There are dozens of Democrats running for local offices this year in Virginia, including a bunch in Fairfax County alone. See here for a partial list. Yesterday (March 14), I had a chance to sit down for a couple hours with one of those candidates – Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) Board at-large candidate Rachna Sizemore Heizer – and to hear about her background, expertise, and priorities for the FCPS.
Based on that conversation, as well hearing a lot of great things about her, reviewing her website, and watching the powerful presentation she delivered at the National Education Association’s “Keeping the Promise of Public Education Symposium” last October (see video, below) I have decided that Sizemore Heizer will do a superb job on the School Board, and am strongly endorsing her for one of the three at-large slots. By the way, also check out the performance by her musically talented son Jake, who is autistic, of The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” in that National Education Association video.
So what will Sizemore Heizer bring to the Fairfax County Public School Board? For starters, as her press release (below) explains, she has “a decade-long track record of policy changes in Fairfax County schools and beyond that have helped ensure a more equitable and strengths-focused education for not just Jake, but all students, including a recent new statewide path to a standard diploma that has now opened the door to college and federal aid for tens of thousands of students.” Also, as Virginia House Democratic Leader Eileen Filler-Corn puts it, Sizemore Heizer has a “unique ability to work with stakeholders to bring people together toward a common goal” and “will be a fabulous member of the school board.” As Del. Mark Keam explains, “She’s a compassionate champion for students whose voices are not being heard in the system” who “fights for every kid regardless of their abilities and she gets things done!” Finally, as Fairfax County Board Chair Sharon Bulova explains, “Rachna’s the most incredible advocate…someone who doesn’t let adversity get her down,” who, “When something has happened in her life, she takes it and turns it into something positive and turns it into something that’s going to change the lives of so many people.”
I’d add that Sizemore Heizer is superbly qualified for this job. As her website explains, she “is a college professor, disability justice advocate, lawyer, first generation American, and parent of a current FCPS student and a recent FCPS graduate.” In addition to her expertise in and advocacy for children with disabilities – a voice and skillset that is MUCH needed on the Fairfax County School Board – Sizemore Heizer clearly “has the breadth of skills and knowledge necessary to oversee a large complex organization such as FCPS, bringing the experience and leadership to ensure consistency, transparency, and fiscal responsibility.” In our conversation, she exuded passion, knowledge and commitment to ensuring that every child in the Fairfax County Public School system – including those who might not “fit into a predetermined ‘bucket’,” as she puts it – gets the help they need to achieve their potential. As the parent of a current and former FCPS student, neither of whom fit neatly into one of those “buckets,” Sizemore Heizer will bring not just academic knowledge, but hard-earned personal experience, to this job. That will be a huge addition to the School Board in and of itself.
It’s important, by the way, to stress that Sizemore Heizer is not one-dimensional in her focus on disabilities. To the contrary, as we discussed in our conversation, Sizemore Heizer is passionately committed to making sure that all FCPS students succeed, whether their talents lie in “academic, artistic, or vocational” areas, and focusing on “teach[ing] to our students’ strength…not us[ing] their challenges to limit their potential.” Sizemore Heizer is also committed to (among other good and important things):
- “Ensur[ing] all teachers, staff, and administrators have the proper training and support to understand the characteristics and needs of ALL the populations they serve in order to foster inclusive schools where each child is given a high quality education that meets their needs.”
- Making sure that schools “are safe and positive learning environments where students are equally respected, supported, and included, regardless of where they were born, gender identity, disability status, race, religion, sexual orientation.”
- “End[ing] the use of restraint and seclusion except limited use in threats of extreme bodily harm so we are not traumatizing our most vulnerable students and provide appropriate behavior supports instead.”
- “Increas[ing] collaboration, end[ing] siloing, enhanc[ing] training, and promot[ing] understanding across general education and special education departments so all teachers, staff, and administrators can effectively educate every student”
- Encouraging a “school system known for its green energy and sustainability programs”
- Promoting a “[r]obust civics education so our students know how to be informed participants in our democracy“
In sum, Rachna Sizemore Heizer’s experience, passion, values, commitment and expertise will make her a superb addition to the Fairfax County Public School Board. I encourage everyone to support her candidacy!
P.S. The Fairfax County Democratic Committee (FCDC) will be holding its endorsement meeting for this position on May 21 at 7:30 pm at the Lake Braddock Secondary School. For more details on that, see here.
Rachna Sizemore Heizer Kicks Off School Board Campaign
March 10, Fairfax: Nearly 250 supporters kicked off Rachna Sizemore Heizer’s campaign for Fairfax County School Board on Sunday, including numerous elected officials and a local rock band. The event featured music and speeches and officially launched Heizer’s bid for an at-large school board seat.
“I’m running for school board to ensure that our kids are seen for what they can do, not for what they can’t do,” said Heizer. She shared the story of when she first decided she had to advocate for change in Fairfax County schools: at her son Jake’s first back-to-school night ten years ago.
“I remember looking for his nametag on a little desk in the midst of other little desks, only to not find it. Eventually I found his seat, in the back of the room, at a separate table, with the other kids with autism and no one else. He was segregated, only seen for his autism, not for ALL of who he was.
“Jake taught me nobody should be seen for what they can’t do – ever,” she said, which for her means speaking up for all children who aren’t traditionally heard. Jake has since become a musician, performing at the event with his band.
