One in a series of interviews with Fairfax County School Board members.
Martina Hone's childhood neighborhood in Chicago was a "tough census tract."
She remembers the violence, and the teachers who weren't prepared to deal with the neighborhood's problems.
Hone said Fairfax County has children who face, to a lesser extent, the same type of challenges; children from other socioeconomic or ethnic backgrounds who face a lack of resources and community encouragement.
Those children were what made Hone run for school board in 2007.
"I wanted the opportunity to speak for kids that are more like me, and I think a lot of them that live in Fairfax County are not spoken for," said Hone, a Falls Church resident whose mother was African-American and father was a Yugoslavian political refugee. "It's easy to forget that there are children struggling in this county."
During the past four years, Hone, 49, has fought to give "voices to the voiceless" and to close achievement gaps. She's had mixed success as she closes her term as an at-large member Dec. 31.
When she joined the board, Hone was seen as somewhat of a fringe player. Often blunt, many expected her to be the lifetime odd vote on 11-1 decisions; a few advised her to wait six months before speaking out.
"I actually created space where some other members of the board found room to be more forthright. … I changed the conversation on the board itself, and that wasn't something that was on my to-do list," she said.
While Hone celebrated a few victories on achievement issues — the board's goals and beliefs mission statement has language about the achievement gap and some schools reversed test score trends — she was often frustrated by what she calls a "lack of urgency" on the issue.
"The issue of closing the achievement gap is often thought of as getting everyone to minimal proficiency or getting them to pass the [Standards of Learning]," she said. "But that's just minimum proficiency, that's a D-, surely we expect more than that."
The gap in achievement isn't the only one facing the county, she said. Too few minorities are admitted to the or the school's early gifted and talented program. And a decision to switch to half-days on Mondays hurt the county's neediest students who benefit from more instruction time.
While many praised her dedication, others thought she sometimes acted rashly to make a point, most notably in what Hone calls her "hypocrisy" amendment last February,
The amendment came when the board was exploring ways to implement full-day kindergarten, which required $7 million to $8 million. The system found the money, but Hone says it wasn't, and still isn't, clear where it came from. That amount could have supported summer school, Hone said.
"I supported full-day K. It's not that I don't think those things are important. The affluent part of the counties were told wait your turn, and they complied. They waited their turn, and then when their turn came, oops, we don't have any money," Hone said. "I think we have to be sensitive from not pulling the rug under the kids in more affluent parts of the county."
But the way the system found that money wasn't right, she said.
"People think I'm anti-language. … My father was a linguist. He spoke 18 languages. It's not that. It's that [the goal of] making sure kids are proficient in more than one language comes after closing the achievement gap. That's the thing I thought was really important to remind folks. I had to make that point."
Getting those kinds of answers is something Hone has said she's struggled with during her tenure, specifically, getting Superintendent Jack Dale and staff to explain what other options they considered when presenting plans to the board.
"It's not micromanagement to say, 'Tell me what else you considered and why you rejected it,'" Hone said. "After a while you get to a point where you trust your staff but we never had the opportunity to build that type of trust because there was always a resistance to show what else you considered and why that wasn't a good choice."
She said that resistance affected the board's ability to make decisions on several issues, including the grading system, school start times and most recently
"Give me some other options and you know what? I may or may not conclude that video surveillance is the right option … but give me an option … objective experts from both sides," Hone said. "Resistance to getting this type of objective data is what creates the backlash in the community. The community wants to be heard and God bless the people in Fairfax County, they will be heard."
Many of those people gave Hone a standing ovation as the board passed a resolution honoring her for her service at the board's last regular meeting Dec. 15.
Serving a single term wasn't part of Hone's original plan: She thought she'd serve much longer, and then gain enough knowledge to turn another system around.
"I think I can do more for kids by going back to my roots as an advocate," Hone said. "I don't want to have to compromise. In this bouquet of flowers I was the tiger lily and I was OK with that. But I think the tiger lily needs to be off the board. The things I did on the board would be better done as an advocate than as a board member."
For now, anyway. She hasn't ruled out serving again.
"I love public service," Hone said. "I don't know if I love politics as much as I thought I love politics, but I know I love feeling like I contributed to the greater good."
To hear Hone speak more about her term in office, watch the video in the media player above.