Virginia’s largest school system has picked its next superintendent.
The Fairfax County, Virginia, school board selected Michelle Reid during Thursday’s board meeting following a 9-3 vote. Reid will take over for Scott Brabrand, whose last day is June 30. Brabrand announced plans to step down last summer — he has been named the executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents.
“I’m grateful to have this opportunity and I’m thrilled to serve this community and earn the trust of each of you on the board,” Reid said after Thursday’s vote. “I’ve listened carefully and will be thoughtful and reflective about everything I’ve heard and you will have my best.”
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Reid comes to the D.C. region from the Northshore School District in Bothell, Washington, where she has served in the same capacity, overseeing the 24,000-student district.
She takes over at a time when Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has launched a search for “divisive concepts” taught in schools and urged parents to report teachers who introduce “divisive topics” in class to an email tip line.
Reid will also be tasked with helping students catch up after the pandemic forced schools to temporarily close, and arrives in the midst of a legal battle between students and parents over the admission policy at the prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
Her appointment completes a monthslong search that has been criticized in recent days. The Fairfax County NAACP released a six-page letter last weekend that included the names of two people thought to be finalists for the position — Reid and Cheryl Logan, superintendent of Omaha Public Schools, who has experience working in Prince George’s and Howard counties in Maryland.
However, in an updated statement this week, the chapter said Logan withdrew her candidacy before being publicly named as a finalist. The statement prompted other organizations to express frustration with the hiring process, saying the board didn’t solicit enough feedback.
During Thursday’s meeting, a motion to delay the vote to allow more time for community input was introduced but ultimately failed. At-Large board member Karen Keys-Gamarra introduced the proposal, saying the timing for the board’s final decision was rushed as the announcement of a vote and the contract was posted Wednesday night.
“Despite the qualifications of Dr. Reid, I happen to believe the other candidate was more qualified,” Keys-Gamarra said. After naming 50 organizations and community leaders who reached out concerned about the process, she said, “to jam this vote through, in my opinion, is sending them a message that they don’t matter.”
The county hired search firm GR Recruiting to lead its search, and it administered a survey to parents, students, and staff and held a series of town hall meetings before screening candidates. Multiple board members voiced their support for the process, calling the search “extensive” after receiving 72 applications.
Mason District board member Ricardy Anderson was the only other member who supported the motion, saying that while it might not have impacted the outcome, it is “disappointing” that the community feels that it was not a part of the process. She mentioned students organizing walkouts Thursday and a rally before the meeting protesting the lack of student involvement in the process.
“All of those are cries for help, cries for engagement, cries for inclusion,” Anderson said. “We should have taken a beat to do that.”
Atticus Gore, president of the county’s Superintendent Advisory Council, said before the meeting the county has “strong and engaged candidates who want to be sharing their opinions.”
“When we described our concerns with Dr. Reid, we saw frustration and anger with some of our peers who were confused as to why Fairfax County was even considering a candidate with this track record and amount of experience,” Gore said.
At-Large board member Abrar Omeish, who abstained from voting for the delay, supported Reid’s nomination after hearing her vision for diversity and equity. When explaining her decision, she challenged the notion there was not enough community input during the search process.
“Our consultants invited the public to provide input in October and hosted the first stakeholder meeting five months ago in November,” Omeish said. “Thousands upon thousands of people were invited through public forums, the survey town halls, and individual meetings. And we were so lucky to have groups from all walks of life actually join.”
Following the failed motion, board member Karen Corbett Sanders said she would not vote for Reid, stating that she was worried about the jump from a small school district — similar in size to Mount Vernon — to serving over 180,000 students. Her claims echoed similar sentiments in the letter from Fairfax NAACP.
“We are very concerned about the likelihood of success for a new superintendent who has no professional experience in any capacity with a school district of the size and diversity of FCPS,” it said.
After all the board members gave their feedback on Reid’s selection, Board Chair Stella Pekarsky spoke directly to her and apologized for the voting process, stating “nothing is easy in Fairfax.” She supported Reid, calling her a “global citizen” — for her background as a German immigrant and a child of a military family — that can relate to the county’s demographics.
“I have been impressed by her early depth of knowledge about the challenges we face here in Fairfax public schools, her integrity, and her eagerness to work on behalf of our students with everyone in this room and in Fairfax County,” Pekarsky said.
Despite her selection, there remain concerns. For example, the Fairfax County Parent Association criticized the amount of time schools remained closed because of COVID-19 under Reid’s leadership.
In her address to the board, Reid said she would like to reassure the Fairfax community that she plans to look out for every student’s best interest, including those in marginalized communities. She said it is critical to understand who she is representing and spend time in the community to understand “the hopes and dreams of each student.”
“I’m committed to listening and learning from this community so that together we can build on the strengths of the Fairfax County Public Schools while developing schools of the future and not the schools of the past,” Reid said.
WTOP’s José Umaña contributed to this report.