Lin-Dai Kendall was one of three candidates endorsed in a bid for an at-large seat on the Fairfax County School board this month by the Fairfax County Republican Committee.
Kendall, a Honduran native who lives in Fairfax Station with her husband of 18 years, has sent four children, all of whom attend or are alumni of Robinson High School. A Fulbright Scholar and small business owner, she has spent more than 15 years in architecture, urban planning and civil/public sector projects. For more on Kendall, click here.
She migrated to the U.S. after completing her Fulbright scholarship. Most recently, she has operated her own design studio out of Fairfax Station, where she designs and manages residential renovations.
Patch caught up with Kendall to ask about her upcoming race for school board.
Patch: Why are you running for school board?
Lin-Dai Kendall: Serving in office has been in my mind for a long time, because when you see inequities that aren’t reflected by your elected officials you tend to want to take matters in your own hands and that has really proven itself in the last two and a half years. I supported several of the active groups that were trying to get Clifton Elementary School to remain open, and then the groups involved in the boundary studies for Southwestern region. What I saw was not only a lack of true representation but I questioned professionally if the school board that is in place right now actually was considering their communities and had their best interests first.
In terms of FCPS, I started questioning the models they were following in order to develop our education system. If you see all the activism that has arisen from different policies and directives that the school system, and the school board in support of the school system, has taken instead of supporting constituent voices. ... The constituents who pay for and seek the services of the school system are the people who come from all parts of the country to be a part of FCPS, because in the past it had a very solid reputation. And now they’re here and it turns out what they were seeking was just a mirage.
Patch: You’ve put three kids through Robinson High School, and have one more on his way. From a parent’s perspective, what things were done well by the school board? FCPS? What could have been done better?
Kendall: In about the 12 years that it’s taken them to all go through the high school, I think the curriculum has been dumbed-down. I believe with what we pay with cost per pupil we should be getting an extraordinary value. The bottom line is that in the last five years ... the board and FCPS has concerned itself more with social issues rather than academic issues, and developing students to be socially adequate as opposed to fostering the individual to also be academically adequate and excel, so ... they come out highly skilled in their education and able to pursue careers that will provide them with a good selection of job opportunities. High school jobs are just flying away from the country, and U.S. companies are investing in other countries because we are not outputting highly skilled job seekers. And that has got to change. The highest priority should be to strengthen the curriculum and renew the focus on academic strength so that when kids are coming out they will have a better and well rounded base in the hard sciences and will be strong in the basics: reading writing and arithmetic. Part of that is understanding how money is being used and how we can refocus it back to the classroom.
Patch: What did you think of the budget process this year?
Kendall: I know activists that have actually gone to sessions and they are frowned upon. That shouldn’t happen. The budget is based on a transfer done from taxpayer dollars from the Fairfax County government. And as such it is the people’s money; it should be transparent. We should ... make sure it’s available for review for all even online, the checkbook and the budget should be online and easily accessible. Citizens should be welcomed to the budget workshops and discussions. The budget proposal in 2001 was 20 pages long. Today it’s 198 pages of glossy information. We have got to start looking at it like you would in the private sector because you can improve the model to a more successful one if you are very conscientious about the cost benefit analysis. Before asking for more money [from the county] I’d do an audit, an independent external audit to tell us exactly where we are.
Patch: You say parental notification/communication is important. How can the school board do that better?
Kendall: Control needs to go back to the parent. They need to be at top of the loop of information — there’s nobody that cares more about that child than a parent. People say well, children spend most of their time in school so that means schools should have authority. No it doesn’t, really. What’s the best interest of my child is decided by me, a mother. ... There are so many involved parents, educated parents, that to me it’s absurd that the school should take them out of the loop on issues as important as discipline. The control needs to go back to the taxpayer that foots the bill. Right now the relationship goes from FCPS to school board where information is given and directives are formed. That relationship needs to be restored to its rightful balance: the constituent talks to school board and the school board defines directives and policies and instructs and manages FCPS so that the educational system really reflects that they're listening to parents and teachers.
Patch: Aside from discipline what are some major issues the school board needs to deal with this year?
Kendall: My observations in some of this is that the school board seems to not have access to the data that FCPS uses to support the policies they try to implement. That relationship needs to change immediately. As ombudsman of the people, as a school board, we are mandated ... to be provided full fledged access to planning data which should be coming not only from FCPS but also from the [county] department of planning and zoning. We should know in advance what projects may come to the area, they should know what the transportation infrastructure growth is going to be, where new streets are going to go, where they’re maxed out, where recreational areas are going to be and how close or how far. What I would like in planning are solutions based on data-driven studies and that these studies are completely transparent to the public ... so it doesn’t appear that FCPS is planning in a vacuum. We should plan to educate up everybody, not just particular interest groups. We should want to educate all up independent of race, gender, of their ethnicity, of their abilities or disabilities, it should always be educate up. If you do it that way there will be nobody left behind and you would take the politics out of it and put in the more logical and rational planning process so each radius of influence is defined in a more analytical manner.