‘We’re at a turning point’: New Fairfax Co. schools superintendent tours her first classrooms

The newly selected superintendent of Fairfax County schools walked into her first Virginia classroom on Friday morning.

WTOP was the first to sit down with her for an interview.

Michelle Reid comes to the D.C. region from the Northshore School District in Bothell, Washington, where she has served as schools superintendent there, overseeing the 24,000-student district. She’s making the jump to the Fairfax County schools, with more than 180,000 students.

Reid will take over for Scott Brabrand, whose last day is June 30.

On Thursday, students organized walkouts and a rally before Reid was named superintendent at Thursday night’s Board of Education meeting, protesting the lack of student involvement in the process.

Reid told WTOP that she wants to hear their story and work together with them in her new role.

“I look forward to meeting our students who exercised their voice and agency by walking out yesterday and hearing what their concerns are and making sure that we together, plan forward. Philosophically, together, all things are possible,” Reid said.

Why Fairfax County?

Reid said that the teachers and staff and the success of the students in Fairfax schools drew her to the role.

“I think one of the exciting features of Fairfax County is the excellence of the staff here,” Reid said. “And this district has a reputation for having the finest educator support staff, and just staff in general across the entire system. So I’m going to rely heavily on that world-class staff.”

Some teachers and board members said that they are concerned that she is not prepared for the position. Reid said she’s ready to get started.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity. The reputation of Fairfax County Public Schools is one that’s traditionally been so strong, and I recognize that having these high expectations also requires high support, and that’s work that I’ve made my life’s work,” Reid said.

She said preparing students for the workforce, making sure they’re ready for life after high school, is important.

“We know that 65% of our students in Fairfax County Public Schools are currently preparing for careers that don’t yet exist,” Reid said. “This is a community that has supportive families, students and staff. I think we can together imagine a fabulous future, not just for our students here, but a future that policymakers can take note of that might be a lighthouse for the rest of our country,” Reid said.

Thomas Jefferson admissions clash

Reid is coming into office at a time when the admissions policy at the prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is still under fire.

The school system previously used a merit-based admissions process to select students for the high school. The school system changed the admissions policy in 2020 to boost diversity and now, in addition to tough course loads, high grade-point averages and problem-solving skills, the application process takes into account the socioeconomic status of an applicant, as well as whether the student has a disability and whether the student speaks English at home.

The issue is now the subject of an emergency request filed with the U.S. Supreme Court by a coalition of parents trying to overturn the policy.

“The goal of making sure that our programs here in Fairfax County are accessible to all students is very important,” Reid said when asked about the Thomas Jefferson admissions policy.

“All students need the access to programs, equitable access to programs, regardless of their neighborhood and I think that that’s really a core value, and so the opportunity for me to take a closer look at that, I’m looking forward to it and looking forward to visiting the school as it has a fabulous reputation. I know the community is quite proud of the program and its reputation.”

Youngkin’s email tip line

On Wednesday, more than a dozen news organizations accused Gov. Glenn Youngkin of violating the state’s public records law by refusing to turn over emails sent to a tip line he set up for parents to report “divisive practices” in schools.

Reid said she’s “not entirely clear on the purpose of the tip line and would need to better understand the governor’s intent.”

She added that there’s no such thing in Washington state.

“I think in general, it’s always a good idea to inspire behavior that brings all of us together and remember that we have so much more in common than we have differences about,” Reid said.

Fairfax County’s newly named superintendent of schools Michelle Reid visited Garfield Elementary School in Springfield, Virginia, on Friday morning. (WTOP/Valerie Bonk)
Fairfax County’s newly named superintendent of schools Michelle Reid visited Garfield Elementary School in Springfield, Virginia, on Friday morning. (WTOP/Valerie Bonk)
Fairfax County’s newly named superintendent of schools Michelle Reid visited Garfield Elementary School in Springfield, Virginia, on Friday morning. (WTOP/Valerie Bonk)
Fairfax County’s newly named superintendent of schools Michelle Reid visited Garfield Elementary School in Springfield, Virginia, on Friday morning. (WTOP/Valerie Bonk)

An introduction in Fairfax Co.

Her first stop on Friday morning was Garfield Elementary School in Springfield, Virginia.

She danced with kindergartners during their morning announcements and they got to ask her the pressing questions.

“What is your favorite animal?,” a young student asked.

“Cats!” Reid answered.

Reid is moving to Virginia with her husband, one cat and three dogs.

“They’re very excited and give many paws up for the move,” Reid said jokingly.

She has four adult children, two of whom live on the East Coast and two on the West Coast.

Tackling learning loss

Reid said she wants to reframe the conversation about learning progress lost during the pandemic.

“So many of our students had (problems) that we would never have anticipated as a result of the pandemic,” Reid said.

She said some students did better with online learning than others, and she wants to look at those who didn’t do well and those who thrived.

“We have students that have learned to be more flexible to manage change, to critically think and problem solve and work together in ways we couldn’t have imagined,” Reid said. “So I think that we would be remiss if we don’t recognize the great strides that our students made in many skills we don’t traditionally assess.”

But for others who didn’t thrive in the online learning environment, she said educators need to think about how to catch up.

For concrete skills such as reading, mathematics, science and writing, “I think that clearly our schools need to spend time and focus and energy as to our students and families and supporting continued growth,” Reid said.

She said it’s going to take time and that what works for one student won’t necessarily work for others.

“Over time, our students will get where they need to be,” Reid said. “Children aren’t widgets, and each student has always been on their own unique personalized trajectory educationally, so I’m confident that with our world-class staff here in Fairfax County Public Schools, with our community support and resources and partnerships, our students are going to be just fine. They will be thriving,” Reid said.

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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