The News-Press invited all those running in the City of Falls Church’s November School Board and City Council races to submit 400-word candidate statements for publication. This week’s statements are from Falls Church School Board candidates Gregory Anderson, Richard Crespin, Alison Kutchma, Shannon Litton, Shawna Russell and Lawrence Webb. Next week’s issue will feature the Falls Church City Council candidates.
My family and I moved here in 2009 for the excellent schools, and stayed for the community. My wife and I have one child, who started out at Mt. Daniel and is now a freshman at George Mason. Professionally, I’m a scientist who has spent 15 years managing large programs in multiple arenas, and now I supervise scientists who manage large programs.
I’ve been committed to our schools since 2009 as a volunteer and as a parent engaged in school technology issues, including two years as parent liaison to the MEH Digital Learning Team. I’m committed to our city, so I’ve attended nearly all School Board and City Council meetings since January to understand the big picture. I’m committed to civil discourse and engagement, and if elected, I’d ask hard questions and confront tough issues with civility and respect. I’m committed to public service, and I want to serve my community as a School Board member.
After careful consideration, I intend to vote yes on the high school referendum. Our current school has insufficient capacity and critical systems at risk of failure, and is ill-suited to 21st century learning. Passing the referendum would allow us to replace our current school, but wouldn’t limit us to a single option. Rather, it would enable us to move forward through hard work that I would tackle together with my Board colleagues, City Council, school and city staff, and the community.
If elected, I’d support efforts to contain operational costs while maintaining or enhancing student outcomes. I’d encourage (1) transparent, collaborative budget processes; (2) consideration of novel methods to set the bottom-line school budget; (3) an external review of school operational practices to identify cost containment strategies (and implementation of the most beneficial); (4) an updated comprehensive plan to optimize facilities investments; and (5) creation of a streamlined, FCCPS-wide professional development plan to help recruit top-quality teachers and staff and ensure our educators can continue to enhance their skills and improve student outcomes.
I want to give back to my community as a School Board member. I want to use my professional expertise, school volunteer experience, understanding of the city, and direct but respectful style to develop collaborative solutions to our big challenges. If that sounds like the kind of person you want as a School Board member, I hope you’ll vote for me as one of your four choices on November 7th.
Our city and our schools will face big decisions in the coming four years: balancing the budget, re-imagining our facilities, strengthening our relationship with parents and the community — all while maintaining and extending our reputation for educational excellence. I’m running to bring three important qualities to the school board:
MEASURABLE IMPACT: I will ensure that a dollar spent results in a dollar’s worth of educational improvement. As a lifelong entrepreneur and business owner, I’ve always had to balance a budget, and I’ve had to implement new and innovative approaches to tackle complex problems, using data and evidence to drive better decisions. As an example, FCCPS Superintendent Noonan recently spoke about the need to close the achievement gap: we do a good job serving students at the top and bottom but not middle. We need cost effective ways of closing that gap, like the high-demand skills and vocations that will prepare our students for the 21st Century. I will be a strong advocate for our children and our community and an effective steward of your money.
GOOD GOVERNANCE: I dedicated my career to improving transparency, accountability, and inclusive decision-making in America’s largest publicly traded companies. From my experience serving on multiple governing boards, I know that a board’s job is not to run the organization but to make sure the organization is well run. I also founded a company, CollaborateUp, that works with stakeholders all around the globe to co-create solutions to some of our world’s most difficult problems.
SERVANT LEADERSHIP. I’m running, in part, to show my children that a life spent in service is a life well spent. Our schools should be a center of community life, and as we consider redeveloping our facilities, we should look at integrating multiple community needs, like public libraries and services for our seniors. Our schools should benefit our whole community, not just those of us with children in the schools.
As a business owner, I understand the fast-changing and highly competitive job market our children face and I will bring innovative ideas for how to cost-effectively prepare them to compete and win. I’ve also had to set and achieve a clear strategic vision while balancing a budget and making a payroll everyday for the past 27 years.
A vote for me is a vote for good governance, evidence-based decision-making, focused return on investment, and schools that work for our whole community.
I have lived in Falls Church for 15 years and raised three GMHS graduates (2010, 13, and 15). I am very well informed about our schools, having watched and attended school board and parent advisory committee meetings for years. Additionally I have closely followed budget work sessions for the last four years, and participated in over 100 meetings with teachers and administrators concerning issues affecting our schools. Using school funds for the best educational outcomes is my goal. Therefore, I have carefully studied achievement gaps, school budgets, supporting documents about how our money is spent, the Mt. Daniel project including contracts and payment applications and other issues. All of this experience makes me uniquely qualified to serve as a member of the FCCPS school board.
I am an ardent supporter of true budget transparency to meet the needs of our students and teachers while protecting our taxpayers from needless spending. More than half of every dollar we spend goes to the schools yet I hear our teachers still contribute to their own classroom supplies and make work books for their students, while purchased items are unused or underutilized. This needs to change and it starts with budget transparency. Teachers input is critical to this process and to our schools’ success.
My primary expectation is leadership with integrity and I will be voting No on the $120 million high school bond referendum because 1) There are too many unknowns at this point 2) Most taxpayers do not yet fully understand the financial risks and obligations and they deserve to know first. 3) The financial risks are substantial including the lowering of our bond rating as a city. 4) The passage of this can start the clock ticking on the bond which reduces our bargaining position with developers. 5) I have a lot of questions about the cost and size estimate which serves as the basis for the bond figures. Whatever the community decides, I AM in favor of moving forward immediately with plans to address the needs of GMHS, drilling down on design needs and options, while assessing developer interest. I will ask questions and work to create the most affordable school for our students while maintaining the excellence that we all expect.
