Michelle Reid approved as superintendent among student demonstrations

Vocal student disapproval and an unpopular selection process failed to convince the board to reject Dr. Reid


Akash Balenalli

Planned demonstrations and publicity failed to convince the school board to reject Michelle Reid, a highly qualified candidate, or postpone the approval date. Amidst a year of tumultuous high-profile political fights in Fairfax County Public Schools, Dr. Reid will likely face stiff resistance from vocal student groups in one of the country’s largest and wealthiest school districts. Adding to the challenge is size; the superintendent is now leading a new district nearly 9 times as large as her previous one.

The Pride Liberation Project, a liberal student-led grassroots group, voiced stark opposition to Fairfax County Public Schools’ (FCPS) finalist and recently-approved Superintendent Michelle Reid. The organization loosely collaborated with multiple high school groups to stage demonstrations after school today, but even with public opposition from students and the community, the board voted hours later to approve Dr. Reid.

“It’s disheartening how, at the school board meeting, whenever one of the board members said they were supporting Dr. Reid, it was silent,” said junior Saehee Perez, who organized the Mclean demonstration against Dr. Reid. “But whenever a school board member said that they would not support the confirmation of Dr. Reid, that is when community members clapped.”

The contract, as well as the announcement, was posted last night…I have a list of the groups that have contacted us, as well as nearly 50 people, most of whom have objections.”

— Karen Keys-Gamarra, Member-at-large

Perez collaborated with student activists at McLean High School and directed protesters to the front of the school to oppose then-candidate Dr. Reid, before she was approved. As she gathered interested students across the main parking lot, the activists distributed flyers to the hundreds of students exiting the building near the doors at the end of the school day.

The Pride Liberation Project claimed that Dr. Reid had a troubled past as Superintendent of the Northshore School District near Seattle. In a widely-shared Instagram post, it cited a classified contact revealing that she bussed color students in for a diversity promotion and mistreated disabled students.

Perez and other Pride Liberation Project members also point to the board’s secretive selection process, which included an unexpected announcement to staff less than 24 hours ago that she would be approved at tonight’s board meeting. Information about the two finalists, one of whom withdrew,  weren’t released by FCPS either; the Fairfax NAACP published the information just a few days ago.

“The school board announced this [approval meeting] very, very last minute, and it’s something that we had to mobilize on last night,” Perez said. “We don’t think any superintendent search should be [this] rushed, having an outreach time of 15 days and an 11 student panel being the only student representation.”

Students who chose to stay after school hours to participate in McLean’s demonstration are concerned about what impact Dr. Reid’s private approval process could have on the next academic year.

“The superintendent makes so many of our decisions, and if we don’t have a say in what is going to be our schedule, our life for high school, it’s going to be hard,” junior Charlotte Calabro said.

The demonstration attracted NBC4 Washington, the McLean Connection and FFXNow, but the publicity ultimately failed to sway the school board—hours later today, the board approved Dr. Reid to replace current Superintendent Scott Brabrand. Mount Vernon representative Karen Corbett Sanders made a statement against a failed motion postponing the superintendent approval date, but she still voted against approving Dr. Reid.

“I will not be supporting this measure, and the reason I am not supporting a delay is because of the extensive conversations that have gone on within this board and within the community,” said Sanders, who represents a Mount Vernon High School, where students held a lockout against Dr. Reid during school hours. “By having a delay, it’s not going to change the outcome…that doesn’t mean that I have had great sympathy and empathy for the comments that that have been made.”

Many board members ended with similar comments acknowledging pushback from the community.

“I believe all 12 of us [school board members] care deeply and we recognize that, sadly, there are hurt members in our community,” said Megan McLaughlin, Braddock District Representative. “But I don’t want them to lose faith for a minute of our commitment to recognize and serve and care about every single person in our community.”

A minority of board members expressed dissatisfaction with the superintendent search process, agreeing with the Pride Liberation Project.

“For a public school system, our school system belongs to the public. So my objection has to do with the fact that we seem to rushing this decision,” said member-at-large Karen Keys-Gamarra, proposing the motion to postpone the approval while audience members lightly applause. “The contract, as well as the announcement, was posted last night…I have a list of the groups that have contacted us, as well as nearly 50 people, most of whom have objections.”

The Pride Liberation project demanded numerous reforms to the search process, though the school board ultimately disregarded them as they voted 9-3 to approve Dr. Reid.

“One of our demands was to have town halls at individual schools during Advisory periods or Flex periods, or whatever the equivalent is, across different high schools in FCPS,” Perez said.

Perez and the Pride Liberation Project have expressed disappointment with the approval, which they argue could have lasting impacts on day-to-day student life for years to come. Still, she hopes that the organization’s rapid demonstration mobilization and highly public opposition will serve as a check on Dr. Reid and the board.

“[We] placed a lot of pressure on both the school board and Dr. Reid. Now, Dr. Reid knows that she is a figure that is not entirely liked in the FCPS community,” Perez said. “That means she knows people are going to be watching her, she knows not to let things [happen] like the abuse of employees or discrimination of any kind, she just knows she can’t get away with that…and [the school board also] now knows they have to listen to [the community] as the stakeholders.”

* Saehee Perez is member of The Highlander staff, but this article was written independently of any affiliation to organizations involved in the superintendent approval process.