Fairfax County School Board candidate champions family and hard work as keys to success

Fairfax County School Board candidate champions family and hard work as keys to success

Vinson Xavier is proud to be Asian American.

Since moving to the U.S. from Kerala, India, about 27 years ago to pursue a master’s degree in engineering, Vinson has built a career in information technology and founded a nonprofit think tank, the Indo-American Center, that he now runs as its executive director.

He established a home in McLean where he and his wife watched their two sons grow up and attend the University of Virginia to study computer science.

Vinson credits the values of family and hard work instilled in him during his upbringing as a conservative Catholic in India with his success, and he hopes to bring those values to Fairfax County Public Schools by becoming an at-large representative on the county’s school board.

“I strongly believe in family being the fundamental block, fundamental requirement for a kid to become successful,” Vinson said. “No matter what kind of programs we put them into, if you don’t have a loving, caring environment, it is difficult for a child to manage through the challenges of society.”

Vinson is one of seven candidates running for the Fairfax County School Board’s three at-large seats, which are up for election along with the rest of the board on Nov. 5.

While school board races are nonpartisan, political parties can endorse candidates. The Fairfax County Republican Committee has thrown its support behind Vinson along with fellow at-large candidates Cheryl Buford and Priscilla DeStefano.

The Fairfax County Democratic Committee voted on May 23 to endorse incumbent member-at-large Karen Keys-Gamarra as well as newcomers Abrar Omeish and Rachna Sizemore Heizer.

At-large school board member Ilyrong Moon has been endorsed by local Democrats in the past but missed the endorsement this year. He is still running for reelection.

Vinson has been consistently active in the local Indian American community since moving to McLean about 21 years ago, but he sees the county school board as an opportunity to become more involved in the larger community.

In particular, he believes his background as an engineer and information technology professional could be valuable on the school board at a time when the tech industry is becoming a major economic driver for Northern Virginia.

As part of his job running an IT consulting firm, Vinson regularly trains adults who are new to the field, and he has noticed a limited availability of talent to fill open jobs, even though an extensive background in engineering is usually not as necessary as basic math and logic skills.

He argues that FCPS could help teach students the skills they need to compete in a tech-centered workforce by providing more IT career training.

FCPS currently offers a variety of business and information technology courses as electives to high school students through its career and technical education program, which includes classes on information systems, web page development, cyber security, and other topics.

“[IT] is where more and more jobs are being created, but…I know from my personal experience we don’t have people,” Vinson said. “I advertise for a position, I don’t get people, and then all of a sudden, you depend on a foreign workforce…If you have people trained locally, we don’t have to worry about any of these things, and the Fairfax County system can start the change.”

Naming academic rigor as one of his top priorities in running for the school board, Vinson says that, while Fairfax County schools put more emphasis on collaborative work, the U.S. could benefit from incorporating more drills and other techniques popular in Asian education systems to ensure students retain fundamental knowledge in math, science, and even the humanities.

He believes academic success in FCPS is bolstered in part by the ability of wealthier families to send their children to private tutors or supplemental education programs, such as Kumon Math and Reading Centers, which emphasize individualized instruction and independent study through curricula structured around worksheets.

Both of Vinson’s children received supplemental education while in the public school system.

“From what I see, whoever is getting supplemental education outside of the school system, their fundamentals are strong,” Vinson said. “…Right now, only whoever can afford can send them to these external programs, the enrichment programs, so why don’t we incorporate some of these methods into the county curriculum so that everybody, all the kids can benefit?”

Fiscal prudence and transparency are also among Vinson’s campaign priorities.

Arguing that the school board should stay focused on academic matters, he calls the renaming of J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church to Justice High School a “frivolous” use of money and opposes the inclusion of topics like gender fluidity in FCPS’s family life education, or sex education, curriculum for being “based not on science but on extraneous ideology.”

The Fairfax County School Board voted on Oct. 26, 2017 to adopt the name of Justice High School in response to students and other community members who saw the use of a Confederate general’s moniker for the school as contrary to FCPS’s desire to promote diversity and equity.

The school board approved an FLE curriculum on June 14, 2018 that was amended to replace the term “biological gender” with “sex assigned at birth” to reflect the variety of factors beyond physiology that shape a person’s gender identity and be more inclusive of transgender students.

Medical organizations including the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have increasingly accepted “sex assigned at birth” as the proper way to reference the sex put on a person’s birth certificate.

