Michelle Reid sat down with Northern Virginia Magazine the day after she drove cross-country with her family from Washington state to start her new position as superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, one of the largest school districts in the country.
How are you planning to get started?
I think it’s going to be just important to be present … with a variety of stakeholder groups and spend a lot of time listening, meeting with people, being out in the community, experiencing what happens. I’m trying to balance making sure I get to know everything I need to know as well as meet people and sort of hear their hopes and dreams.
What are the biggest challenges facing FCPS?
I think the same challenges that are facing public schools across our country. Student mental health continues to be a concern; I think the academic achievement as well continues to be impacted by mental health issues. I think also making sure that we remain justice-centered and future-focused is very important for us as a school system. I think educator shortages are a concern. And staffing shortages … Just making sure that we attract and not just recruit but retain our very best staff.
Teacher shortages are a problem around the country. What are the challenges they face?
The work of educators is really difficult. And it’s been exacerbated, I think made even more difficult in the last several years. We’ve asked a lot of our educators. They shifted their entire pedagogical practice overnight [during the pandemic]. When you’re an educator, you’re all in and … the needs of our students and families and community have never been greater.
How do you balance the needs of individual schools in a large system?
Well, our students aren’t widgets. Neither are our staff. I would say there are some areas probably within the division that require different supports than other areas … education doesn’t even look exactly the same classroom to classroom. We maintain high expectations. But we also have to partner that with high support.
How do you see the role of parents in education?
It’s the most important role, right? Parents are the first teachers. It’s very important that … we partner with parents. Parents are critical; there’s no question about it. The family and home life that our students have is inextricably linked really to the work we’re able to do within the schools. I think when we have a more trusting relationship, a climate of trust, and a culture of trust [between parents and educators], we’re able to do anything.