Updated: Jul 6, 2021
Readers of CHQ coverage of constitutional issues may recognize the name Ilya Shapiro from
past articles quoting him approvingly, but in this matter we are not looking to Mr. Shapiro’s legal scholarship. Rather, we are looking at his current campaign for one of the most important political offices in his small community of Falls Church, Virginia – school board.
Not everyone has the contacts to announce their candidacy on the pages of the Wall Street Journal, but Mr. Shapiro’s July 2, opinion piece should serve as a model for every concerned parent and taxpayer who wonders what the devil is going on in their own community’s schools and resolves to fix it.
As Mr. Shapiro explained, a controversy over renaming schools currently named for Founding Fathers -- Thomas Jefferson Elementary and George Mason High School – brought to his attention how out of touch and unresponsive his local school board had become:
The board paid a consultant to conduct a survey on whether those Virginian Founding Fathers’ slave ownership meant their names shouldn’t adorn school buildings. Three-quarters of the community members surveyed wanted to keep the names; the margins were smaller but still significant for current parents, students and staff. Overall, 56% of survey respondents supported keeping the names, about a quarter wanted to change them, and the rest had no opinion. Yet the board unanimously voted to rename.
That caught my attention. Regardless of the merits of Jefferson and Mason, how could elected officials be so oblivious to public sentiment? And this had nothing to do with national politics; Falls Church went 80% for Joe Biden in November, so the renaming survey didn’t reflect some inherent partisan divide.
The nomenclature brouhaha was the tip of the iceberg. Discontent had been brewing among parents about the lack of school-board response to all sorts of concerns, and I was starting to think about getting more involved.
Mr. Shapiro is now running and to give you some idea of how badly the current school board has lost the community’s confidence, not one of the incumbents is running for reelection.
As Mr. Shapiro explained, his campaign has universal themes that could apply to any school board campaign – any other office for that matter:
My campaign themes are accountability, responsiveness, transparency and independent thinking. A local reporter recently asked me whether I was running a “process” rather than a “substance” campaign, and I guess there’s something to that. Falls Church is known for its excellent schools and community engagement, so the only radical change we need is a school board that takes its supervisory authority seriously.
It is notable that Mr. Shapiro is not running as a “turn back the clock” candidate who wants to revisit the current school board’s silly virtue signaling on renaming the city’s schools – he’s running to ensure that Falls Church schools maintain high standards of education for all students and that they are run in an open, accountable and transparent manner.
We think the local reporter who asked Mr. Shapiro whether he was running a substance or process campaign was missing the point – in the case of school boards and many other local offices process is substance.
No one is going to vote for failing schools, wasted tax dollars and virtue signaling follies, but that is what they get when local school boards aren’t transparent, responsive and accountable and are managed in pursuit of political agendas rather than excellence in foundational education.
These aren’t Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal themes, being open, accountable, transparent and responsive are universal responsibilities of school boards and other public offices. Given the vast sums spent on public education, taxpayers should expect nothing less than excellence, and the opportunity to have access to an excellent public education for their children is the right of every American parent.
To learn more or support Ilya Shapiro's campaign for Falls Church School Board go to https://www.shapiro4fallschurch.com/ .
George Rasley is Managing Editor of ConservativeHQ.com. A member of American MENSA, and former White House, House and Senate staffer, early in his career he served on the staff of the Indiana House of Representatives as assistant to the Chairman of the House Education Committee.
Falls Church Virginia
Thomas Jefferson Elementary
George Mason High School