Vinson also questions whether the FCPSOn initiative, which issues laptops to students, is a good, long-term use of funding, noting that IT systems can become expensive to maintain.

“There is definitely some need for everybody to have online access and things like that at home, but the Fairfax County school system cannot do all of that,” Vinson said. “…Don’t spend money on things that are not required. Right now, we are doing it. [It’s] misplaced priorities.”

Indian American Entrepreneur Vinson Xavier Running for School Board in Fairfax, Virginia

Indian American Entrepreneur Vinson Xavier Running for School Board in Fairfax, Virginia

Another Indian American has announced an intention to run for office.

Vinson Xavier has said he will run for an at-large seat on the Fairfax School Board in Virginia.

Vinson has been a resident of McLean, Virginia, in Fairfax County for over 21 years.

Originally from Kochi in Kerala State, India, Vinson is a serial entrepreneur, Asian American community leader and a free market advocate, according to his bio.

He has a bachelor’s degree in engineering from India and master’s degree in engineering from University of Nevada at Reno. He has run multiple small businesses in the U.S. and was the winner of the SBA Small Business Exporter of the Year award in 2013.

According to his campaign site, www.vinsonforschoolboard.com, Vinson lives with his wife and technology leader Asha. They have two children, Xavier and Stephen, who both graduated from McLean High School and later the University of Virginia. Xavier graduated in 2015 and Stephen will graduate in 2021.

During his children’s school years, the candidate has been a mentor to many students and has volunteered many hours in Fairfax County school programs, said his campaign site. Such activities include being a yearlong instructor for the ‘Hands on Science’ program at Haycock Elementary School, providing parental guidance to student teams in the Science Olympiad at Longfellow Middle School, and helping his son founding and successfully launching the Science Olympiad team at McLean High School.

His site says he is a problem solver. Vinson is a technology entrepreneur, founding Amaram Technology, and executive director of the Indo-American Center. He has vast experience with engineering and technology industries over the last three decades, that ranges from buildings and road construction to block chains and artificial intelligence, the site said.

As an insider in the technology industry, the Indian American has access to the network and knowledge hub enabling him to be a good mentor providing guidance to youth, noted the campaign page. He serves as a career counselor to many, especially STEM graduates, providing insights into industry workings and knowledge on best-suited career paths.

Vinson has substantial experience in providing IT training to individuals from across different disciplines. He has successfully facilitated the move of professionals from different fields who are interested in and wanted to pursue different types of IT jobs, without having to earn a degree in technology, his bio said.

His vision for STEM education is driven by an idea of blended educational programs that cover technical, psycho-social and experiential trainings, his page said. Such an approach liberates classrooms of traditional learning and nourishes informal learning environments that are technologically stimulating, it added.

Vinson engages closely with the Indian diaspora, and intends to leverage this expertise and help perpetuate it to mainstream America, according to his campaign site.

Vinson is a proactive leader in Indian American community activities nationally. In 2015, he started the nonprofit Indo-American Center, a free-market think tank spreading the message of liberty and small government ideals in both India and the U.S.

He is “determined to do whatever it takes to ensure that the socialist communist principles and a centrally controlled economy that he had to run away from in India for better opportunities in U.S., doesn’t follow him and take a foot hold in his adopted land,” the campaign site said.

The candidate has received several notable endorsements recently, including from former state Governor and U.S. Sen. George Allen and Susan Allen; Tamil Sangham leader Babu Vinayagom; St. Jude Syro Malabar Catholic Church community leader Bejoy Thomas; and Suburban Virginia Republican Coalition founder Mike Ginsberg.

Indian American Vinson running for Fairfax County School Board

Indian American Vinson running for Fairfax County School Board

The technology entrepreneur receives endorsement of Sen. George Allen, other key Fairfax County Republicans.

Virginia businessman Vinson Xavier is running for Fairfax County School Board.

If elected, the Falls Church, VA, resident will become the first Indian American to serve on the board of the Fairfax County Public Schools, the tenth largest school system in the United States.

Vinson, a technology entrepreneur, is running as an at-large candidate. The board has 12 elected members, including three at-large members, who serve four-year terms.

Every voter can vote for up to three candidates for the three at-large seats. The election is on November 5, 2019.

On Tuesday, Vinson was endorsed by the county’s Republican Party.

