The city of Fairfax is poised to have its first all-female school board in years
“As far as I know, this will be the first time that all five board members will be women,” said Pitches, the current board chairwoman. and only the current president running for re-election. “So it’s kind of a milestone.”
At least one man has been elected to the board every election between 2000 and 2020, Virginia election records show. Fairfax City Schools, which was formed in 1961, does not track candidate data, Susan Wiczalkowski, the school system’s executive assistant, said in an email.
“As far as I know there has never been an all-female school board in the city of Fairfax,” Wiczalkowski said.
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Women across the United States make up the majority of teachers, principals and school administrators, though relatively they make up only half of school board members and less than 25 percent of superintendent positions, according to the National School Boards Association.
School boards across the United States also lack racial diversity, research shows. Additionally, LGBTQ people make up less than 1 percent of board members in the country, according to a report from the LGBTQ Victory Institute.
In Fairfax City, this year’s candidates are all white women. There are no people of color on the board.
Pitches, 52, said she reached out to people from across the community, asking them to run when incumbents Jon Buttram, Bob Reinsel, Toby Sorensen and Mitch Sutterfield decided this would be their last term.
“When you serve in an elected position, it’s work, it’s time, and for a lot of people with kids and who have jobs, it’s a sacrifice,” Pitches said. “Some people don’t have the ability to make that sacrifice for a variety of reasons.”
John Singleton, an economics professor at the University of Rochester who researches school boards, said communities across the United States face this problem.
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“It’s true that school boards are generally not representative of the communities they serve,” Singleton said. “Overall, they will be richer. In general, they will be whiter.”
People of color make up 46 percent of Fairfax City. They also represent at least roughly 50 to 60 percent of the city’s schools, school records show. Hickman, 39, said the ballot did not reflect local demographics.
“I’m excited to see more women stepping up to get involved in local politics,” Hickman said. “I think this is amazing. But that, of course, means that the board is not as diverse as we might like to see in a city with such diversity.”
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Hall, 43, said she gets asked a lot about the lack of ballot representation. She believes the board will need to do more community engagement this term than it has in a long time, she said. If board members can listen to residents’ perspectives, then they can better represent the community.
“It’s not just, ‘We’re running the show and it’s what we think,'” Hall said.
Among the four new candidates, one parent from each of the Fairfax City schools will be on the ballot. Three of the candidates also work in education outside the school system, and two have experience in finance and accounting. One of the candidates is a stay-at-home mom.
School board members get $4,600 a year, and the chairman gets $5,600 a year.
Singleton said diversity is an important factor that can help improve school boards. But another factor is whether school board members work well together to bring about change.
“You can see a compromise,” Singleton said. “Yes, the school board is potentially all women, but it’s also probably a board that’s really functional.”
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The city’s election comes at a time when polarized boards across the country are grappling with how schools should teach students, debating issues such as critical race theory and LGBTQ education. In neighboring Loudoun County, Va., the close race for two seats on the board is described as highly partisan.
Kelsey, 42, said Fairfax City board candidates have already met to discuss some of the issues they would like to address this term, such as possible overcrowding in classrooms or future renovations. She thinks the lack of competition for positions has made their conversations a little easier.
“It already helps us start building an understanding with each other,” Kelsey said.
McQuillen, 41, said he wanted the board to reflect the diversity of the community, but knew part of their job would be to engage diverse candidates for the boards to come.
“We’ll definitely be looking into it for sure,” she said.