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New School Board member quizzed by McLean Citizens Assn.

School-renovation issues among those taking center stage at forum
Fairfax County School Board member Robyn Lady (Dranesville)

The McLean Citizens Association (MCA) welcomed new School Board member Robyn Lady (Dranesville District) to its March 6 board meeting and promptly peppered her with questions on school renovations, safety and enrollment.

Lady, who grew up in Vienna and lives in Herndon, retired after 27 years with Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), where she spent her 15 final years as Chantilly High School’s director of student services. She defeated Paul Bartkowski last November to win the seat vacated by School Board member Elaine Tholen, who did not seek a second term.

“As a lifetime educator, this is the last seat I ever saw myself sitting in,” Lady told the MCA board. “It sort of happened serendipitously.”

Lady said she ran for School Board because she retained her passion for children and thought Fairfax County’s school system should be the one people should look to as an example.

“We’re not there,” she said. “I do think that COVID disrupted lots of things, but I do know that we are working hard to get back to what’s expected of us. I think one of the unique things is we have really high expectations of our school system.”

Higher compensation for Fairfax County Public Schools employees is the main driving factor in Superintendent Michelle Reid’s proposed fiscal 2025 budget, Lady said. About 90 percent of the budget is for salaries and benefits, she said.

Louise Epstein, who chairs MCA’s Budget & Taxation Committee, queried Lady about the school system’s proposal to build a new Dunn Loring Elementary School on the site of a current administrative building. Enrollment projections would not appear to justify the need for that facility, Epstein said.

Lady responded that the FCPS capital-improvement plan always just takes into account development projects currently under construction. But recent enrollment projections for Dunn Loring Elementary also included figures for approved developments where construction had not begun yet, she said.

The current facility at that site, which formerly was an elementary school, is a “cracker-jack box” with a nonsensical layout, Lady said.

“I don’t think we’re maximizing the space,” she said, but promised she would ask more questions about the planned facility.

MCA recording secretary Bruce Jones said Fairfax County’s birth rate had declined 20 percent in recent years and the school system as a result was beginning to experience lower enrollment.

Jo-Anne Sears pressed Lady on the current state of McLean High School relative to Langley High School regarding safety. Thin walls of school trailers, of which FCPS has about 800, cannot withstand gunshots, Sears said.

Lady said she and other School Board members are cognizant of the safety issues with trailers and of their lack of bathrooms, which the larger modular-classroom units have.

Sears urged Lady to focus hard on her first year in office on moving McLean High up on the renovation list.

“I hear from kids all the time about the broken toilets and the broken sinks and the theater-room [ceiling] falling onto the stage in the back area,” Sears said.

Lady, who worked for a time at McLean High during her career, said she hoped the new FCPS renovation queue would account for not only the age of schools, but also their capacity and condition.

The school system has renovated two McLean High bathrooms, is planning to renovate two more and replace tile on the school’s first floor, Lady said. FCPS also plans to renovate McLean High’s athletic-field bathrooms and perform upkeep on its softball field, she said.

But Lady acknowledged that compared with newly renovated Herndon and Langley high schools in Dranesville District, McLean High is an “eyesore.”