Q&A With At-Large Schoolboard Candidate Lolita Mancheno-Smoak

Fairfax Station Resident Lolita Mancheno-Smoak is vying for an at-large seat

Fairfax Station resident Lolita Mancheno-Smoak, a trained engineer and community volunteer, hopes to dip into the realm of public office for the first time in the upcoming Fairfax County Public School Board elections. Mancheno-Smoak, 52, is running an at-large school board seat. She is seeking the Republican endorsement.

At A Glance:

Educational Background:

  • Doctorate Business Administration/Human Resource Management, Nova Southeastern University, FL, 2008
  • MS, Engineering, University of Miami, FL, 2003
  • BS Engineering, Columbia University, NY, 1981

Community Involvement:

  • Volunteers as board president for Hispanics Against Child Abuse & Neglect
  • On the Advisory Board of CrisisLink, which assists the Northern Virginia community in suicide prevention

Campaign website: 

  • http://www.lolita4schoolboard.com/

Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
I’m an immigrant. I came to the United States when I was 4 years old. We lived in New York. I went to the Columbia School of Engineering. Once I finished Columbia, I went to work and progressed in various positions and got my masters in engineering. As I got older I got my doctorate in business.. As life has it, I’ve lived up and down the East Coast having moved for various jobs. I’ve been here, in Fairfax County, for 13 years almost.

Most recently, I was working was at the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction as a Director Information Services. My contract terminated in December. The whole concept of running for office came up. A friend introduced me to Tina Hone, who is the incumbent at large a school board member. I had not been aware that it was a viable position and up for election. That’s what opened the door to my interest, I’ve always been a volunteer actively involved in community activities. I’ve always been focused on getting an education. I had been engaged with young kids. That continued my passion. This kind of resonates with the hope and the prayer that I believe that once person can make a difference.

Do you have any children that attended the Fairfax County Public School system?
Well I’m a little older. I married into having children. They are all grown up and I’m a grandmother now.

Have you ever run for office?
No. This is the intimidating part. I have never run for public office anywhere. This is my first attempt. It’s based on faith and passion to do something that would help our community. It’s a totally grassroots effort. I pray that the word gets out that I’m a candidate who is focused on being responsive to the parents, students, and taxpayers. There are still some areas that need improvement.

What are some of the issues that you feel are most important?
The dropout rate in some of the minority groups. The whole issue of responsive leadership is one thing and making sure. I’m a hard-wired engineer. I’m focused on being data driven.

Another is the budget and the efficient use of it. Fifty-three cents of every dollar goes to the school system’s budget. That money should go directly to the classroom and not contribute to administrative overhead. That doesn’t give us the return on investment that Fairfax county residents would expect.

We are the most highly educated population and an educated consumer. We need to make the best use of limited funds. With my background in business and having been a change agent, I come to it with a different perspective. We need to have an independent audit. The 2.3 billion dollars that is the system’s budget, does not have an audit. That is shocking. When you think about it, the 47 percent which constitutes there of that does in fact incorporate auditing oversight. Otherwise you are susceptible for fraud, waste and abuse.

Our schools need to be very innovative in ensuring that students are better equipped to perform when we have these demands in our economy…It’s unacceptable that we have one in 4 children in the minority group not graduating from high school. I think that if we unite and get all folks engaged. We are all contributing to this budget. We maximize this output to us. If we are making this contribution, we want to make sure that all children get the type of education. I see this because I teach young adults in business and it hurts to see that there are failure in forming a proper. We had to outsource entire projects overseas because we couldn’t find any engineers. It’s appalling that to see that students aren’t gravitating to the sciences and math. We need to attract these students to these fields.

Do you think the school system needs to incorporate additional programs in order to attract students to the science/math fields?
Well, I think that there are some initiatives that are being basically being executed through the department of education with the STEM program. At the same time, we need to gear and focus on the fundamentals and ensure that we assess ourselves.
We are talking about ensuring that each child, when they graduate, they have some clear, fundamental skills to read and write at the 8th grade level.
In terms of actual tactics, I’m all about ensuring that the money goes to the child first and no on administrative costs. We need to scrutinize what is in place and assess it to its effectiveness. Are the programs in place effective? Are they giving us the bang for our buck? We need to do an internal assessment on seeing what the programs are. Cover the gap that was missed on the initial program. Having a systemic, methodical approach to assessing the effectiveness of the yield on a particular program is the first step.

What do you think about the board’s decision to close Clifton Elementary?
Well, I think that was a very complicated issue. I think that it speaks to the responsive leadership perspective and transparency. There is a necessity and an obligation to be responsible to the community. The school board is a servant of the people. It’s not the voice of the administration. The school board is the conduit of all the residents. I want to be the voice of the community that brings in the voice of the parent of the community and the taxpayer.

Do you think that school board members should be sending emails to each other during public meetings?
That is being discussed in courts. When there is a meeting going on, the issue came up, were they having a secondary meeting while in the process of having a meeting? That needs to be decided by the courts. But there is law that governs that…
Though we have access to this technology, we shouldn’t be using the blackberry as a secondary communications vehicle when we are being filmed or in public. It’s a professional discourtesy. It should be what you say and it should be totally transparent to all the audience. To have a secondary meeting is disrespectful and I don’t consider it appropriate.


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