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Violand-Sánchez Elected School Board Chair Amid Controversy

The Arlington School Board today elected Dr. Emma Violand-Sánchez as its new chair and Sally Baird as its new vice chair.

The election follows the normal order of School Board succession — Violand-Sánchez served as vice chair for this past school year, and the vice chair is typically then elected to the chairmanship the next year. This time around, however, a faction of the Board was said to be intent on re-electing Abby Raphael as chair.

Word that Violand-Sánchez might not become chair sparked a mini controversy over the past two weeks or so. On June 23, Gabriela Uro, the chair of the Arlington Latino Network, sent an open letter to the School Board (republished after the jump) expressing “deep concern” that Violand-Sánchez might be passed over for the chairmanship. Uro also wrote that the Board “appears to be split along racial and ethnic lines.”

In the end, the School Board voted 4-0 to elect Violand-Sánchez as chair at its meeting this morning. In a statement, Violand-Sánchez said she was “honored” to be chair and promised to work to “provide optimal learning environments” for students as the school system addresses significant capacity challenges.

“I am honored to accept the chairmanship of the Arlington School Board,” she said in a press release. “Arlington Public Schools is a great school system. We are proud of our phenomenal staff, students and our diverse community. We need to continue to focus our work in the next year within the framework of our Strategic Plan to ensure that every student is challenged and engaged, that we eliminate achievement gaps, that we recruit, retain and develop high quality staff, and that we provide optimal learning environments to our growing student population to meet the needs of the whole child.”

The Sun Gazette has more details about the “internal battle” behind the vote.

The chair of the Arlington Latino Network sent the following letter to the School Board on June 23.

Members of the Arlington School Board,

The Latino community has been proud and elated in anticipation of the first elected Latino member of the Arlington School Board, Dr. Violand-Sánchez who currently serves as vice-chair, to be elected as the next chair in keeping with the common, long-standing practice for over 50 years. It is with deep concern, however, that the Arlington Latino Network writes to you regarding indications that, for the upcoming decision on July 2, 2012, the Arlington School Board might choose to deviate from this long-standing tradition in electing its chair.

It is our understanding that the current chair, Abby Raphael, intends to seek reelection to this position, and that she is seeking votes of other Board members to continue as chair for the 2012-13 school year. While we know that the vice-chair is not guaranteed to become the next chair, that has clearly been the norm rather than the exception for decades.

We believe that it would be most unfortunate for the Board to deviate from tradition at this time. While there are issues that will carry over from the previous year, this will always be the case. Dr. Emma Violand-Sánchez is more than qualified and capable to lead the School Board, and she has a collaborative style that will allow other members to focus and work on issues of their particular personal interest without compromising continuity. Her bilingual skills and personal knowledge of the Latino experience has brought to the APS Schools Board an unprecedented openness to and understanding of the Latino community. She has personally led efforts to help other board members establish new and important relationships with the Latino community, strengthening the legitimacy of the Board’s representation of the entire Arlington Community.

Minority groups make up a majority of the student enrollment in Arlington Public Schools, and Latinos are the largest minority group with 28 percent of total enrollment. The Latino parent community, which we represent and support, has found a strong and supportive voice in Dr. Violand-Sánchez. She has over 35 years of educational expertise, is the only member of the Board who has a Ed.D., and has a proven record of being a champion for Latino, language minority students with special needs and other minorities who have yet to equally reap benefits from APS’s quality instructional programs. Her proven ability to engage in issues that affect the entire Arlington community and her ability to build bridges are vital to keeping a united community moving forward. Her qualifications and important contributions have been acknowledged by others as demonstrated by her recognition as an Exemplar Virginia Community College Board Member.

We believe that Dr. Violand-Sánchez’s leadership as chair is particularly valuable during a year when the Board is expected to receive the results of two important and comprehensive reports on the instruction and services provided to two of the lowest performing groups of students – students with disabilities and students struggling to master the English language. Her knowledge and professional experience in education uniquely qualify Dr. Violand-Sánchez to lead the Board in next year’s deliberations on these important matters.

We are especially concerned that the Board appears to be split along racial and ethnic lines. Board member James Lander has publically stated his intention to nominate Dr. Violand-Sánchez to be the next chair but we understand that the three remaining, non-minority members of the Board have indicated their intention to support the current chair for re-election. Failing to elect Dr. Violand-Sánchez as chair will send a message to the school community that runs counter to the Board’s stated commitment to racial and ethnic equality and cultural competence, and will undermine the positive public image it has built through its ongoing courageous conversations. A split board will pose an additional hurdle in the coming year, when the board’s agenda already includes contentious and complex issues. Finally, for the Latino community the decision will be seen as a vote against Dr. Violand-Sánchez and signal that the school board is not ready to have a Latino as chair of the board, despite having outstanding qualifications.

We urge you to continue in the tradition of the School Board and elect Dr. Violand-Sánchez as chair for the 2012-2013 school year. She is qualified and ready to take on the responsibility and our community of parents and students are solidly behind her. Doing this will demonstrate to the entire Arlington community and to the region that the current School Board possesses the cultural competence to respect and fairly treat colleagues that come from diverse backgrounds.


Gabriela Uro
Arlington Latino Network

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