City of Fairfax Schools Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Pajardo decided that she wanted to become a teacher when she was 8 years old.
The youngest of eight children, she picked up Spanish, French, and other subjects from her older sisters after they came home from school, and she loved the teachers that she had in primary school.
“I wanted to read and learn, and I wanted to share that same passion with others,” Pajardo said.
Pajardo committed to that career path, earning a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Virginia and becoming an elementary classroom teacher in 1981.
She taught kindergarten as well as first, second, and third grades before serving as a resource teacher and eventually transitioning into administrative roles, working in the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) system for 34 years until retiring as assistant superintendent for human resources in 2015.
City of Fairfax Schools hired Pajardo as its assistant superintendent in August 2015.
Now superintendent, a position she took over in August, Pajardo got some recognition for her lifelong work in public education on Nov. 9 when she received an educational leadership award from the nonprofit Leadership Fairfax.
“To me, it’s important that I help grow leaders, that I help find folks who want to have a large and lasting impact on students and adults in schools,” Pajardo said. “This [award] gives me another platform for me to remind people that public education is important and leadership is important.”
Pajardo was one of five people or organizations honored by Leadership Fairfax with the 21st annual Northern Virginia Leadership Awards, which were given out during a luncheon held at the Waterford at Fair Oaks.
Pajardo was joined by Fairfax County Office of Public Private Partnerships (OP3) executive director Patricia Stevens and 2030 Group president Robert Buchanan, who respectively won the trustee leadership and regional leadership awards.
Leadership Fairfax selected the Reston-based information technology company Leidos as the 2017 recipient of its corporate leadership award, and the Arc of Northern Virginia, which supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, for its nonprofit leadership award.
Now in its 30th year of existence after being founded in 1987 by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Fairfax is a nonprofit aimed at training, connecting, and supporting community leaders in order to create change in Fairfax County and Northern Virginia.
Leadership Fairfax started hosting the Northern Virginia Leadership Awards 21 years ago to recognize local residents, companies, and nonprofits that make significant, positive contributions to their community through civic work and volunteering.
Leadership Fairfax solicits nominations from members and alumni, along with anyone in the general public, and a committee made up of members of the nonprofit then selects the winners.
“They aren’t doing it for the recognition,” Leadership Fairfax president and CEO Karen Cleveland said of the award recipients. “That’s one reason we would like to hold them up and just thank them, but we also want to hold them up as examples to other people of what you can do and that you really can make a difference.”
Nominated by former Mount Vernon High School principal Nardos King, Pajardo won the 2017 educational leadership award for her ability to work with limited resources and dedication to helping all students, especially those who are economically disadvantaged, FCPS Region 1 assistant superintendent and Leadership Fairfax Institute graduate Douglas Tyson said when introducing her at the luncheon.
Leidos was nominated for the 2017 corporate leadership award by Cornerstones CEO Kerrie Wilson. Leidos is a corporate partner of Cornerstones, a Reston nonprofit that provides support and advocacy for people in need of food, shelter, and other human services.
With 32,000 employees working in 428 offices in more than 30 countries, Leidos has contributed over $1 million and thousands of employee volunteer hours to local nonprofits, including Cornerstones, Habitat for Humanity, and the Greater Reston and Northern Virginia Chambers of Commerce, according to the program distributed at the Northern Virginia Leadership Awards luncheon.
According to Leidos director of corporate responsibility Mike Coogan, the company focuses its service work on education, ethics and leadership programs, basic community needs and wellness, and national security personnel and their families, including both active-duty and veteran military service members.
Prompted by an employee who lost a family member to a heroin overdose, Leidos launched a campaign earlier this year to help tackle the opioid crisis, which has led to 91 Americans dying every day from an overdose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In addition to raising awareness, Leidos is working with the Chris Atwood Foundation, the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), and the local, state, and federal government on community education, prevention, and recovery initiatives, including training for how to use the overdose medication naloxone.
“It’s a pleasure to have the Leadership Fairfax organization recognize us for what we’re doing in the community,” Coogan said. “…We’re taking that same passion that we use to solve those challenges for our customers and helping to solve the challenges to our communities where we live and work.”
The Arc of Northern Virginia won the nonprofit leadership award for supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities by providing resources and working to improve access to community services, including housing, education, employment, and healthcare.
Started 55 years ago by families advocating for their children before special education became widespread, the Arc of Northern Virginia is the local chapter of a national organization and serves Fairfax and Arlington Counties as well as the Cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, and Falls Church.
“To receive this recognition by Leadership Fairfax in front of the business community…and our nonprofit peers just means the world to us,” Arc of Northern Virginia executive director Rikki Epstein said, adding that she hopes the award will let more people know about the organization’s existence.
Leadership Fairfax’s trustee leadership award serves as a lifetime achievement award for an individual who has demonstrated strong leadership in their local community, while the regional leadership award recognizes someone whose impact extends beyond Fairfax and into the greater Washington, D.C., metropolitan region.
As the Fairfax County OP3 executive director, the first person to ever hold that position, Stevens helps the county build partnerships with the private and nonprofit sectors to address critical community needs, such as children’s healthcare or environmental restoration, and improve residents’ quality of life.
Before she was appointed to OP3, Stevens served as the regional director for human services in North County and facilitated the Wiehle Avenue Steering Committee, where she helped establish development guidelines for the future Metro station area and created a hypothermia shelter planning team that worked with Cornerstones to open the county’s first overflow shelter in 2007.
Stevens also worked as a policy analyst for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services before joining the Fairfax County government.
“It’s very humbling,” Stevens said of her trustee leadership award win. “I am very honored to have the privilege to work for Fairfax County, where I also live, and to be recognized by an organization that does such wonderful work in leadership and has been important in my career is a tremendous honor.”
Though he was not present to accept the regional leadership award in person, Buchanan earned the recognition for his work as a principal for the real estate development company Buchanan Partners and president of the 2030 Group, an association of metropolitan area business leaders focused on finding regional, long-term economic development and quality-of-life solutions.
“Buchanan has demonstrated the ability – and the credibility – to bring government, business and nonprofit leaders together to start a dialogue around key issues,” his biography in the Northern Virginia Leadership Awards program said. “The impact of his work is not to be measured in immediate outputs, but in the long-term health and welfare of the region.”