My family is fortunate to have lived in Falls Church for over ten years and we love being part of this amazing community. My vision is for Falls Church City Schools to be a world-class system that meets the needs of all learners. As an education professional, and the mother of children attending George Mason, Mary Ellen Henderson, and Mt. Daniel, I’m uniquely qualified to provide thoughtful and collaborative leadership for our schools. Following are my priorities:
Meeting our Growing Needs: The most significant challenge facing our city is meeting our facility needs as our student population continues to grow. George Mason High School is in significant disrepair and is going to require a major infrastructure investment. I support the bond referendum, but believe we must consider plans for commercial development carefully and cautiously to ensure the safety and well-being of our students and provide benefits for the broader community.
Teachers and Staff: Excellent teachers are the key to an outstanding school system. Providing adequate pay and working conditions are important, but we must also ensure we have excellent leadership for our teachers. Good school leaders should build a positive school climate and provide support to teachers to help them continue to improve their teaching practice.
Serving the Needs of All Students: Our schools must ensure every child is provided an engaging educational environment that encourages individual growth and learning. Providing appropriate class size and qualified teachers is key to ensuring we are providing all students with the help and assistance they need to succeed, and we should continue to consider ways to use personalized learning models in our schools.
A ‘Lifelong’ Community: My vision is that Falls Church City will be a ‘lifelong community’ where people want to spend their entire lives. Everyone benefits from having a diversity of ages in our community, so we must balance the needs of the schools with the other priorities of the community.
We are at an important turning point in the life of our City and we need leadership that will make wise choices about the future of our community. I am a thoughtful and balanced leader who will work to ensure we have world class schools that serve all students, while pushing us to look at new and innovative ways of doing things that will prepare all of our students with the knowledge and skills they will need for the future.
A decade ago my husband and I moved to Falls Church City with our two children. Like many people, we were drawn here by the sterling reputation of the public schools and we quickly fell in love with the warm community feel – we are grateful to be part of a small town without moving outside of the beltway. One month after we moved in, my daughter started kindergarten at Mt. Daniel and I started volunteering in Mrs. Nelson’s classroom. I had already spent several years on the executive board of our kids’ cooperative preschool and knew that I enjoyed the hard work of making my kids’ learning environment as strong as it can be. Since then, I have spent countless hours volunteering in the classroom and our community, getting to know our teachers and administrators, and learning how they make our public schools so successful. I have served as the Elementary PTA President, Executive Board member of multiple PTAs, and chair of several PTA committees. With the help of a committed group of moms, I created and staged the first Hippo-Tiger-Giraffe Games when the FCEPTA needed a new major fundraising event. I am also a regular volunteer for the Falls Church Education Foundation, helping the Foundation’s leaders with their major fundraisers.
My children now attend George Mason and Mary Ellen Henderson, and I am ready to take on a new role to make sure Falls Church continues providing a first-class public education for all of our children. Our schools are the backbone of our community and need strong stewardship, particularly after the transitional year we have just come through and the challenges that lie ahead. I support the bond referendum to build a new high school. But regardless of the outcome, the School Board needs experienced leaders with a proven track record of getting things done within our schools. With committed leaders on the School Board, there is a future full of opportunity for our community. I am ready to put my experience, my relationships with our teachers and community leaders, and my strong work ethic toward realizing the best for our schools. I would love to hear from you about your thoughts and ideas for the future. Please visit my website at shawna4schoolboard.com for more information including how to contact me directly. And please vote for Shawna Russell on November 7th!
It has been a busy four years since joining the board with many challenges from aging and overcrowded facilities to making crucial budget decisions. We have accomplished a great deal, but still have much progress of ahead of us. As a result, I want to continue to be a part of the solution.
One of the top reasons people chose to live in our “Little City” has been the educational system. We have seen considerable growth in our schools and are in need of expanding our facilities to absorb this growth. I would like to continue the work that has begun to address the pre-K through 12 infrastructures. The city has world class schools and need facilities that reflect our status. This will be a major investment for the community and I want the opportunity to further engage citizens as we move forward.
As chair of the board, I am honored that my colleagues have entrusted me to lead them in tackling several major transitions. Over the past year, I have worked diligently with my colleagues to create an open and transparent budget process that engages staff, administrators, and the community early in the process. We also worked alongside the City Council and community development planners to address the long overdue replacement of George Mason High School. The plan presented to the City Council was an option that met our education program; moreover, releases 10 acres for economic development that would assist with funding the project. If Falls Church wants to continue to be known for its world class education, then we must provide 21st century facilities for our students to learn and our teachers to teach.
I pledged to the community that I will remain a good steward of the public monies allocated by the City and will be focused in our spending, especially over the next several years as the project moves forward. As a governing body, we are always analyzing ways to reduce costs and take advantage of efficiencies both in capital and operational spending. This does not mean we will skimp on our prime obligation; guaranteeing a personalized environment that supports the unique educational needs of every student who walks through our doors.
I ask for your support on November 7th to work together to make our premier K through 12 International Baccalaureate school system strong for all of our current and future students.