“No child should be seen for one thing only. No child should be seen only for their deficits and not for their strengths.”
Heizer began what has become a decade-long track record of policy changes in Fairfax County schools and beyond that have helped ensure a more equitable and strengths-focused education for not just Jake, but all students, including a recent new statewide path to a standard diploma that has now opened the door to college and federal aid for tens of thousands of students.
“When talking with other parents, I realized many others have similar stories, regardless of what program their child is in,” said Heizer. “I’ve long said FCPS is a “bucket system.” Children who fit easily in their buckets get a great education. But for those who don’t, we can do better. All kids deserve to be seen as equally valued, as equally belonging, with equally high expectations for all.”
Other speakers at the event included Senator Chap Petersen, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova, House of Delegates Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, longtime Fairfax Democratic leader Toora Asala, and Fairfax County Public School student Karan Murari.
Senator Chap Petersen endorsed Rachna’s campaign, saying Rachna is “one of those people who works hard for other people. The test of leadership is can you inspire other people to be loyal to you and if you look around this room, she has that ability. I endorse her. I can’t think of a better person then Rachna Sizemore Heizer.”
“Rachna’s the most incredible advocate. She’s someone who doesn’t let adversity get her down. When something has happened in her life, she takes it and turns it into something positive and turns it into something that’s going to change the lives of so many people.” said Chairman Sharon Bulova.
Delegate Eileen-Filler Corn praised Rachna’s track record of getting things done, stating she believes Rachna will be a strong school board member, “Her unique ability to work with stakeholders to bring people together toward a common goal. So there is no doubt in my mind that Rachna will be a fabulous member of the school board. Because she is proven, she is tested.”
“Ms. Heizer who wants to make our sure our schools are safe and positive places for all kids that all of us kids feel respected.” said Murari, speaking about Heizer’s mentoring of students to be their own advocates.
“She is very passionate and driven,” Toora Asala in talking about her advocacy for people with disabilities
Other attendees at the event included State Senator George Barker, Delegate Mark Keam, Delegate Ibraheem Samirah, Lee District Board of Supervisor Jeff McKay and FCPS School Board member Ryan McElveen.
Heizer told the crowd at the campaign event that she will push for a greater emphasis on positive behavioral supports and trauma informed strategies. Her background as a criminal justice professor and her work to reduce the school-to-prison pipeline has further fueled her passion for ensuring all kids get the positive supports needed to be successful in school.
Her experience is much broader than just special education advocacy. She is a college professor, former corporate attorney, and former management consultant. She also understands the challenges immigrant students faces as she is a first Indian-American, she understands the challenges faced by immigrant students.
Heizer’s vision for our schools is a holistic education that includes the arts, civics, and career and technical education. She promised to “reduce the inconsistency across the county.” to provide an equitable education for all, no matter who they are or what zip code they live in.
“I’m humbled and touched by the support of many of the elected officials and local leaders and friends from so many areas of my life who believe me and my vision for our schools.” Heizer concluded.
Heizer is seeking the endorsement of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee as one of the three at-large candidates for School Board. Member of the committee will vote on May 21st. More information on the process is at www.fairfaxdemocrats.org
Heizer’s website is www.electrachna.com
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About the campaign: Rachna is running to ensure our schools foster a culture of strengths-focused, consistent, and equitable education for all. Rachna is a first-generation American, a college professor, an attorney, an advocate, and the parent of both a current FCPS student and a recent FCPS graduate. She has a proven track record of educational innovation and excellence in the classroom, a breadth of skills and experience, and a reputation for working collaboratively with diverse stakeholders to get things done at the state and local levels. She’s spent over a decade working with our elected officials, school administrators, and community organizations to implement system-wide changes that have helped Fairfax County students and residents.
Rachna lobbied the Virginia Department of Education for an alternative path to a standard diploma so now thousands of students will be able to access college and federal aid. She worked with FCPS, FCPD, Chairman Bulova’s office, and community stakeholders to ensure the police officers in our schools have appropriate training so our schools are safe places to learn without criminalizing youth behavior.
Rachna received both her Bachelor of Arts in Political Economy and her law degree from the University of California at Berkeley. She is a former management consultant and an experienced community board member, currently serving on the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board and FCPS’ Advisory Committee for Students with Disabilities. She is a long time disability justice advocate. Rachna has presented at numerous conferences and spoken on television and radio shows about strengths-focused education and inclusion of people with disabilities. She continues to work with elected officials and community stakeholders on affordable housing, societal inclusion, and criminal justice reform. She believes consistency, equity of resources, and equity of opportunity are vital to fulfilling the One Fairfax Promise of quality education for ALL.
Rachna will bring her passion, expertise, and drive to ensure our schools provide a holistic education that prepares our children for the 21st century – academics balanced with collaboration and communication skills. Her goal is to ensure our schools foster all types of strengths, whether it be academic, artistic, or vocational. She will work to make sure teachers and staff receive the training and support they need to give our kids the education they deserve. And she wants to ensure all programs are consistently implemented throughout the county to reduce inequities. She believes every child, regardless of who they are, is equally worthy and equally capable of writing their own life story and our school’s job is to give them the tools and support to do so. She is running to bring her vision of a strengths-focused and consistent education to the Fairfax County School Board as an at-large member.