Mount Vernon Matters

Corbett Sanders Reflects on Lengthy School Board Service

Karen Corbett Sanders (Courtesy photo)

Editor’s Note: Mount Vernon’s long-serving member and former school board chair Karen Corbett Sanders recently announced she will not run again when her term expires. A familiar face at most Mount Vernon events, not just school-related, Corbett Sanders has been a key player in Mount Vernon affairs.

By Karen Corbett Sanders, Mt. Vernon School Board Representative

Alexandria, VA – It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve the community where I was raised, Mount Vernon.

As a student at Groveton High School, I got a glimpse into the role of the school board when I served on the Student Advisory Council as the representative of my school when Mount Vernon was experiencing a turnover of housing, and the total school population was 128,000. Today, parents of 181,000 students entrust their children with the schools in pre-k through 12th grade.

I did not appreciate the breadth and depth of the school board until I began my service almost eight years ago. The board’s role is to hire the Superintendent of Schools, oversee a 3.5 billion dollar budget larger than most corporations, adopt the annual capital improvement plan, adopt education policy initiatives to improve student outcomes, and provide constituent services.

Although the past few years, as our county, state, and nation dealt with a global pandemic, have been challenging, my experience on the board has been extremely rewarding, especially when I was able to work with parents to ensure that their children’s school experience was the best it could be by connecting them with the resources to address their concerns. The first day of school is always special, but it was incredibly heartwarming the day that we were able to open our schools to returning students after the pandemic closure.

The worst days are when we are informed of a student’s death. I continue to be impressed with the work being done daily in our classrooms and targeted student interventions to remediate the learning gaps.

We have increased graduation rates, and Fairfax County students continue to outperform the state and the nation on SAT scores and graduation rates. Before the pandemic, all of the schools in Mount Vernon had significantly improved SOL scores and bridged the achievement gap. I am optimistic that we are on track to do so again.

Today, our students face increased challenges due to mental health and anxiety. Contributors to this are the impact of social media on mental health and concerns over gun violence and drugs. I was pleased to be the primary sponsor of curriculum changes that included gun safety and opioids in our health curriculum. We have also added more mental and behavioral health resources in each of our schools. With Hannah Graham in mind, I was able to change our curriculum to include bystander awareness and intervention training for sexual assaults and to hire our first Title IX coordinator.

Recognizing that Fairfax County Public Schools depend on the generosity of the Board of Supervisors and the taxpayers of Fairfax County, I have been committed to strengthening that bond and ensuring that we honor this investment by enacting changes to our budgeting process to increase transparency and linkages to the strategic planning process and increasing transparency in contracting. On March 9, the board supported changes in our contracting policy to require board approval for 75% of all contracts awarded by the school system. Working with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, we were able to fully fund our schools’ operating budget and invest in the renovation of our schools and sports facilities, including stadium bathrooms and school enhancements.

I am forever grateful for the honor of serving the residents of Mount Vernon on the school board. I look forward to continuing to contribute to the community that I love.

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