Violand-Sánchez Elected School Board Chair Amid Controversy

by ARLnow.com July 2, 2012 at 3:55 pm 5,618 42 Comments

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

  • APS fan

    The chair of the school board is largely a ceremonial position, and there’s no reason why Violand-Sanchez can’t do it as well as Raphael. If anything, new leadership can only be a good thing, given the mistakes made by Raphael and Baird, who have been such big boosters of the poorly-performing Superintendent Murphy.

    • you got that right

      This was an extraordinary attempted power grab by Raphael. Sad, because I used to like her.

      I didn’t know she was one of the boosters of Murphy, who by most accounts is underwhelming as a leader, educator, and administrator.

  • APSnumberone

    The bigger story is that the SB renewed Dr. Murphy’s contract, which was supposed to be up in 2013, and extended it until 2016. Frightening.

    • APS fan

      That is a big story! Did they do that today? It wasn’t on the agenda.

      • Arlingtonbug

        Agreed especially since another of his asst sups left as of july one…tech guy… And he continues to hire almost exclusively from outside…this is going to be a very bumpy year in schools…anyone who thinks otherwise is naive.

        This guy lacks social skills and basic human decency when dealing with most staff…hates any kind of conversation of it shows disagreement with him or is not good news.

        • Resident and teacher

          Lots of teachers ate going to be unhappy about Murphy’s contract being extended.

  • Arlingtonian

    Why should anyone pay attention to an organization representing an ethnic group that is supporting a member of its own group for an elected or appointed position?

    Consider the source. This is clearly a matter of ethnicity, rather than of merit.

    It is more meaningul, and much less frequent, when such organizations support the elections or appointments of people who have other ethnicities or no ethnicity.

    It is even more meaningful, and exceedingly rare, when such organizations support the elections of people who have other ethnicities or no ethnicity over people of their own ethnicities.

  • John Fontain

    The Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations? Sounds similar to the International Association of Association Associations.

  • SomeGuy

    I like this observation: “Minority groups make up a majority…”

  • Kate Lassiter

    This is the same SB who is dealing with overcrowding by adding capacity to elementary schools 5 years from now, and not addressing it at the middle and high schools. Trailers at WL and it was just rebuilt – it’s a shameful inability to plan.

  • chris

    who cares.

    • Lee-n-Glebe

      Lots of people.

  • Stuart R.

    Unbelievable! This is a sad day for Arlington Public Schools. All the bashing folks I suspect are the sit on their butt dead-weight folks that Murphy is kicking into gear. The rest of us know that the school system has made unprecedented gains in every area it has focused on. With Raphel at the helm of the school board amazing progress was made. It is truly wrong that they gave into the racist threat and elected the sweet, delightful, woman who has difficulty speaking 3 coherent sentences in a row.Now our only hope is things don’t slide backwards too far.Sad, sad day for Arlington.

  • Cleveland

    If there’s anything to be said about Dr. Violand-Sánchez’s upper lip, it’s that she should maintain a stiff one. Politics can be dirty for someone with any background or last name. But unfounded charges of racism by ALN appear to be worse.

  • Steve

    So sorry for Arlington! So sorry for a board that let itself be bullied by racist threats. We don’t know why you hesitated to have Dr V-S take over the helm. It really isn’t our business. I hope it all works out for Arlington. I lost respect for the Latino cause when they waved around discriminatory and racist allegations when they don’t have a clue what really transpired. Shame.

  • I agree that the SB contnues with their poor decision making. It is horrible that they renewed Patrick Murphy’s contract. He is one of the worst things to happen to Arlington County. I just don’t understand how the SB can stand behind him. He has alienated parents, staff and teachers. Has anyone ever gotten a straight answer from him?

    • Check it out

      Very difficult to get a straight answer from the Super. Not sure what his strengths are or what he stands for. 15 principals have left as well as 6 other senior staff members. What does that say about the Murphy? Also, the problem with Mrs. Sanchez is she practices nepotism by having her son employed by the county and strong arming principals into keeping him hired.

      • Louise

        15 principals have left? Could you be more specific? Which principals? Which schools?

  • APSnumberone

    Dr. Murphy is the bigger story here. Teachers in Arlington universally do not respect him. Huge exodus of good administrators under his 3 years at the helm. Why in the world does this board extend his contract? Most of us have been waiting for that one last year to finally be up so the board could quietly let the contract go and find a real leader, not just a P.R. man. “Check it out” is exactly spot on regarding Murphy. The scariest part was that the SB just surprised the community with this–no one saw it coming. Very, very bad news for Arlington schools.

  • Check it out

    The School Board was hoping the overcrowding issue would tire everyone who cared out and just snuck in Murphy’s renewal and it worked. They love him and they seem not to be phased by the number of senior staff jumping ship in numbers never seen before. Remember, most SB members run unopposed and get elected.

  • APSnumberone

    I realize that several of these board members hired him so have a vested interest in his success, but seriously, how can they not see what the APS staff does–that he offers little substance and focuses not on instruction but constant controlling of the message. Good PR is the goal, not educating children. It’s very frustrating from a staff or parent point of view.

