Rief elected as School Board chair. Rule change led to second leadership election in 2023.

Rief elected as School Board chair. Rule change led to second leadership election in 2023.
Michelle Rief, Ph.D., was elected to a one-year term as School Board chair.

By Amy Will | awill@alextimes.com

The Alexandria City School Board is under new leadership following the unanimous election of Michelle Rief, Ph.D., as chair at a July 20 meeting. Kelly Carmichael Booz was elected vice chair in a 5-4 vote at the meeting.

Both will serve one-year terms, which became effective immediately after the votes.

The Alexandria School Board amended its Board Policy BCA at a January 5 meeting, establishing a new timetable for leadership elections beginning in July, according to a press release from Alexandria City Public Schools. Prior to the change, leadership elections were held at the beginning of the year.

The decision to amend Policy BCA and move the Board’s organizational meeting from January to July was first discussed on Dec. 15, 2022. At that meeting, concerns over the disruption the changing of leadership can cause in the middle of a school year was mentioned during the presentation of proposed policy revisions. Board Member Tammy Ignacio stated during the December 15 meeting she had been the one spearheading the push for change, hoping to create more continuity moving forward.

“I can’t even imagine saying ‘You’re the chair and oh, here’s the gavel. You go ahead and run this meeting.’ I think it looks sloppy, I’m just going to say it. And, I think that we can look more professional and come on the dais more professional if we’re making the change in the summer, with a less impact on staff,” Ignacio stated at the December 15 meeting.

Rief was unanimously elected School Board chair at the beginning of the July 20 meeting, succeeding Meagan Alderton, who had just been reelected back in January. Board Member Abdel Elnoubi voiced his words of support upon his nomination of Rief.

“It’s my honor to nominate Dr. Rief who is an exceptionally diligent and dedicated board member, very thoughtful and has a deep understand- ing of the issues,” Elnoubi said.

Elnoubi emphasized Rief’s proactive attitude and devotion to the school community.

As a parent of three ACPS students, Dr. Rief will bring valuable insight to leadership. I believe that she is a collaborative leader and has a genuine commitment to finding the middle ground,” Elnoubi added.

Rief later thanked her predecessor and family and addressed her fellow Board members.

“It really means the world to me. Serving on the Alexandria School board for the last 4.5 years has really been one of my greatest honors and that’s because our mission is to edu- cate and support every young person in our community,” Rief said.

Following an immediate seat change with Alderton after the vote, Rief called for vice chair nominations.

Board member Tammy Ignacio spoke up, announcing her support for Kelly Carmichael Booz. Her col- league Willie Bailey, Sr. followed with a nomination for Christopher Harris.

Ignacio emphasized Booz’s previous contributions and deep knowledge of the issues before the board in her endorsement.

“I have nominated Kelly Booz because I feel that she’s shown a strong dedication to the school division as evidenced by her previous experience as a School Board member and her involvement in the budget and policy committee. Her commitment to educating the public and the School Board on important issues, such as staggered terms, high- lights her desire to improve the school system,” Ignacio said.

Ignacio pointed out that like Rief, Booz also has children in the ACPS school system and has been invested in its success both as a parent and a Board member.

“She understands the needs and concerns of students and families, which will ultimately inform her decision-making as vice chair. … While it is acknowledged that Ms. Booz and I may not always see eye to eye, I believe that this diversity of opinions will only make our team stronger by working together and focusing on the best interests of students and staff,” Ignacio said.

The voting process was conducted in two rounds – the first round being for Booz. Members were asked to say either “yes” or “pass” when their turn came.

Members Alderton, Bailey, Greene and Harris all stated “pass,” while Rief, Ignacio, Booz, Elnoubi and Ashley Simpson Baird voted “yes.”

The vote was then called for Harris. The members who voted “pass” and “yes” were re- versed in that vote.

Booz was elected to vice chair, replacing board member Jacinta Greene, in the 5–4 vote.

Although Bailey did not comment following his nomination of Harris, he did interject after the voting process to thank the previous Board chair and vice chair for their service.

