalism, and delivering a quality education to all our students. I intend to help make sure we continue the tradition of being one of the best public school systems in the country.

Q: What are your goals as chair?

A: One of my top goals is to get the School Board to coalesce around a Strategic Plan that we are now working on. Also, to make sure the Strategic Plan coincides with the budget and One Fairfax [policy].

Q: What is the School Board doing about improving school safety?

A: As you can imagine when looking at security we need to look at it in the context of what can we do to prevent an incident from occurring: from planning, type of personnel, and facilities. Following the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in February, the School Board requested that our Superintendent Scott Brabrand conduct an internal review of FCPS’ security programs, policies, and practices. This was in addition to the Virginia General Assembly Committee formed to study and recommend school safety at the state-wide level by the House of Delegates and most recently by the Governor. Delegates Krizek, Sickles and Watts are on the House Committee and solicit ideas from school board members and FCPS staff. Delegate Krizek has put together an advisory round table to gather insights from local community members. Recent reports by the Secret Service and the Virginia Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee identify the school climate, threat assessments and early warning systems as the most important factors in preventing incidents of school violence. FCPS’ security review had similar findings.

The review examined current security processes, opportunities for improvements to existing programs and structures, and consideration of new initiatives to further reduce risk in the short- and long-term. Along these lines, the security review focused on three key areas:

  • School climate and Mental Health Studies have shown that a key component of preventing tragedies such as Parkland is creating a positive school climate. Mental health supports are essential in providing support to students that may be in crisis. The superintendent has recommended hiring 18 additional school-based mental health support staff members such as psychologists or social workers. All high schools currently have full-time psychologists and social workers. Additional staff would enable all middle schools and targeted elementary schools to have full-time mental health support.
  • Planning, and Personnel Training: Hire additional staff members to improve training in all schools, such as enhanced lockdown drills, threat assessments (a structured process for identifying and assessing threats), visitor management procedures, including visitor management systems and protocols, and increase the frequency of school-based security exercises. In addition, table top exercises would be conducted annually. A tabletop exercise provides participants emergency scenarios to evaluate each school‚ such as a crisis management plan and response; at least one lockdown drill each year would be conducted during a lunch period and/or between classes; and grade level appropriate training scripts and videos would be provided to staff for use in the lockdown drills.
  • Physical Security: Require all classroom doors to be locked at all times and to replace outdated dual-keyed door locks initially and possibly additional cameras in middle and elementary schools in the future. All schools currently have locked doors with cameras at the entrance.

The recommended enhancements were presented to the School Board at its June 18 work session and consensus was reached to present the recommendations as part of the FY 18 year-end budget review scheduled for July 26, 2018. Public hearings on the budget review recommendations were held on July 12 and July 17.

In addition to the actions that should be implemented as part of the year end budget review process, the School Board requested additional information on a number of areas which include additional Interior cameras for middle schools and elementary schools and where they would be located, the effectiveness of an options based approach to risk assessment in some instances, and a review of procedures for administrative buildings. Once the superintendent has completed the review and assessment of the items requested by school board members in the June work session, the School Board will have a second work session on the second report.

Q. Do you support arming teachers?

A: No, I do not support arming teachers in the schools.

Q: The Opioid Task Force Report reflected an increase in abuse of prescription drugs in the county. What is the school system doing to tackle this problem?

A: I personally visit the schools and urge awareness by the teachers, parents and students about the long-term adverse consequences of prescription drug abuse as well as abuse of illegal drugs.

Also, the FCPS is working with our county partners to implement several recommendations of the County Opioid Task Force. The Board of Supervisors funded six substance abuse specialists for FCPS. In 2018-2019, the specialists will begin working in the Langley, South Lakes, Herndon, West Potomac, and Robinson Pyramids. These pyramids were selected based on 3 years of Youth Survey and discipline data. The specialists will tailor prevention activities to fit the needs of the school communities. Their responsibilities will include assisting with substance abuse assessments, short-term early intervention counseling support and referrals to outside services. Additionally, the school system includes opioids and other substance abuse education issues in our health curriculum beginning in the early grades. We encourage parents to keep lines of communication open with their children, and engage them in conversations about substance abuse.

Q: We are aware of pending litigation affecting TJ Admissions policy and that you can’t comment on the lawsuit. However, what can you comment on with respect to ongoing admissions policy?

A: The admission’s policy has been debated and modified numerous times to address community concerns regarding the makeup of the school. This School Board recognizes the importance of having a diverse student body and staff and have emphasized equity of opportunity as a priority in our policy making and have asked the superintendent to set this issue as a priority in the implementation of the Strategic Plan. Included in my response is, at your request, the admissions statistics for the incoming TJ freshman class this fall. [See chart.]

Q: What would you like to convey to our readers as you prepare for your role as chairwoman of the School Board?

A: As the School Board chair, I am enthusiastically looking forward to working with my colleagues in continuing the important work of supporting our students and teachers as we implement the FCPS Strategic Plan and the One Fairfax Policy. Making One Fairfax a reality means every FCPS student has equity and excellence in their educational experience. The goals of the Strategic Plan provide a framework for ensuring that we inspire and empower students to achieve academically, make healthy choices , and are capable of making responsible and ethical decisions in our rapidly changing world. I want every child to love learning and experience joy in their classrooms.