Omar Fateh, a 2008 graduate of Falls Church High School, is running for an at-large seat on the Fairfax County School Board, he says, because he understands the issues faced by minority students and wants to close the achievement gap.
Other issues he wants to focus on include strengthening community engagement and equitably managing the school system’s growth.
After he graduated from Falls Church High School, he attended Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and transferred to George Mason University, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public administration.
At Falls Church High School, Fateh acknowledges he was “an average student at best” and had to retake the standardized tests after failing the first time. He received tutoring assistance from members of the community and religious institutions, which helped him recognize the value of community support.
He also benefited from NOVA’s Pathway program, which helps students make the transition from high school, succeed in college, and transfer to a four-year institution.
“I would tell every student to attend NOVA. It’s the best choice possible,” he says. He worked as a NOVA Pathway advisor for two years and currently works as a campaign finance analyst with the Federal Election Commission.
All three at-large school board members – Ilryong Moon, Ryan McElveen, and Ted Velkoff – are seeking re-election, as is Mason school board member Sandy Evans.
Fateh is running for an at-large seat because he doesn’t want to run against Evans, whom he says “is doing a wonderful job.” He also says he wants to represent minorities and students with special needs throughout Fairfax County and tackle the achievement gap on a countywide basis.
“Fairfax County is a very diverse county, and the school board is not really representative of that,” he says.
Many African American and Hispanic students have test scores well below their peers, and Fateh believes they need someone on the school board to represent their interests. As a Pathway advisor, he saw many minority students at NOVA who had to take remedial courses, which meant a longer, costlier stay in college.
These students need more support, but, “it’s really hard for them to get help from parents who work multiple jobs,” he says. “It’s a luxury for these parents to go out on a weeknight to a PTA meeting.”
With the school system facing a shortfall – since the Board of Supervisors last month approved a FY 2016 that failed to accommodate the school board’s funding request – Fateh realizes it’s not the best time to create new programs.
He would encourage community organizations, religious institutions, and other private groups to provide tutoring and other services to students who are lagging behind academically or have limited English skills. “We can tap into community resources for a lot of these issues,” he says.
When it comes to overcrowded schools – a big issue in Mason – Fateh says he would oppose new residential development until school capacity is addressed.
He would seek more input from students, as well as parents, when considering solutions to overcrowded schools. “You have to go into the community – and reach a larger crowd – to get a better understanding of what the community wants,” he says. “Community engagement is really important.”
Fateh’s campaign kick-off is May 17, 1-3 p.m., at George Mason University, HUB Room 1. He hopes his campaign will draw people who don’t traditionally vote and who feel they are underrepresented.
When faced with the prospect of campaigning all over the county, Fateh says, “I have all the energy in the world. I went to high school not that long ago; I can connect with students.”