    • Michael P

      I know two board members–they have wrangled with the Dr Murphy perceptions constantly. And have checked out EVERY complaint from named sources. I believe most complaints come from poor performance review personnel or parents or staff not getting their agenda forwarded.Give them some legitimate complaints

      • Michael,

        I don’t buy your argument for a moment. Let’s take the story of the Williamsburg principal who abruptly departed. The school board showed absolutely no impartiality there. Before even speaking with the principal about the issues, the school board automatically threw their support behind Murphy. Had they taken even a day to investigate it would have shown they wanted to hear all sides …but apparently they did not. It took a huge protest from parents to the school board to even get outside counsel. Their original stance was that underlings reporting to Murphy would “investigate.” Really!

        There have been many great staff members who have left (and some bad ones). The exodus is not because of higher than usual retirement and natural attritition. APS has been loosing some great staff because of Patrick Murphy’s poor leadership.

        That the school board chose to renew Muprhy’s contract a year earlier and during a time when parents and staff wouldn’t be paying attention smacks of lack of transparency.

        In the Arlington way, perhaps they should have included questions on their leadership and Patrick Murphy’s (and allowed for open ended responses) in the site based survey’s. How convenient that they don’t do this.

        Many parents and teachers are turned off by Murphy’s lack of ideas, his bullying tactics. Have you ever gotten a direct answer to any questions posed by him. He’s the great evader.

        The fact that the school board members are constantly wrangling with Dr. Murphy perceptions says a lot. Do they really want to continually expend energy investigating his poor behavior?

        I’d love to know how you know how they have checked out EVERY complaint from named sources. Did you have a check list? Are they are sharing confidential information with you? Could it be that while they self report they are investigating all complaints throughlly they aren not really. I had an issue and they totally did not do follow-up. Seems they have already staked out their position about Murphy and don’t want any information contrary to that.

  • Michael P.

    Sorry about your experience Arl-mom–that doesn’t fit with the people I know. I don’t have any more info than you have, or at least anymore than you can have if you follow the school board closely .
    You brought up Williamsburg- that was truly a bizarre situation. How could the sb side with her? After her very public, somewhat crazy rant it was obvious there was instability there. Did you read her rant? even if she had a legimate complaint she lost all credibility in how she handled it. Is that who we want managing a school? She had to go.
    Dr Murphy is actually doing extraordinary things. I have seen the results reports. It’s sad the house needed some thorough cleaning out first. There were a some people not willing to pull their weight, I think.
    I have seen several things from my untrained perspective I would label as mistakes, but none worth letting him go.
    Personally, I don’t have a clue why anyone would want to be a Arlington school board member-certainly not for money or glory.
    Good luck getting your issue handled. Maybe if you approached with an attitude of support and cooperation. If you haven’t yet. They really do seem to be good , hard working caring people, I can’t believe they would ignore a complaint from anyone (except an anonymous, critical and complaining one).

    • Kenny Powers

      Michael and ArlingtonMom are both right. Williamsburg Principal rant was out of control – even if she was right (and I don’t have info to decide that). She lost all credible by her flaming, school-wide email. That said, Dr. Murphy is a disaster. They way he tried to ram through block scheduling is but one example – (much like his contract renewal) it was at first attempted on the downlow, only holding public input hearings after all hell broke loose. I know very good teachers and at least one very good Principal who think Murphy is trying to “Fairfax” Arlington schools. We don’t need that. I went to FFX schools, if I wanted that for my daughter, I”d move back there instead of sending her to school in Arlington. No matter what anyone thinks. re-upping his contract a year early when school is out/parents are ungplugged is a big red flag. School Board pulled a fast one as they knew the pushback they would get. Power run amok.

    • You assume that an attitude of support and cooperation works with this school board. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha..


  • Michael P.

    One more thought on the matter. In my company and many organizations, contract renewal deliberations start a year before renewal. If all parties are satisfied with the package it gets approved. Several local school systems are losing their superintendents. Losing Dr Murphy to another school system would be a disaster. A school system loses in any transition, at least in the beginning. New leadership brings new turnovers. He is a good superintendent, not perfect, but much better than most of the local school systems. Compare his renewal package to any other local school system and see if there is a reason the board acted quickly and decisively. It doesn’t always mean they are being sneaky and underhanded. I think they acted in the best interest Arlington.

  • Pat F.

    Re: block scheduling: research can be found pro and con. I suspect that they had no idea it would cause an uproar until people united and complained. Then they back down. Every decision before a board usually comes via advisory committees. This, I suspect, was one that went through the pipeline without protest and then blew up when it met the general school population. It happens.
    I agree with Michael. Dr Murphy should stay. Check out Alexandria superintendent package. I bet dollars to donuts Dr Murphy was being courted by other local systems. Good job Board.