“Can I take 11 to 30 seconds to just say thank you to Meagan and Jacinta for the time that they spent?” Bailey continued, “I learned a lot from both of them. And especially Meagan because she gave up even more time, you know, to try to be there and help us and guide us along the way as we were in the process of selecting a new superintendent. So, kudos to her because she has little kids at home and believe me, I know for someone that doesn’t have kids at home it is a lot….So, I just want to say thank you to them.”

In an interview on Tuesday, ACPS parent Stephanie Booth shared her enthusiasm for the new leadership team.

“I’m positive about the election that happened last week. I think Dr. Rief has served multiple terms now and has good experience on the school board. … She has that sort of insider information that she gets from being an elected official on the school board, but she’s also a parent in the community; I’m hoping that she can work to bridge that gap that happens between ACPS and the Alexandria parents,” Booth said.

Although optimistic about the year ahead, Booth shared her concerns regarding a lack of communication in the past. “I think communication and transparency are a major issue with ACPS,” Booth added. Booth referenced the controversial changes made to the Encore teacher program this spring, which will reduce the number of Encore teachers and require some of them to travel between multiple schools. “For me, supporting teachers is always primary and listening to teachers about their needs in the classroom,” Booth said.

ACPS science teacher David Wainwright said he is also pushing for more transparency and hopes a shift in leadership will usher in constructive change.

“I feel like it’s a good thing. I believe it’s always good to get fresh leadership in, just for new perspectives and things like that,” Wainwright said.

Both Wainwright and Booth also noted the newly elected leaders’ positions on collective bargaining.

“I know that Michelle Rief and Kelly [Booz] are both pro-union, pro-labor. They are pro-collective bargaining. So, from that perspective, I’m happy,” Wainwright said.

Booth said she was also in favor of collective bargaining.

“I hear a lot of teachers call- ing for collective bargaining. So, I’m hoping that is given serious consideration by the city” Booth said. “And, I think just what the teachers need to continue and their mission in the classroom is, should always be, [the] primary concern.”

Bridget Shea Westfall, a parent and strong advocate for ACPS educators, echoed the support for Rief and Booz, not- ing several goals she would like to see accomplished with both women at the helm.

“I would like an emphasis on retaining staff and leader- ship. I would also like to work on K-12 literacy and math skills, more mental health re- sources and greater emphasis on special learning needs of language learners, students with disabilities, accelerated learners and post-secondary options like vocational education for those students not choosing college,” Westfall said.

Rief has lived in Alexandria since 2006 and was first elected to the School Board in 2018.

She was reelected in 2022 and has held leadership positions in the Mount Vernon Community School PTA and the Alexandria PTA Council.

In a statement released on Monday, Rief expressed her appreciation to the ACPS community.

“It is an honor to serve the City of Alexandria as the new School Board chair for the up- coming school year. I want to thank our outgoing chair, Meagan L. Alderton, and our outgoing vice chair, Jacinta Greene, for their service. I look forward to collaborating with Superintendent Dr. Melanie Kay-Wyatt and her leadership team for the benefit of all of our students. My colleagues on the Board have my heartfelt gratitude as we continue our work together for excellence in education and unwavering support for our young people and their families,” Rief said in the statement.

Booz has lived in Alexandria since 2010 and previously served on the Alexandria City School Board from 2013 to 2015. She was elected most recently in 2022 and also served on the Douglas MacArthur Elementary School Advisory Committee for the school rebuild.

Booz also conveyed her enthusiasm for the upcoming year and her appreciation for her predecessors in the statement.

“As the incoming School Board vice chair, I look for- ward to continuing to work with my colleagues to serve our community. We all share a similar goal to advance an educational environment in ACPS where all students feel empowered and supported so they can learn and thrive. I am so thankful to our outgoing Chair Alderton and Vice Chair Greene for their service to our community,” Booz said in the statement.

The first School Board meeting of the 2023-24 school year is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 24.