The Fairfax County School Board voted 9-3 April 14 to appoint Michelle Reid as Fairfax County Public Schools’ next superintendent, but the school community’s less-than-enthusiastic welcome – and divided approval vote – indicate Reid will need to build bridges from the get-go.
Reid succeeds Scott Brabrand, who is stepping down this summer after leading the school system for five years. Both came from much smaller school districts before assuming the reins of the nation’s 11th-largest school system.
School Board Vice Chairman Rachna Sizemore Heizer (At-Large) made the motion to hire Reid as superintendent for the period starting July 1 and ending June 30, 2026. Throughout the search process, which included many opportunities for public input, Reid consistently was at the top, she said.
“She shows high intelligence and great curiosity,” she said of Reid.
School Board member Tamara Derenak Kaufax (Lee District) called Reid a “visionary educator who is known both regionally and nationally for your outstanding instructional leadership.”
But School Board member Karen Keys-Gamarra (At-Large) moved to delay the vote.
“Our community has expressed some outrage,” she said. “I can’t blame them . . . The people who are reaching out to us are our community members. They are our constituents. It is our job to hear them.”
School Board members “seem to be rushing this decision,” Keys-Gamarra said. “Despite the qualifications of Dr. Reid, I happen to believe that the other candidate [Cheryl Logan, superintendent of Omaha Public Schools in Nebraska] was more qualified.”
Her motion failed, having received only the support of School Board member Ricardy Anderson (Mason District). Board members Anderson, Keys-Gamarra and Karen Corbett Sanders (Mount Vernon) voted against the motion to appoint Reid.
Reid since 2016 has served as superintendent for Northshore School District in Washington state. She previously was superintendent of South Kitsap School District in Port Orchard, Wash., and before that was deputy superintendent, district athletic director and a high-school principal in the Port Angeles (Wash.) School District.
The American Association of School Administrators in 2021 named Reid its National Superintendent of the Year for “exemplary communications, her work in closing achievement gaps, and leading her previous school system in uncharted territory at the start of the pandemic,” according to an FCPS statement.
Reid holds a master’s degree in educational administration and a doctorate in educational leadership, both from the University of Washington, and earned a bachelor’s degree in natural science and chemistry from the University of Puget Sound.
Reid grew up in a military family and has raised four children. She was born in Germany, came to the United States at age 5 via Andrews Air Force Base.
“I also think that moving about regularly enables that sort of nimble flexibility that was a supportive trait throughout the pandemic and its accompanying challenges,” she said.
Reid promised to look out for the interests of marginalized communities and support STEAM education, which also includes the arts.
“I believe that a well-rounded student, and the fine and performing arts, enable and support a culture and understanding in ways that very few other content areas can,” Reid said.
Reid reaffirmed her commitment to viewing education through an “equity lens.”
“I believe that if you walk by an inequity, you have lost the moral authority to lead,” she said.
School Board member Melanie Meren (Hunter Mill District) called Reid a “thought leader” who brings a well-rounded approach combining academics with healthy living and curiosity.
“Her work thus far has been a pilot and I think she’s going to blow the lid off the innovation when she gets here to Fairfax,” Meren said. “I believe that Dr. Reid will lead Fairfax County into fulfilling the birthright that is public education in America.”
School Board member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock District) said Reid reminded her of former Superintendent Karen Garza, who also came from a smaller school district.
“Great leaders know how to bring their great leadership to scale,” McLaughlin said.
Keys-Gamarra, however, worried about the leap from a much smaller district with dissimilar demographics.
“I am worried about the learning curve,” she said. “It’s a big jump from 22,000 to 180,000” students.
Board member Elaine Tholen (Dranesville District) said the community should stand behind Reid.
“We need to give her a fair chance and get to know her,” she said.
Before Reid’s appointment, the Fairfax County NAACP issued a statement lambasting the selection process, saying the group should have been involved in discussions concerning the two finalists. NAACP members favored Logan, who previously had been chief academic officer for the School District of Philadelphia, the country’s eighth-largest school system.