    • Resident

      Frustrated by the comments re cleaning house. Arlington has its share of difficult personnel issues, but, on the whole, a hard working, committed group of educators. Murphy does not recognize those in the ranks who do the grunt work behind the scene and treats people with disrespect if they disagree even when done so respectfully. Seen it. Smart people who work well with others who have been literally thrown under the bus to keep Murphy afloat are demoralized. Some of them have left because of it, including Senior Staff members and principals who deserved better.

      School Board will get what they paid for…unfortunately, so will our students.

  • Pat F

    Resident, When I hear legitimate complaints from senior staff and principals that have left I will stand up and take notice. So far all departure gossip seems to have little to do with Murphy. And more to do with the Virginia retirement changes and also how Arlington can’t keep up with its neighboring counties in regard to pay and benefits. In that regard I know the school board and Murphy try to squeeze blood out of the budget to give personnel raises. Too many demands on the budget, too many loud mouthed citizens who cry at any hint a service may be cut, and too little support from the County and State gov’ts. I wonder if there is a way more of us could be supportive and advocates for the system and superintendent instead of complainers and a drain to the system.
    And by all means voice your complaints with names ,dates etc to the Board and to Murphy. Give them concrete information to work with.
    By the way, I am not an Arlingtonian, nor do I have kids in the system. But I do work closely with the schools (not Murphy or the board). Most of what I hear is positive. I think you are in the minority. But by all means talk to them.

  • Resident

    Not sure how you can work closely with schools but not live here, work for APS or have kids in APS and know about what is happening.

    Seems you are talking to parents? Talk to staff without fear of retribution for them and it is a different story than the special interest parents he says yes to without knowing all of the pieces and consequences ….

    And those thinking budget might want to look more closely at the money he directs to having outsiders advise him on Arlington matters…. Money that could be spent on additional teachers or more after school activities to help kids feel connected or teacher training or just about anything else.

  • Pat,

    You say that you are neither an Arlington resident nor a parent with children in APS schools. I am in the schools alot and I assure you that I have heard LOTS of grumbling from many people about Murphy and first hand experience with him.

    As an unscientific but telling commentary, the only comments made here that support Murphy are from you and Michael.

    Those with negative things to say about Murphy/SB are 9. (APSfan, You got that right, APS number one, Arlington bug, Resident & Teacher, Kate Lassiter, Check it out, Kenny Powers, Arlington Mom).

    So 2 in favor of Murphy, 9 Not in favor.

    I think this is an inkling of the “majority” view of Dr. Murphy and SB in the larger community. BTW, I don’t know any of the other posters and there was no consipiring in posting. I think there is a strong undercurrent against Murphy. To think otherwise is naive.

    I have read alot about Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State Coach, and it still amazes me that Sandusky still has supporters. They believe in his innocence, despite the mountain of evidence to the countrary. Sorry, but it reminds me of Murphy supporters.

    • Michael P

      WOW Arlington Mom,
      I just checked the site, mildly interested as most posters are, to see if any more people responded. Of course, everyone else has moved on to new news.
      I agree more posters have posted against Murphy–Does that make him a bad guy? (and BTW no one else is reading this anymore except old posters)
      It doesn’t make him a bad guy. Or a good guy.
      Psychologists often point out the most vocal are often the most dissatisfied; others really don’t care.So here you are, very unhappy with the superintendent…
      let me ask you…
      have you gone to school board meetings?
      have you watched them online or on tv when they are broadcasting?
      Have you gone to school board open office hours?
      Have you scheduled appointments or voiced your concerns with the person who can make the most difference (i.e. DR Murphy)
      Respectfully, I am in a position where I can see your complaints against the broader picture and frankly, there is a HUGE gap.It doesn’t matter how many negative comments get posted here–they don’t get heard if you don’t speak them to those who can make a difference (and I assure you they are not being spoken, it has nothing to do with no being heard!!).
      If there are complaints they are not rising to the level of effectiveness.

  • m.pk

    I am for Dr Murphy too!! It was a hard journey. and I watched my beloved principal suffer; but I am so glad. What a difference our school is now!!! We are all energized and excited!

    • judy

      count me in too. i didn’t like him at first, but now do. my school is energized!!!

    • Resident

      Just curious…parent, staff, both, or neither?

  • Resident

    And I would not compare the guy to a criminal of epic proportions…so the reference to such was over the top in my book too..

    • Resident,

      I agree the analogy was over the top. It wasn’t to compare Murphy to Sandusky’s crime, but that supporters can be blinded by what they want to believe, no matter what..despite any other evidence to the contrary. Murphy’s supporters seem to be blinded by evidence of his bullying tactics and his poor management style.

      Michael P’s words sounds just like it’s coming from a school board member’s mouth, doesn’t it.

  • Michael P.

    Ha, No, Not School Board–I wouldn’t take that job for anything. Besides I doubt they would waste their time on these comments.
    My role is purely spectator. I love the workings of the school system.
    I am going to sign off though. You aren’t going to change my mind and I doubt I will change yours.Good luck in your fight against Dr Murphy and the board.I do silently hope you start to see some of the good. And you opened my eyes a little to some discontent.


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