Vinson X. Palathingal 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, Palathingal 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.
Palathingal 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,” Palathingal 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.”
Palathingal 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 Palathingal 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.
Palathingal 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, Palathingal 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,” Palathingal 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, Palathingal 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 Palathingal’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,” Palathingal 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 Palathingal’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.
Palathingal 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,” Palathingal said. “…Don’t spend money on things that are not required. Right now, we are doing it. [It’s] misplaced priorities.”