September 23, 2023

Fairfax County Faculty Board member Melanie Meren is working for reelection within the hopes of constant her work in training. She sat down not too long ago with Dogwood to debate her priorities and fervour for colleges.

Melanie Meren has represented the Hunter Mill district on the Fairfax County Faculty Board since 2019. Now, she’s working for reelection on the identical values that led her to tackle the function within the first place.

“I feel college might be an incredible time for youths,” Meren stated. “I simply need youngsters to take pleasure in being there and do what they’ll do to be their finest sleeves. It’s simply this ardour of mine.”

Meren believes individuals must be concerned within the techniques that govern their lives.

“I’m a public coverage skilled, so I do perceive the coverage course of and the way authorities ought to or can work,” Meren stated. “However I’m additionally a mother or father, I’m a neighborhood member, I’m a taxpayer. So I do see that my perspective as somebody in the neighborhood is required by these individuals making selections.”

In line with Meren, an important want in conserving colleges working easily is board governance and coverage. It’s the board’s duty to carry the superintendent and administration accountable to make sure college students are getting the academic outcomes they “want and deserve,” Meren stated. 

“It’s a $3 billion funds. It [covers] virtually 200 services, 182,000 college students, tens of 1000’s of staff. That’s not some mild job,” Meren stated.

As an worker of the U.S. Division of Training, Meren traveled the nation monitoring how state departments have been implementing the No Little one Left Behind Act of 2001.

No Little one Left Behind was the principle federal regulation governing how Ok-12 college students realized from 2002 to 2015, updating its predecessor, the Elementary and Secondary Training Act. Although it promised to deal with the progress of deprived college students, NCLB was usually criticized for its deal with standardized testing and harsh penalties for colleges that wrestle to satisfy requirements, reminiscent of shutting them down.

Normally, there’s settlement that NCLB shined a light-weight on inequities within the training system, Meren stated — those self same inequities which can be nonetheless being seen immediately.

“Twenty-something years in the past, the federal authorities put on this regulation to have standardized checks. Nicely, 20 years later, we now have a variety of parts of standardized training,” Meren stated. “So what do you do when you’re not a normal child, and you’ve got a neurodiverse mind, dyslexic mind, an autistic mind? Otherwise you’re gifted at artwork, or sports activities?”

Addressing inequities in training will come from “untethering ourselves” from the usual method to studying, Meren stated.

“We all know that’s not how youngsters study finest,” Meren stated. “You then add within the pandemic, and all of the social, emotional, and behavioral issues that the youngsters have skilled. You’ve bought to reposition it extra, in order that’s why I wish to serve once more.”

Meren’s present most essential concern is college security because it pertains to gun violence, because it’s an important concern her constituents inquire about, she stated.

“That stage of tension that our mother and father expertise might be debilitating,” Meren stated. “Particularly when you’ve been an individual who’s been traditionally discriminated in opposition to. To have that extra weight, , it’s a stress.”

The issue must be approached in such a method that “doesn’t eclipse the true mission of public training,” Meren stated.

“They need to be protected, however we’re not funded to be a public well being service and a public regulation enforcement service,” Meren stated. “It will get to this governance work about whose job it’s and whose cash goes to pay for these items.”

One other one in all Meren’s priorities is constructing the neighborhood again collectively after a tumultuous previous few years.

“All of us have suffered via not solely the pandemic, however even earlier than that, Trump’s legacy of dangerous and unjust conduct,” Meren stated. “I’m most enthusiastic about serving to individuals reconnect with their college, and their neighborhood, and each other.”

The neighborhood’s belief is paramount to her function on the varsity board, Meren stated, and “authentically partaking” along with her constituents is vital to sustaining that belief.

“I can’t at all times do what individuals ask, however I definitely can pay attention,” Meren stated.

Meren cited the primary time the desires of the neighborhood have been misaligned with what she had personally wished to do: returning to in-person instruction after the pandemic. Whereas Meren felt it wasn’t time to return, her neighborhood’s advocacy inspired her to alter her method. She recalled personally responding to a whole bunch of emails on the problem to guarantee her constituents that their voices have been being heard.

“I attempt to be the place the neighborhood is and expertise what they expertise,” Meren stated. “I imply, that’s the most effective half, although generally it’s fairly laborious. It’s very cool to attempt to be embedded.”

One in every of Meren’s current accomplishments was getting $6 million in state development funds earmarked to convey over three dozen out of doors lecture rooms to FCPS services. Except for her personal private curiosity in environmental training, Meren stated out of doors training is essential to the scholars who care concerning the local weather and surroundings.

“Virginia is the one state within the Chesapeake Watershed space, aside from West Virginia, that doesn’t have a statewide environmental literacy plan,” Meren stated. “You go to Maryland, you see the youngsters, they go to out of doors studying areas. It’s embedded within the curriculum.”

One other current growth Meren is worked up about is FCPS’ new superintendent, Dr. Michelle Reid.

“She’s doing a variety of issues I want to see executed,” Meren stated. “So, once more, I can focus extra on that coverage, as a result of she’s doing extra of the operations.”

With a legislative stalemate holding up funds within the Virginia state funds, FCPS doesn’t know the way a lot public funding they are going to obtain for subsequent college yr.

“Any functioning society must have training,” Meren stated. “I don’t perceive why that’s even an argument. Right here we’re in Virginia, ready for a governor to go the funds.”

The varsity board — and authorities generally — wants good individuals, Meren stated, and she or he hopes there might be higher respect towards these in public workplace.

“There’s a historical past in America of difficult governments for good cause, and I feel we now have to maintain that spirit alive, to problem the federal government, to carry it accountable, and to carry particular person individuals accountable,” Meren stated. “However I feel there additionally must be a resurgence of a sure fundamental stage of respect for people who find themselves searching for to carry workplace.”

Although she receives a wage in her place, Meren identified that many college board members round Virginia don’t and take the function on high of different jobs.

“That’s what our neighborhood wants,” Meren stated of faculty board members. “Till some drastic change of presidency occurs, we’re going to wish good individuals in there to be on college boards.”