FCPS School Board Election: Meet Melanie Meren

Editor’s Note: Two candidates are running for the seat of Pat Hynes, who currently holds the Hunter Mill District seat on the Fairfax County School Board. Earlier this year, Hynes said she would not seek reelection after serving on the 12-member board for the last seven years. This week, Reston Now will publish statements by the candidates.

Statements are published in the order in which they are received. With the exception of minor formatting edits, profiles are published in unedited form.

Melanie Meren, MPP, is a parent, small business owner, and school board appointee who has lived in Fairfax County for over 15 years. Originally from New York, where she attended public school her entire life, Melanie moved to Virginia after accepting a Presidential Management Fellowship in 2004 at the U.S. Department of Education.

While at the Dept. of Ed, Melanie oversaw a multi-million-dollar budget for services for students at underperforming schools. Her responsibility encompassed both evaluation and problem-solving situations, with oversight of federal grant recipients. She recovered over $1 million in funds when program services were not provided to the target population of students most-in-need of support.

Advocacy and community are central in her life. Joined by her husband, Drew Meren, the two are active in local government. Melanie’s current community service commitments are:

  • Appointed member of Fairfax County School Board’s Human Resources Advisory Committee
  • Elementary school PTA Green Team Chair and representative to the Fairfax County Council of PTAs
  • Girl Scout troop co-leader
  • Member of the Virginia Association for Environmental Education
  • Until 2019, she was a Leadership Team member for eight years of NoVA Outside, the alliance for outdoor educators in Northern Virginia

Melanie views academic success as a community effort: there must be a connection among those impacted by student achievement: parents, teachers, community members, and of course, students. Motivating students to succeed is essential, and the environments around them must be built and supported by dedicated public servants who steward resources along a responsible path.

Melanie is focused on three core areas in her candidacy. First, she wants to cultivate holistic student environments – classrooms, playgrounds, activities, school gardens, and outdoor spaces are all part of the learning ecosystem. For example, Melanie champions scientific learning in outdoor classrooms. Students who interact in these spaces achieve learning goals essential to a 21st century economy, benefit from being in a healthy space, and discover lessons that anchor their sense of community. No matter where in Hunter Mill students live, their greatest challenge should be in understanding what array of choices lay before them, not if they’ll have those opportunities.

Second, Melanie is concerned with facilities and the future of FCPS infrastructure. No student should experience public schooling inside a trailer, and existing buildings need to be reviewed, refitted, or replaced. Joyful learning and a positive classroom experience is critical, and it is incumbent upon those responsible to identify every way to accomplish that. Facilities and trailers are a clear place to start.

Third, Melanie is focusing on equity and opportunity. That means honoring teacher and staff professionalism with opportunities for competitive pay and benefits, realistic expectations on their time, and access to vital instructional resources. For students, the promise of a Fairfax County Public Schools education must align with their strengths and cultivate their path into adulthood. Melanie believes that parents and families are what bring the whole learning experience together. Melanie has advocated with and for fellow parents since her first year as an FCPS parent. She will bring her steadfast commitment to listening to and working with parents to her role on the school board.

Melanie welcomes your questions and input about her candidacy – and for your vote on November 5th. Learn more at melaniemeren.com.

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FCPS School Board Election: Meet Laura Ramirez Drain

Editor’s Note: Two candidates are running for the seat of Pat Hynes, who currently holds the Hunter Mill District seat on the Fairfax County School Board. Earlier this year, Hynes said she would not seek reelection after serving on the 12-member board for the last seven years. This week, Reston Now will publish statements by the candidates.

Statements are published in the order in which they are received. With the exception of minor formatting edits, profiles are published in unedited form.

My name is Laura Ramirez-Drain and I am a unique political candidate running in my first election. I am an engineer, a small-business entrepreneur and a parent of two sons who attended FCPS from elementary to high school. I have been advocating for students for many years as an active PTA volunteer. As a busy, working mother I had never given any thought to running for office.

But as my children went through school, I realized that while FCPS has some of the strongest schools in the country too many children were able to fall through the cracks of that system. Furthermore, it became clear that the schools were veering away from teaching academic fundamentals and allowing a political agenda to permeate the curriculum at all levels. I felt that I could no longer sit on the sidelines and that the time had come for me to stand up and advocate for the policies that will ensure our students thrive.

I’m running to be a voice on the School Board for people of all backgrounds in Hunter Mill district. I strongly believe in the importance of high-quality public education for all students. As a naturalized citizen having immigrated here from Mexico, empowering minority students has always been a priority of mine.  I founded the Alcanzando Metas (Reaching Goals) Foundation to foster academic excellence in minority youth, particularly in STEM subjects. The Foundation helped over 200 students of color in Washington, DC and Birmingham, AL, successfully graduate from high school and pursue careers in their areas of interest. I plan to draw on that experience in helping to reduce the current racial achievement gap in Fairfax County schools.  Democratic-endorsed members of the school board have held a majority for almost 25 years but have done nothing to close this gap.

