2024-06-17 1:13 AM

Guest Commentary: The Influence of Women Is Evident Throughout Falls Church

By Cindy Mester and Marybeth Connelly

Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”

The City of Falls Church is what it is because of the commitment of its women. Women are involved in every part of the community — churches, clubs, political parties, volunteers, employees of city and schools, and serving in elected office.

There are more women leading in Falls Church than ever before. As Deputy City Manager and Vice-Mayor of Falls Church, it’s an honor for us to serve in a community where women are in all the places where decisions are being made.

What follows is a long list of women — who are working in conjunction with another long list of men. Wherever decisions are being made, we need women and men. We need representation from all areas of the community.

We need to tap into the life experiences of many people to lead our community to a brighter future. This is how we build an inclusive community.

We have the most women ever serving in elected office. Joining Marybeth on City Council are Letty Hardi and Debbie Hiscott. Our School Board includes Shannon Litton, Laura Downs, Susan Dimock, Sonia Ruiz-Bolanos (and up until recently Shawna Russell), and Elisabeth Snyder serves as student representative. Jody Acosta is our Treasurer. The Planning Commission includes Melissa Teates, Cory Firestone Weiss and Andrea Caumont.

Falls Church is an example of the Council (elected)-Manager (administrative) form of government founded in Staunton, Virginia on April 2, 1908. Many City departments are led by women. In addition to Cindy, we are in good hands with City Attorney Carol McCoskrie, City Clerk Celeste Heath, Police Chief Mary Gavin, CFO Kiran Bawa, Housing & Human Services Director Nancy Vincent, Library Director Jenny Carroll, Communications Director Susan Finarelli, and Becky Witsman in Economic Development. These leaders are backed up by dozens of women in key jobs who make great things happen for residents all over the City.

Board & Commissions led by women include Urban Forestry chaired by Kathy Philpott Costa; Humans Service Advisory Committee chaired by Nicole Newman; the Library Board chaired by Stephanie Oppenheimer. Janis Johnson served as chair of the Police Use of Force Committee. Megan Dolan is the chair of the Electoral Board. The membership of these committees generously share their lifelong expertise with the community.

In the FCCPS the schools benefit from the leadership of Chief Operating Officer Kristen Michael, Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School Principal Valerie Hardy, Jessie Thackrey Preschool Director Angela Atwater, Executive Director of Special Education Rebecca Sharp, TJ Assistant Principal Amanda Davis, Attorney Patricia Minson, School Board Clerk Marty Gadell, HR Director Amy Hall, Finance Director Mechelle Coppock, Transportation Director Nancy Hendrickson, Day Care Director Katie Clinton, Director of Equity and Excellence Jennifer Santiago, Academic Directors Julie Macrina and Jeanne Seabridge. Teacher leaders are far too many to be listed, and they are the heart of our community. Falls Church has one private school, St. James, whose principal is Sr. Mary Sue Carwile, IHM.

The School Board relies on advice from Advisory Committees. Laura Gould chairs the Health & Wellness Advisory Committee; Leanne Berthiaume chairs the Day Care Advisory Board; Shilpa Satoskar chairs the Gifted Education Advisory Board; Jennifer York chairs the Special Education Advisory Committee. The School Renaming Committees are chaired by Jamie Argento-Rodriguez and Sherry Witt. The work of School Affiliated Organizations create essential partnerships every year, and we are grateful to HS PTSA president Mary Asel; Henderson PTA president Vikki Spencer Ehrlich; Elementary PTA President Jenn Beck; Athletic Boosters President Becki Creed; Band Boosters President Ari Autor; Choral Boosters President Becca Tice.

So many non-profit organizations in Falls Church are led by women — Creative Cauldron is the creation of Laura Hull; Falls Church Chamber of Commerce is synonymous with Sally Cole, and Barbara Benson is the Chair; Falls Church Education Foundation is led by Debbie Hiscott and Cecily Shea. Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation is led by Irene Chambers, Rebecca Tinner Stotts, and Nikki Graves Henderson; Tinner Hill Music Festival is led by Tori McKinney. Adena Williams & Suzanne Hladky created “Better Together” Falls Church to support businesses and families. Peg Willingham continues to chair the Falls Church Democratic Committee. Adriana Palacios is serving as president of the Volunteer Fire Department. Nancy Brandon, Julie Krachman, and Lindy Hockenberry are leading the Citizens for a Better City Youth Representatives Initiative to prepare leaders of the future. The Women’s History Group led by Sally Ekfelt includes brilliant women on board, making sure to recognize those amazing women who came before us.

These are the women who make decisions, make things happen, make a difference. The whole community benefits because each of these women bring considerable expertise and true dedication to the places where decisions are being made.

Cindy Mester is Deputy City Manager and Marybeth Connelly is Vice-Mayor of the City of Falls Church.





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