“I have been a Fairfax County resident for 22 years and my two children studied at county schools,” Vinson told the American Bazaar in an interview. “It gives me necessary insight and knowledge to help the public school system overcome some of the daunting challenges that it is facing now. We need a member on our school board, who will help Fairfax County Public Schools focus on their mission, safeguard the role of parents and live within our means.”

Vinson said he is campaigning mainly on three issues: Academic rigor, fiscal prudence and total transparency. “Protecting parents’ rights is extremely important,” he said, adding that more details about his positions and priorities are available on his campaign website: www.VinsonForSchoolBoard.com.

Vinson, who came to the United States in 1992 to pursue a graduate degree in civil engineering, has founded a number of companies, including Amaram, an IT services business that serves federal, state and local governments and Fortune 500 companies. He is also the founder and executive director of the Indo-American Center, a think-tank based in the Washington, DC, area that works to strengthen the strategic partnership between the United States and India.

The Fairfax County school system, the largest public school system in Virginia and in the Baltimore Washington Area, oversees nearly 200 schools and centers, with a combined student population of 187,000.

“The destiny of any country is built in classrooms,” said Vinson, who describes himself as “a social and fiscal conservative and free market, small government, small business and freedom thinker.”

Explaining why he decided to run for the school board, the businessman said he is strongly concerned about the declining school results, which, according to him, have gone down despite pumping in more money raised through higher real estate taxes.

The Kerala, India, -born technology entrepreneur said he would bring to the board skill, empathy and understanding of the issues to address challenges currently faced by students and parents.

Vinson is very critical of the way the board is being run. “We are going to take back the Fairfax County School Board,” he declared at a public meeting recently. “They are failing miserably. They are clearly under-performing in their fundamental responsibility of educating our children.”

The candidate leveled a litany of charges against the existing board. “They are misusing our money,” he said. “Their priorities are misplaced. I am mad as hell. I want you to be [mad as well].”

Vinson said he has the right ideas to transform the board and the state of education in the county. “I have some very clear ideas about how to improve our STEM education,” he said. “I have a serious interest in promoting US history education.”

Vinson has received the endorsement of several influential Fairfax County Republicans.

George Allen, a former state governor and US senator, was one of the first GOP leaders to endorse him.

“It is our pleasure to support Vinson Xavier for the important At Large School Board seat in Fairfax County,” Allen said in statement recently. “Susan and I sent our three children through Fairfax County Schools and we know the importance of welcoming parental involvement and honest high academic standards. We know Vinson shares our vision of a school system that rewards hard work, academic excellence and opportunities for all.”

The candidate is also backed by several prominent Indian Americans in the Fairfax County.

“He is a very passionate and committed leader, who has done a lot for his employees and the community,” said Sanjay Puri, founder and Chairman of the US-India Political Action Committee (USINPAC).

Puri, who has known Vinson for several years, said it is the candidate’s integrity and interest in serving the community that “has driven him.” The businessman has the right credentials and experience to bring changes to the board, Puri said.

Puneet Ahluwalia, a prominent Indian American Republican from Virginia, said Vinson brings a lot to the table.

“Vinson will be a great addition to the school board with his diverse understanding of business and culture,” said Ahluwalia, a member of the State Central Committee of the Republican Party of Virginia and the First Vice Chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee.  “Importantly, he truly represents the changed population dynamics of the Fairfax County.”

The Fairfax County Public Schools are among the most demographically diverse in the country. More than a quarter of the students enrolled in its schools are Hispanic and more than a fifth are Asians. African American students account for more than 10 percent of the county’s student population. In all, its students speak over 200 languages.

Born in Kumbalam, an island on the Vembanadu Lake in central Kerala, Vinson earned his bachelor’s in civil engineering from the Government Engineering College, Thrissur, in 1988.

He completed his master’s from the University of Reno, in Nevada, also in civil engineering, in 1995.

After working for the Maryland State Highway Administration, Metro Washington Council of Governments and Fannie Mae, he launched Amaram in 1998.

Vinson is married to his high school sweetheart Asha. They have two children.