As committed as I am to equality of opportunity, I do not believe that “equity” has to mean changing boundaries of schools to achieve arbitrary ratios of students by ethnic group.  Students should go to schools in the communities that have nurtured them throughout their childhood. We should be building up all of our schools, and not spending resources to move children out of their own neighborhoods

Finally, I believe education is a partnership among students, teachers, and families.  I believe parents, as the first and educators of their children, should hold the primary responsibility for determining when and how their children should be educated on issues of sexuality.  As a school board member, I will commit to fighting to make Family Life Education opt-in, as opposed to opt-out. I will also do everything in my power to ensure that we are not inappropriately sexualizing young children via a politicized curriculum.

I look forward to continue getting to know the families of Hunter Mill District.  I want to make it clear that whether or not you have a child, grandchild, niece, nephew or other family member in FCPS, this election is critically important.  Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders and how we educate our future leaders is an issue that affects all of us. I hope you will visit my website, vote4laura.com, and learn more about my background and platform.

Photo courtesy Vadym Guliuk

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Del. Ken Plum: Elections Are Annual Events in Virginia

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Labor Day is the traditional time that election campaigns get underway, but in Virginia with an election schedule different from that in most states election campaigns seem to be continuous. Voters in most states have the year off, but Virginia voters this November will face ballots filled with candidates for local and state elections. And next year when all states have federal elections for members of Congress and the presidency Virginians will have those elections too. If the outcomes were not so important people in the Commonwealth could grow weary over all these elections. Some of the low turnout at the polls on election day could probably be attributed to voter fatigue.

If someone has not yet knocked on your door or sent you information in snail mail or social media, you need to get ready for the flurry of campaigning that is about to happen. On November 5 voters will elect all 100 members of the House of Delegates and the 40 members of the Senate. In addition to the many critical issues facing the state, the elections this year will determine if the Republicans maintain their razor thin majorities in both houses or whether the Democrats will take one or both houses. Polling indicates that the Democrats are in a very strong position for a coup. Find out your election district if you have forgotten by going to Voter Information.

At the local level in Fairfax County voters will elect their representatives on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and on the Fairfax County School Board. In addition voters will elect three at-large members of the School Board. The election also includes the sheriff and the Commonwealth’s attorney. That’s a lot of candidates to be knocking on your door, calling you on the phone, and sending you dozens of slick brightly colored post cards touting their strengths and sometimes alerting you to the weaknesses in their opponents. As has been observed many times the system may seem to have its abuses and flaws, but no one has been able to come up with a better system.

As a change-up to traditional campaigning I sponsor a free family picnic to get entire families involved for everyone is welcome and as a way to reduce the costs of campaigns to constituents who are expected to contribute at most events. Bring your family and join us at Temporary Road Park in Reston at the corner of North Shore Drive and Temporary Road on Saturday afternoon, September 7, 4 to 6 pm. Let us know you are coming at [email protected] so that we have enough food prepared. Other candidates are expected to come.

We can enjoy the end of the summer holiday season and the beginning of the fall campaigns in a relaxed environment. The issues before us are too important to not participate in the process regardless of your political persuasion. Our outdoor social can get us in the mood for yet another round of voting in Virginia.

File photo

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Five Candidates Vying for Reston Community Center’s Board of Governors

Five candidates are running for seats on the Reston Community Center’s Board of Governors.

First-time candidates Laurie Dodd and Robert Petrine join incumbents Beverly Cosham, Michelle Moyer and Paul Thomas in the race for three positions.

Voting begins on September 6. All properties in Small District 5 will receive ballots in the mail.

Mailed ballots must be received by 5 p.m. on Thursday, September 26. Walk-in and online ballots must be received by 5 p.m. on Friday, September 27.

The board is responsible for establishing RCC’s policies and guiding development of its programs and budget. The terms will be for three years.

Statements of candidate, which were provided by RCC, are below.

 

Beverly A. Cosham

What previous experience or participation in civic activities would you bring to the RCC Board? 

My previous experiences and participation in civic activities that I would bring to the RCC Board are my nine terms on the Lorton Arts Foundation, three terms on Advisory Board of ArtsFairfax, one term each on the Lorton Land Reuse Committee and the Actor’s Center, and nine terms on the Reston Community Orchestra and six terms on the RCC Board of Governors. I am a founding member of the Reston Chorale and the Reston Players.

