The Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) Board is about to undergo serious change, with many retirements and what might be called “institutional change.” Notable among this change is the retirement of Dranesville’s Janie Strauss who been on the board since 1995. While three people are running for Strauss’ job, Elaine Tholen is clearly the one best prepared for Board service and most aligned with current and future requirements.
Now, a bit of background. For seven years, I served as the Dranesville representative to the School Board’s Facilities Planning Advisory Council (FPAC). Over that time, I occasionally encountered Elaine in environments that gave me a chance to see her interacting with students, teachers, school and central headquarters staff, School Board members, and other people. Uniformly, people appeared very happy to see and engage with her. In terms of my personal experience, while Elaine and I didn’t necessarily always see eye-to-eye, every interaction was cordial and it was clear she listened to and considered seriously what I (and others) raised with her. This is a temperament well suited for the difficult School Board world. Thus, when I heard she was running for School Board to replace “the institution that is Janie Strauss,” I was heartened. Since then, I’ve learned more about Elaine that has moved “heartened” to “strongly supportive.”
As to Elaine’s preparation, consider:
- She’s been a teacher: middle school and high school field biology, life sciences, chemistry and physical sciences
- Her BS in Science Education is from UW-Madison. For this fellow Badger, another positive mark.
- She’s done school administration/curriculum development: That includes a decade working in FCPS central offices, in which Elaine developed and implemented the FCPS district-wide, preK-12 program (Get2Green) to promote environmental stewardship among students and staff. She established and coordinated multiple cross-cutting teams and dealt with essentially all elements of the FCPS “community” (from students to facilities staff to teachers to parents to Virginia Department of Education staff to reporters to …)
- She has business experience, with a decade of program management and business development.
- That experience and her MBA provide a strong basis for evaluating budgets and FCPS program (such as facilities) development and execution.
- BTW, one of her early jobs was working on the “implementation of physical and computerized international safeguards for nuclear materials.” We can hope that past experience isn’t too relevant for FCPS issues.
In addition to her “preparation” is focus on issues that matter. Regarding “Get2Green,” Tholen understands the multi-faceted payoffs from greening along with the imperatives for more aggressive climate action (which include, by the way, engaging with students inspired by Greta Thunberg and fearful about climate risks). Elaine realizes that FCPS needs to examine seriously facility use and consider, by engaging parents honestly (rather than deceitfully to foster fear, as has been occurring in Dranesville among Republicans) in a “a strong, open communication process,” whether and how to use facilities better. If necessary, that could include redistricting, but that is not, as I understand it, a predetermined answer on her part.* She sees a need for better engagement on career readiness (especially for those students who won’t or can’t go on to college). And, well, take a look for yourself.
Bottom line: When it comes to temperament, experience, education, and focus, Elaine Tholen is the clear choice for the Dranesville district seat on the Fairfax County School Board.
* Redistricting is one of those arenas where Elaine and I have some disagreement, by the way. My time on FPAC made clear that the FCPS school boundaries are a real problem and that student educational performance and health could be boosted and costs, pollution, and traffic lowered through targeted adjustments to school boundaries. Elaine is, I think, far from the point of supporting redistricting and sees a long process of parent/community engagement before she might end up supporting it.