Michelle Reid, chosen as the next Superintendent of Public Schools for Fairfax County, sparks protests

Fairfax County Public Schools has named its next superintendent – ​​but the choice, Michelle Reid, is opposed by the NAACP county chapter, a group of black educators, several parent groups and hundreds of students, including dozens walked out of class Thursday morning to protest Reid and how she was selected.

The Fairfax School Board voted 9-3 to confirm Reid as Superintendent Scott Brabrand’s successor in a tense and at times emotional meeting Thursday night. Reid, a former principal who earned a master’s degree and doctorate in instructional leadership from the University of Washington, will leave her position as superintendent of the Northshore School District in Washington state, a position she has held since 2016. She was named 2021 National Superintendent of the Year by the School Superintendents Association.

“Dr. Michelle Reid has all the characteristics that will make her an excellent Superintendent for FCPS,” board member Rachna Sizemore Heizer said at the meeting. analysis, her desire to be a little more curious in everything she does, and her ability to make her intelligence shine.”

Reid said in a speech accepting her nomination Thursday that she was grateful for the opportunity.

“I am thrilled to serve this community and earn the trust of each of you,” she said. “I am strongly committed to a world-class education for every student in the division.”

The vote came after the turbulent past two weeks of the superintendent’s search, during which students, parents, the NAACP and the Fairfax Alliance of Black Schools Educators have all raised complaints that Reid does not have enough experience to run the Fairfax system, which enrolls 180,000, because the Northshore district is much less diverse and smaller, with about 22,000 students.

The Fairfax NAACP and the Alliance of Black School Educators — as well as students — have also raised concerns that Reid did not do enough to improve racial disparities in educational outcomes while she led the Northshore system. . Meanwhile, groups of parents – some of whom formed during the pandemic to push for reopening – blasted Reid’s record on school closings, noting the Northshore district was one of the first in the country. to close but one of the last to reopen.

And everyone said they felt left out of the months-long superintendent search and demanded more chances to give their opinion.

“We think it’s essential that students have a say,” said Jaya Nachnani, an 18-year-old high school student from Mount Vernon High School, where she said more than 100 students came out to protest the appointment. of Reid on Thursday morning. “We want to know if she would be prepared for such a diverse and big county because you know it’s a totally different ball game.”

Spokespersons for the school system did not respond Thursday to a request for comment on Reid’s criticisms.

Reid said in her acceptance speech on Thursday that she “listened carefully” to the accusations leveled against her at the meeting. She promised ‘to be thoughtful and thoughtful about everything I’ve heard – you’ll do my best’.

She added that she will “seek out the best interests of marginalized communities in the Fairfax community.”

Earlier at Thursday’s board meeting, member Karen Keys-Gamarra had sought to delay the vote, citing community concerns about the research process. His motion to postpone failed 9 to 2 with one member, Abrar Omeish, abstaining.

Keys-Gamarra said “we seem to be rushing this decision.” Member Ricardy Anderson, the other member to vote for Keys-Gamarra’s motion, warned, “We’re leaving out the people we were elected to serve.”

But other board members defended the search process.

Fairfax’s superintendent search began last summer after Brabrand announced he planned to quit his job when his contract expired on June 30. It lasted for months – and involved surveys of parents, students and staff as well as holding at least three “community stakeholder meetings” and six virtual town halls.

“This council has been very, very transparent in releasing what our timeline would be, what our process would be, that it would be confidential research like we did recently,” council member Megan McLaughlin said. “I don’t feel like we rushed this process or lacked transparency.”

Board member Elaine Tholen added, “We have worked as a board for months and months and months. We held public meetings. We tried to hear from the public – I’m really hurt that people feel disenfranchised.

Reid was one of two finalists for Fairfax’s top job; the other, Omaha Public Schools Superintendent Cheryl Logan, retired on Saturday. Her withdrawal came shortly after the Fairfax County NAACP released a statement naming the two women finalists, criticizing Reid and supporting Logan, who is black, for the role.

“Our school board has the historic opportunity to select the first black superintendent and the second female superintendent in Fairfax County’s 150-year public school history,” reads the five-page statement from the NAACP. .

At Thursday’s board meeting, Keys-Gamarra indicated she would have preferred Logan.

