There were few moments as significant in my life as the day the citizens of Falls Church elected me to the City’s School Board. That May day, neighbors and friends placed a significant trust in me, a trust that I could help manage our terrific public schools. A trust that we could continue to provide all of our students the world-class education residents have come to expect from our City.
Since the day I was sworn in, the School Board has accomplished a great deal. We hired a terrific new superintendent in Dr. Toni Jones. We secured a QSCB bond from the state, allowing us to expand Thomas Jefferson Elementary through interest-free bonds. We were nationally recognized for our school meals program. We enacted a school budget that recognized and rewarded the hard work of all of the educators in FCCPS. And we did all of this as a united school board, focused on the best interests of our kids.
So it was incredibly bittersweet that, this week, I informed the School Board and Dr. Jones of my intention to resign from the Falls Church School Board, effective January 1. It was a decision that did not come easily, and it was one I never expected I would need to make. Unfortunately, professional, civic, and family paths sometimes simply do not run in parallel.
As many know, I spend my days focused on education advocacy. I have fought to ensure all young kids are taught to read, that all high schools are offering college-ready courses to their students, and that all children are getting the math and science instruction they need. I have advocated for improved teacher preparation programs and for e-learning. I have led the charge for greater accountability and to close the achievement gaps. And I have done much of this through a small corporation I have run, housed here in Falls Church City, for the past four years.
Through this work, I have spent years explaining to government agencies, corporations, and non-profits that real, meaningful education reform does not happen at the federal level. It happens at the state and local level, where policymakers and practitioners join together for the better. Now, after all of those years and all of that explaining, I am being asked to put my money where my mouth is.
I was recently asked to take over as chief executive officer for the nation’s leading state-based education advocacy non-profit. It allows me to focus my energies on educational equity and accountability, trying to address the problems caused by denying low-income, African-American, and Hispanic students with the great public education they are entitled to. Unfortunately, it means doing so in Connecticut, the state with the largest achievement gaps in the United States, where the quality of one’s education depends significantly on race, family income, or zip code.
This was not an easy decision to make. My family and I love Falls Church and intended to make this our home for the next few decades. My wife will be giving up a job she greatly enjoys with the U.S. Department of Education. My son just started at Mount Daniel, with my daughter slated to begin next fall. But after all of the lists, all of the pros and cons, we decided as a family that it was the right decision for us.
The commitment, passion, attention, and achievement demonstrated by my fellow board members is without match.
As difficult as it is to leave the Falls Church School Board, I know that I am leaving a board of six absolutely incredible individuals who have and will continue to do wonderful things to lead our public schools. The commitment, passion, attention, and achievement demonstrated by my fellow board members is without match. They are to be commended for their work and their drive. The same should be said for Superintendent Jones, who has shown tremendous leadership since joining us in June.
As we head into the new budget cycle, we seem to have general agreement in our City that our schools require continued investment. As our economy improves, and as student populations increase, we will see that agreement put to the test. So let there be no mistake. It is not enough to just be committed to FCCPS.
We must commit to small class sizes. We must commit to recruiting, retaining, and rewarding the best educators. We must commit to investing in the best instruction, including e-learning. We must commit to providing the facilities necessary to effectively teach all of our students, from preK through high school graduation. And we must commit to doing what is right by our students and our educators, and not succumb to the fears of falling skies or the purported end of days with regard to our City.
With those commitments, we ensure that Falls Church is, and remains to be, a world-class city with the best public schools in Virginia and in the D.C. region. That is what the voters asked of all those who serve the City, and that is what every taxpayer in Falls Church should demand.
Pat Riccards is the Chair of the Falls Church City School Board.