How would your leadership enhance RCC’s efforts to bring the community together by providing opportunities for enriching leisure experiences and connections that reach out to all to foster inclusiveness and a sense of belonging? 

As an incumbent, I have experience creating and realizing Strategic Plans by working with the board and staff to create programs and partnerships to better serve the growing and diverse community. RCC is the heart of Reston and strives to keep Bob Simon’s Principles to ensure that Reston remains a welcoming place to live, work and play for all.

 

Laurie Dodd

What previous experience or participation in civic activities would you bring to the RCC Board?

I have lived in Reston for 23+ years, raising two children here. As an attorney with my own practice, I have been a leader in many community groups over the years. I served as board member for Reston Swim Team Association, Reston Children’s Center, and my church. I have volunteered with Coalition for a Planned Reston, Rescue Reston, Reston Runners, Embry Rucker Shelter, RA Community Gardens, and PTA. I have attended and testified at numerous meetings of RA, the Board of Supervisors, and the School Board. I recently ran for Hunter Mill Supervisor in 2019, finishing second among five candidates 

How would your leadership enhance RCC’s efforts to bring the community together by providing opportunities for enriching leisure experiences and connections that reach out to all and foster inclusiveness and a sense of belonging?

During my recent local campaign, I spoke with hundreds of Reston residents about their views. I know that RCC has truly been a center of our community, providing cultural, educational, and recreational experiences for many families, including my own. Reston residents want to be engaged in shaping the future of RCC. Just as my legal work has focused on helping underserved people and groups get what they need, I will work to ensure that RCC meet the needs of this community. I will bring fresh eyes to RCC programs, seeing that they are effective and efficient. RCC must provide opportunities for people from different social, economic, ethnic, and racial backgrounds to come together. Reaching out to get input from all is essential. As a board member, I will work diligently to help RCC serve the community, in collaboration with its many civic, cultural, and recreational partners. 

 

Michelle Moyer 

What previous experience or participation in civic activities would you bring to the RCC Board? 

After serving two terms on the RCC Board I am eager to continue this role with a community-wide focus. During my 30+ years in Reston, I have participated, and held leadership roles, in a wide variety of community organizations including Reston Masters Swim Team, PTA, All Night Grad Party committee, Reston Swim Team Association board, Fellowship Square Corporate board, cluster board, and Christ the Servant Lutheran Church. While I am still involved with some of these organizations, my main volunteer focus in recent years has been the RCC Board of Governors.

How would your leadership enhance RCC’s efforts to bring the community together by providing opportunities for enriching leisure experiences and connections that reach out to all and foster inclusiveness and a sense of belonging?

RCC has some important opportunities, such as the completion of the Aquatics Center renovation and meeting the needs identified in the Community Survey results. I look forward being involved with the next steps for RCC as we continue efforts to identify what the Reston community needs and desires and to determine how to best meet these needs within fiscal restraints. 

I am a Human Resources consultant, focusing on compensation and affirmative action. I have had my own practice for the past 28 years. This work requires analytical, communication, and creative problem solving skills coupled with the ability to work cooperatively with management teams and boards. This experience and these skills are directly applicable to the role on the Board of Governors. I would like to apply my business consulting experience and civic work to solicit input, anticipate needs, support programs, and continue valuable partnerships with other like-minded community organizations.  

 

Robert T. Petrine

What previous experience or participation in civic activities would you bring to the RCC Board?

My background is in finance. I have been the chief financial officer of two banks and have 20+ years’ experience as a federal bank regulator. I have served on several professional boards and committees that represent the educational and developmental interests of those organizations and those of the general public including the Education Committee of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. 

I regularly attend and participate at RCC and RA Board meetings to keep informed of what’s going on in my community; active in CPR, Reston 20/20, RCA, and Rescue Reston.

I’m a 43+ year resident; coached Reston soccer teams. 

How would your leadership enhance RCC’s efforts to bring the community together by providing opportunities for enriching leisure experiences and connections that reach out to all to foster inclusiveness and a sense of belonging? 

This is my opportunity to give back to the community that has provided my family and I with innumerable cultural activities and events that have broadened our perspectives to other cultures and activities which have deeply enriched our lives. I intend to use the executive skills and experiences that I have developed in corporate finance and strategic planning over the past 5 decades to ensure RCC’s fiscal responsibility and program effectiveness.

I now have the time and am willing to make the commitment to use these skills for the benefit of my community. To meet my latter objective, I would conduct outreach meetings with community groups and individuals to inform them of the vision, values, and mission of the RCC and, most importantly, seek their input of the scope, availability, and cost of RCC programs and activities.

