When advising Susan Pauling on her run for the Center District seat on the Fauquier County School Board, Warrenton Town Councilman Sean Polster (at large) encouraged her to get out and talk to people, to find them where they gather. She remembered, “I told him, ‘I’m not going to stalk people.’”
She’s over that now. After securing 117 of 125 signatures last week, she laughed, “I’m past worrying about stalking people.”
After all, she said, communicating is what she is all about. “I’m a communicator. I want to be the positive voice for change on the school board.”
Pauling said she has no problem with the current school board representative for Center District, Brian Gorg, who is stepping down at the end of the year. “I always felt he had the best interests of the children, the best interests of the community at heart. I felt he was fighting for our kids.
“When Brian announced he wasn’t going to run again … nobody was coming to the table.”
Pauling said she had been approached before about running for a school board seat, but this time she decided to jump in. She said, “I’ve been an involved parent in the schools since we moved here 11 years ago. That’s what I bring to the job.”
Pauling and her husband live in Warrenton and have four children: a son who just graduated from Fauquier High School, two other sons entering 10th and sixth grades, and a daughter going into third grade at Brumfield Elementary.
Pauling feels that her education and experience have prepared her for a seat on the school board.
A psychology major in college, Pauling started her work life as a drug and alcohol case manager; she worked with inmates who had abused drug and alcohol. “I worked with them one on one, occasionally presenting cases in court.”
Next, she was hired as an intensive supervised bail officer in Pennsylvania to create a program that addressed jail overcrowding. She worked with inmates convicted of non-violent crimes, misdemeanors, and those who had medical needs or were pregnant. Pauling was charged with finding ways to get inmates out of jail, into house arrest and other programs. “I had to learn all about the technology to make the program work. I advocated in court, met with the district attorney, judges, went into home to do inmate checks … Nothing pushed me out of my comfort zone more than that experience.”
Pauling said she stayed long enough in that job to get the program set up and working. “I resigned when I got pregnant. A bulletproof vest only stretches so far,” she admitted.
While she was raising her children, she went to massage therapy school and worked in that field up until 11 years ago, when she and her family moved to Virginia.
She said all these different experiences have added to her skills. She is confident she has the “ability to gather information and resources to make an informed decision. I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers. If someone asks me a question, I may have to say, ‘let me check on that. Give me a 24-hour window to get research together and consider it.’”
One thing Pauling does know: Good school administrators can make all the difference. She acknowledged the slew of new principals that will be taking the reins at Fauquier schools in July. Grace Miller Brumfield and H.M. Pearson elementary schools, Warrenton Middle School and Fauquier High School will all have new principals when the students return to school in the fall. Pauling said she understands the difference a strong leader can make. “When Nick Napolitano took over at Taylor Middle School, the whole culture changed.”
School board goals
Pauling said that the strength of a school’s PTO is a good indication of parent involvement. “At schools where parents are involved, the PTOs raise money – for technology, for playgrounds.”
Pauling understands that partly as a result of this disparity in parent involvement, not all schools have the same resources, and that’s something she’d like to change. “At some schools, the kids can’t use the playground because the equipment is broken.” She said that some schools have lots of computers, others don’t.
“I am running to represent Center District,” she said, “but I want to work for the school division as a whole.” She pointed out that she wants to represent not only every school, but all students – “high achievers, mainstream, and those who are struggling.”
She’d like to improve communication between schools, so that if one school is excelling at something, winning awards, everyone can benefit from those ideas. She feels the schools are siloed, each trying to solve the same problems separately. “We need to borrow from our best for the good of all. We need a better way to communicate among schools.”
She uses the Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) program that began at Taylor Middle School as an example of a good idea worth sharing. According to its website, WATCH D.O.G.S. is a K-12 program that invites fathers, grandfathers, uncles, or other father figures to volunteer at least one full day at their child’s school during the school year.
“It’s a great program,” said Pauling. “It started at Taylor, then Brumfield started doing it.”
Pauling asked, “How does Brumfield Elementary School get so many people to come to their events? People come in droves. The overflow parking isn’t enough. Let’s share their ideas with other schools that have less parent participation.”
As a school board member, Pauling would also like to have an influence on how technology is used in the schools. “I’d like to reevaluate how children are using devices in the schools.”
She asks the question: “When kids bring their own devices to school, is that adding or subtracting from their education?” Pauling believes that “we are competing for the attention of our children. The subject comes up in almost every conversation I have with other parents.”
She feels that teachers need better, more consistent guidelines on the use of electronics in the classroom.
Pauling is also advocating for increased communication from the school board. “There needs to be more transparency about school decisions. Sean (Polster) has done a good job of opening up about what is going on in town. Why can’t we be more open about school board meetings? Why can’t we livestream meetings? I’m having to look at newspaper reports to find out what’s going on.”
Pauling acknowledges that families are busy. “Our families are hopping. I’d like to make it easier for people to get more and better information about what’s going on in the schools. The more tools we use to bring people into the conversation, the better.”
Another point in her platform is students’ mental and physical health. She is concerned about depression, anxiety, the potential for suicide. “Something needs to be done. How can we bring resources to bear on those issues?”
“My kids don’t want to use the bathroom in school, because of all the vaping.” And she says that statistics show that drunk driving is up in Northern Virginia. “What resources are we bringing in as a community, to make sure children and parents have what they need?”
Pauling is looking forward to adding her voice to the school board. “Running scares me more than the position. It’s intimidating.”
And connecting with constituents is time consuming too. “I’m a woman of many words,” she admitted.
She expanded her canvassing beyond her own neighborhood. “I wanted to move beyond people who already know me.” She says she took a map when she knocked on doors, because some people don’t know what district they are in.
Of course, some folks were reluctant to offer their signature to allow her to get on the ballot. “Some won’t sign,” she said, “They say, ‘I don’t know you; I don’t know what you stand for.’ That’s OK. We’ll get there.”
She finished collecting all her signatures over the weekend – then celebrated with ice cream at Carousel. She’s been using social media to spread the word about her candidacy. “I was up until 1 a.m. creating my logo,” she said.
Pauling has compared notes with Rachel Bongiovi, who is also running for the Center District school board seat in November. “We agree that one of us will be on the board; the other will remain a fabulous resource. Whether I’m on the board or not, I will always be involved.”
Reach Robin Earl at email@example.com