“Despite Dr. Reid’s qualifications, I have to tell you that the other candidate was more qualified,” she said.

The NAACP said in its statement that “whistleblowers” leaked the names of the finalists to the organization. Neither Reid nor Logan had been publicly named by the school system at that time.

Much of the NAACP’s statement focused on Fairfax being significantly larger and more diverse than Northshore. Fairfax’s student body is approximately 37% white, 27% Hispanic, 20% Asian, and 10% black; Northshore is 60% white, 17% Asian, 13% Hispanic, and less than 2% black.

The letter also cited Washington state data on student performance in the Northshore District, noting racial disparities — including the fact that 25% of black students and 22% of Hispanic students at Northshore passed the assessments. state math in fall 2021, compared to 74% of Asian students. students and nearly 50 percent of white students.

“It is equally disturbing that data shows that despite only 34 Black students in the senior class of 2021 for the entire district, only 88% graduated on time,” the letter reads. “We are very concerned about the chances of success for a new superintendent who has no professional experience in any capacity in a school district the size and diversity of FCPS.”

The NAACP statement also says the group requested to be included on a panel that interviewed the finalists, but were denied permission. Responding to NAACP concerns, the Fairfax Alliance of Black School Educators on Tuesday published an open letter criticizing the Superintendent’s research process, as well as Reid.

Alliance chairman Anthony Harris said in an interview on Thursday that he found it “problematic” that his group was not invited to participate in interviews with the finalists. He noted that alliance representatives have been asked to help interview candidates for Fairfax’s chief equity and chief education officer positions.

“We don’t know why we were left out of this process,” he said. “I think it’s more the process that bothers me than the person.”

Meanwhile, Fairfax parents and parent groups who have been vocal critics of school closures have chastised Reid on social media for Northshore’s relatively slow reopening process.

Northshore would have been the first district in the country to close when the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020. It began returning some students to a hybrid form of in-person learning in March 2021 and reopened for in-person learning in time. full in September 2021. .

The Fairfax County Parents Association tweeted sunday that Reid “was one of the worst in the country upon reopening”, in connection with a local report, published in February 2021, which quoted parents in Northshore frustrated with the pace of the return to face-to-face teaching.

The group also tweeted that Fairfax conducted its research without “any real input” from the community.

The association wrote in a statement Thursday that the survey sent by Fairfax officials during the research process was “quite weak” and “there was no interactive discussion” at town halls in the district.

“[We] asked several times to sit down at the table or to be able to give their opinion, ”writes the association. “We were refused.

And on Thursday, students at six high schools walked out of class to protest Reid’s selection and demand greater inclusion in the superintendent’s search process. More than 350 students signed a petition urging the school system to “raise student awareness” in the final stages of the superintendent’s search by holding student town halls during high school free time.

In the petition, the students wrote that Fairfax’s convening of an 11-member student “stakeholder group” to solicit their input on the search for superintendents was insufficient. This small group, the students wrote, did not adequately represent the entire student body.

“We call on FCPS to conduct a public audit of the Superintendent’s research process,” the students wrote in the petition, “and publicly release clear indications that the Superintendent was chosen for demonstrating success in key areas, including community outreach, closing achievement and opportunity gaps, access to mental health for all students, and equitable school experiences.

In an interview, Mount Vernon student Nachnani said more than 100 students demonstrated against Reid as they left class on Thursday morning. Saehee Perez, a junior at McLean High School, said about 50 students there staged a similar protest on Thursday afternoon, just after classes ended.

Ahead of the school board’s vote Thursday night, its vice-chairman, Sizemore Heizer, called on Fairfax parents, students and staff to give Reid a chance.

“I have the utmost confidence that once this community gets to know Dr. Reid…they will love him too,” Heizer said. “Welcome, Dr. Michele Reid, as the next Superintendent for FCPS. I look forward to working with you.

But Keys-Gamarra used his last speech before the vote to address Reid directly, who sat in the audience for most of the meeting.

She told Reid that she found it troubling that Reid came from a smaller, less diverse district; that Reid closed schools “for a considerable time; and that so many Fairfax residents are unhappy with his appointment.

“It’s not a question of whether I think you’re good. It’s a question of whether I thought you were the best” in the search process, Keys-Gamarra said. for the learning curve. That’s a big jump from 22,000 to 180,000.”