On School Board Service: Tina Hone

One-term member says county needs more urgency on closing achievement gap, hasn't ruled out serving again

One in a series of interviews with Fairfax County School Board members.

Martina Hone's childhood neighborhood in Chicago was a "tough census tract."

She remembers the violence, and the teachers who weren't prepared to deal with the neighborhood's problems.

Hone said Fairfax County has children who face, to a lesser extent, the same type of challenges; children from other socioeconomic or ethnic backgrounds who face a lack of resources and community encouragement.

Those children were what made Hone run for school board in 2007.

"I wanted the opportunity to speak for kids that are more like me, and I think a lot of them that live in Fairfax County are not spoken for," said Hone, a Falls Church resident whose mother was African-American and father was a Yugoslavian political refugee. "It's easy to forget that there are children struggling in this county."

During the past four years, Hone, 49, has fought to give "voices to the voiceless" and to close achievement gaps. She's had mixed success as she closes her term as an at-large member Dec. 31.

When she joined the board, Hone was seen as somewhat of a fringe player. Often blunt, many expected her to be the lifetime odd vote on 11-1 decisions; a few advised her to wait six months before speaking out.

"I actually created space where some other members of the board found room to be more forthright. … I changed the conversation on the board itself, and that wasn't something that was on my to-do list," she said.

While Hone celebrated a few victories on achievement issues — the board's goals and beliefs mission statement has language about the achievement gap and  some schools reversed test score trends — she was often frustrated by what she calls a "lack of urgency" on the issue.

"The issue of closing the achievement gap is often thought of as getting everyone to minimal proficiency or getting them to pass the [Standards of Learning]," she said. "But that's just minimum proficiency, that's a D-, surely we expect more than that."

The gap in achievement isn't the only one facing the county, she said. Too few minorities are admitted to the or the school's early gifted and talented program. And a decision to switch to half-days on Mondays hurt the county's neediest students who benefit from more instruction time.

While many praised her dedication, others thought she sometimes acted rashly to make a point, most notably in what Hone calls her "hypocrisy" amendment last February,

The amendment came when the board was exploring ways to implement full-day kindergarten, which required $7 million to $8 million. The system found the money, but Hone says it wasn't, and still isn't, clear where it came from. That amount could have supported summer school, Hone said.

"I supported full-day K. It's not that I don't think those things are important. The affluent part of the counties were told wait your turn, and they complied. They waited their turn, and then when their turn came, oops, we don't have any money," Hone said. "I think we have to be sensitive from not pulling the rug under the kids in more affluent parts of the county." 

But the way the system found that money wasn't right, she said.

"People think I'm anti-language. … My father was a linguist. He spoke 18 languages. It's not that. It's that [the goal of] making sure kids are proficient in more than one language comes after closing the achievement gap. That's the thing I thought was really important to remind folks. I had to make that point."

Getting those kinds of answers is something Hone has said she's struggled with during her tenure, specifically, getting Superintendent Jack Dale and staff to explain what other options they considered when presenting plans to the board.

"It's not micromanagement to say, 'Tell me what else you considered and why you rejected it,'" Hone said. "After a while you get to a point where you trust your staff but we never had the opportunity to build that type of trust because there was always a resistance to show what else you considered and why that wasn't a good choice."

She said that resistance affected the board's ability to make decisions on several issues, including the grading system, school start times and most recently

"Give me some other options and you know what? I may or may not conclude that video surveillance is the right option … but give me an option … objective experts from both sides," Hone said.  "Resistance to getting this type of objective data is what creates the backlash in the community. The community wants to be heard and God bless the people in Fairfax County, they will be heard."

Many of those people gave Hone a standing ovation as the board passed a resolution honoring her for her service at the board's last regular meeting Dec. 15.

Serving a single term wasn't part of Hone's original plan: She thought she'd serve much longer, and then gain enough knowledge to turn another system around.

"I think I can do more for kids by going back to my roots as an advocate," Hone said. "I don't want to have to compromise. In this bouquet of flowers I was the tiger lily and I was OK with that. But I think the tiger lily needs to be off the board. The things I did on the board would be better done as an advocate than as a board member."

For now, anyway. She hasn't ruled out serving again.

"I love public service," Hone said. "I don't know if I love politics as much as I thought I love politics, but I know I love feeling like I contributed to the greater good."

To hear Hone speak more about her term in office, watch the video in the media player above.

John Farrell December 26, 2011 at 05:06 PM
FCPS is far, far better for your service, Tiger Lilly! We'll miss your vote and know your voice will continue from this side of the dias.
Virginia Fitz Shea December 26, 2011 at 08:56 PM
"It's not micromanagement to say, 'Tell me what else you considered and why you rejected it,'" Hone said. Precisely. The agenda items leave out too much background information. Even if the current school board members profess satisfaction with the amount of explanation given for proposed actions before the school board, the members of the public are left at a severe disadvantage in making informed comments about controversial issues. The Fairfax Education Coalition (FEC) has urged the school board to ask for more information: "Post additional agenda materials to the FCPS website to include: Staff assessment of alternatives to recommendations, leadership team memos, and studies and analyses used to develop recommendations. "Following is language from the Strategic Governance Operational Expectations (Relationship with the Board): " …[T]he Superintendent will: … offer professional advice to the Board with appropriate recommendations based on thorough study and analysis supported by ample information, including assessment of alternatives, to enable Board members to make informed decisions. "School Board members and the public occasionally are not provided relevant or significant staff analysis prior to a School Board decision on the issue. All documents today are electronic and it is easy to post them on the FCPS website. If documents cannot be made publicly available for privacy or other reasons, they should be identified and the reason given."
Steven Greenburg December 26, 2011 at 09:49 PM
Tina has served as a champion for those in the community who cared to challenge the status quo, as our children deserve that much. She was a teacher early in her professional career, and continued to teach us the most valuable of lessons as a school board member. Those who wish to stand up for what they believe is right and just should look to Tina, as a model. Tina will be missed on the Board, but my guess is that she will make good use of her popularity and public persona to continue the work she began with FCPS, advocating for those who most need a voice. The teachers thank you, Tina!
janet otersen December 27, 2011 at 02:46 PM
There will be a huge void with Tina gone. She is not only a tiger lilly-but she changed the way things were done. She was the first SB member to stand up to Dale and staff and question their motives and ask the tough questions. We had and still have a dysfunctional school district where Dale and staff present their version of an issue--the public never gets an honest and open discussion on very important matters impacting our students. I hope with this new Board, they will continue to challenge the data and let's have open and honest discussions about how to make our schools better--even if we have to talk about unpleasant things such as achievement gaps. Hiding failures and glossing them over with positive spin is a disservice to this community. I hope Tina stays involved-we desperately need her advocacy.
Sheree Brown-Kaplan January 01, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Tina has been a voice for at-risk students not merely for the sake of principle but because there is a a real need to address the difficulties facing them. She asked the tough questions and refused to accept a failure to be accountable because it is the obligation of the school board to help struggling students have better outcomes. Tina expected honest and open discussions of issues based on real data and reasoned options. It's been to our students' detriment that her inquiries and efforts were often met with a lack of enthusiasm and, at times, outright opposition by staff and some other members of the school board. The issues Tina addressed continue to need champions and I can only hope that new members of the board will focus on the educational disparities faced by minorities, disadvantaged students and students with disabilities -- including the disparity in disciplinary actions. Much is also riding on the board's ability to find a new superintendent that truly engages in an effective dialogue with the board. FCPS needs more than a commitment to closing the achievement gap; it needs a superintendent that will be responsive to the board as the public's representatives. Sheree Brown-Kaplan


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