Vinson Xavier, Candidate for Fairfax County School Board, At Large

Vinson Xavier, Candidate for Fairfax County School Board, At Large

“If you look at the numbers, 53% of of our real estate taxes go straight to the operating budget of Fairfax County Schools. That is over $3 billion, not including the infrastructure expenses. There is no real oversight. [School Board] meetings go on for hours without any discussion about academics.” Vinson Xavier

In this episode, Mike and Jill interview Vinson Xavier, candidate for Fairfax County School Board, At Large. Vinson is an engineer by profession and a successful IT entrepreneur. Learn about his beginnings in Kerala, India, his emigration to the United States, his commitment to education and his plans to stop the continuing overall decline in Fairfax County schools. 

Vinson’s website: https://www.vinsonforschoolboard.com

Vinson’s email: Vinson@VinsonForSchoolBoard.Com

Vinson’s socials: @vinsonforschoolboard

School board race comes into focus as Dems, GOP make endorsements

School board race comes into focus as Dems, GOP make endorsements

The electoral field for the 2019 Fairfax County School Board race looks to be set after the Fairfax County Democratic Committee made its candidate endorsements last week.

The Dems’ 12 picks came after the Fairfax County Republican Committee made its nine endorsements (the GOP did not endorse a candidates in three of the races) last month. While candidates can still file to run in any of the races, it appears the stage is now set for a fall election that will see many new faces on the 12-member board.

In school board elections voters select a representative from their magisterial district plus three at-large members. The Richmond Highway area’s two current representatives on the board — Mount Vernon District’s Karen Corbett Sanders and Lee District’s Tamara Derenak Kaufax— were each again endorsed by the FCDC.

Corbett Sanders, the current board chair, will be running for her second term. She will face first-time candidate Steven Mosley, who is likely to be a heavy underdog. A Democrat-endorsed candidate has won in Mount Vernon since school board elections began in 1995, and Corbett Sanders secured 62 percent of the vote in 2015. No website or social media pages appear to be setup for Mosley’s campaign yet.

Derenak Kaufax is unopposed so far. If that continues, it will be Derenak Kaufax’s third straight election without an opponent.

While both Corbett Sanders and Derenak Kaufax appear well-positioned to be re-elected, many current board members will not be returning in 2019. Of the board’s 12 members, six are not running for re-election for various reasons:

  • Mason District representative Sandy Evans is not seeking re-election
  • Dranesville District representative Jane Strauss is not seeking re-election
  • Hunter Mill District Representative Pat Hynes is not seeking re-election
  • Providence District representative Dalia Palchik is running in the Democratic primary to be that district’s Board of Supervisors Representative
  • At-large member Ryan McAlveen is running in the Democratic primary to be Board of Supervisors Chairman
  • At-large member Ilryong Moon did not get endorsed by Democrats this cycle.

Moon’s loss means the board will not have one of its most experienced voices. Moon has been a member of the board since 2004, and served for four years in the 1990s as well. Three times during his tenure Moon served as board chair, and he was also vice chair twice.

With Moon and McAlveen gone, at least two of the three at-large positions will have new occupants. Incumbent Karen Keys-Gamarra, along with newcomers Abrar Omeish and Rachna Sizemore Heizer, secured the three Democratic at-large endorsements.

Heizer had already been endorsed by Del. Paul Krizek and former Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland, among others. Omeish, who if elected would be the youngest member of the board, had been endorsed by Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova and former Congressman Jim Moran.

The three Democrats will be competing with three Republican-endorsed challengers: Priscilla DeStefanoCheryl Buford and Vinson Xavier. In 2017 Buford ran unsuccessfully for the 34th District seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, while the two others are first-time candidates for public office. Vinson was endorsed by former U.S. Sen. George Allen.

The full list of Democratic candidates for school board:

At-Large: Abrar Omeish
At-Large: Karen Keys-Gamarra
At-Large: Rachna Sizemore Heizer
Braddock District: Megan McLaughlin
Hunter Mill District: Melanie Meren
Dranesville District: Elaine Tholen
Lee District: TamaraDerenak Kaufax
Mason District: Ricardy Anderson
Mount Vernon District: Karen Corbett Sanders 
Providence District: Karl Frisch
Springfield District: Laura Jane Cohen
Sully District: Stella Pekarsky

The full list of Republican candidates for school board:

At-Large: Vinson Xavier
At-Large: Priscilla DeStefano
At-Large: Cheryl Buford
Braddock District: Zia Tompkins
Hunter Mill District: Laura Ramirez Drain
Mount Vernon District: Steven Mosley
Providence District: Andi Bayer
Springfield District: Elizabeth Schultz (Incumbent)
Sully District: Tom Wilson (Incumbent)