 

Paul Thomas

What previous experience or participation in civic activities would you bring to the RCC Board?

My wife and I both grew up in Reston, and we are raising our kids (ages 14 and 18) here. I currently serve on the RCC Board of Governors, and I am president of the South Lakes HS PTSA. I have served on other nonprofit boards and one county task force:

  • Reston Community Center Board of Governors: 3 years
  • Reston Association Board of Directors: 4 years; VP for 2 years
  • Reston Historic Trust Board of Directors: 2 years
  • Reston Swim Team Association Board of Directors: 2 years; VP both years
  • Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force: 2 years

How would your leadership enhance RCC’s efforts to bring the community together by providing opportunities for enriching leisure experiences and connections that reach out to all to foster inclusiveness and a sense of belonging?

Our changing community provides challenges and opportunities for those who care about our remarkably diverse, inclusive community. As the demographics and geography of Reston evolve, we need to continue to create spaces, events, and programs that are essential elements of Reston’s unique sense of place. Some people see RCC as a recreation center. Others see it as a fine and performing arts center. For others, it is a provider of camps for kids or continuing education for adults. To me, RCC is more than a sum of its parts; the Reston Community Center is an organization that helps define, serve and unify our community. My deep involvement with many facets of the Reston community help me understand and support the experiences and connections that make Reston such as great place. As a member of the Board of Governors, I hope to continue helping RCC with its critical mission.

Photo via RCC

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Elections Officers Sought Throughout the County — The county is seeking elections officers for the upcoming election. The application is available online. [Fairfax County Office of Elections]

Dog Days of Summer Today in Reston Town Center — Dogs and their owners can take advantage of a special play zone today in RTC’s pavilion from 5-7:30 p.m. The event will be held weekly until September 4. [Reston Town Center]

Take Advantage of Savings During Virginia Annual Sales Tax Holiday — Virginia’s annual sales tax holiday runs from Friday (August 2) through Sunday (August 4). Customers will no longer have to pay the state sales tax on several items. [Fairfax County Emergency Information]

Photo via Dario Piparo/Flickr

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UPDATED: In Democratic Primary, Former Fairfax County Planning Commissioner Wins Hunter Mill District Seat

 

(Updated at 9:45 p.m.) Former Fairfax County Planning Commissioner Walter Alcorn easily won the Hunter Mill District Supervisor seat in Tuesday’s Democratic primary election.

With nearly 50 percent of the vote, Alcorn defeated four other challengers in the election, which has been fraught with issues like development, traffic and infrastructure needs.

He maintained his sizable lead throughout the night.

The Hunter Mill District seat was vacated by veteran politician Cathy Hudgins earlier this year after she announced her intention to retire.

Reston lawyer Laurie Dodd placed second in the race, with a distant 25 percent of vote. Other challengers included U.S. Air Force Veteran Shyamali Hauth, Comstock executive Maggie Parker, and recent college graduate Parker Messick.

Unofficial election returns are below:

His name will head to the ballot in November. Alcorn wrote the following after the results were released:

It was a privilege to have shared the primary field with a record number of diverse Democrats who believe cooperation, unity, empowerment, and inclusivity are critical to Hunter Mill’s success. Winning the primary couldn’t have been possible without the support of all the volunteers and our union brothers and sisters who gave so generously of their time to make this happen.

I look forward to moving forward with the agenda I laid out in my campaign – including managing growth, protecting our green spaces, fully finding schools – and will work with all community stakeholders to ensure our district is working together to remove barriers to opportunities for all.

In previous interviews with Reston Now, Alcorn stated that he wants the county to manage infrastructure as new development continues in the area. He also wants to improve citizen engagement in the planning and development review process.

He says his biggest concerns are Reston’s population growth, affordable housing, and redevelopment of the community’s village centers.

As Hunter Mill District Supervisor, Alcorn says that he will clean up phase two of Reston’s comprehensive plan, implement affordable housing land use reforms, develop a county energy and climate action plan, and improve the county’s affordable living strategy.

Over the course of his campaign, Alcorn picked up dozens of notable endorsements, including a nod from Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova.

In recent weeks, the local election was fraught with a dispute over whether or not campaigning was allowed at the Wiehle-Reston East Metro Station’s plaza, which is leased from the county to Comstock Companies.

Concerns voiced by Bulova over the company’s restrictions on free speech suggested Parker had an unfair advantage at the station.

Parker raised $258,225, with sizable backing from her employer. Alcorn raised $102,749 while the other candidates had significantly smaller coffers.

Overall, turnout in the county was just 5.4 percent. The Hunter Mill District had the highest turnout with 7.3 percent of registered voters participating.

Alcorn did not immediately return a request for comment.

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