Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or ARLnow.com.
By: Emma Violand-Sanchez
Arlington takes pride in its outstanding public school system whose top priority is student achievement and meeting the needs of the whole child. We support great schools with our tax dollars, our time, and our attention.
Our public schools are first and foremost a place to educate our children. Yet they benefit many other people. Home buyers and sellers pay close attention to school quality. As a result, strong schools enhance property values. Arlington’s economic development officials know that the quality of our schools is a key factor in where businesses choose to locate. School facilities serve as the home of many community programs as well.
There are many factors that contribute to the success of our schools. One of those factors is having sufficient classroom capacity. I am pleased that during my time as School Board Chair we have worked cooperatively with the County Board to address our capacity challenges.
Another key to school success is creating an atmosphere conducive to learning. We have outstanding teachers and principals who make that possible in Arlington. We work hard to recruit and retain top notch educators. Where schools are of high quality, students and parents value stability – there is pleasure in seeing familiar faces as a new school year begins.
As Board Chair, I looked at ways to enhance our ability to attract and retain talented educators. Considering my own personal experiences as a mother who has worked all of my adult life as well as conversations I have had over the course of my career as an educator, I chose paid parental leave as an important initiative. I am pleased that APS now offers two weeks of paid parental leave.
As a school administrator, I saw the stress involved for educators – women and men – who are getting ready to welcome a new child into their home, whether by birth or by adoption. Knowing that they have some paid parental leave once they have a child reduces stress levels and helps maintain focus on the educational mission during the time leading up to childbirth or adoption.
The vast majority of our employees want to return to their school, but the early weeks welcoming a new child are incredibly important ones. Parents want to be sure that their child is healthy. They want to establish an early bond with their child. And it takes some time to develop new routines that accommodate having a new child.
Many of our employees are from two-income families and having time to make adjustments in schedules and finding childcare solutions are very important to facilitating a return to work.
Moreover, studies show that early childhood development is important to the brain development and life success of a child. And we all benefit from maximizing the number of children who develop the tools and character for life success. Through paid parental leave, vacation, and other unpaid leave options, a new parent can maximize their ability to provide a strong start for her or his child.
As a start, we are providing two weeks of paid parental leave. I hope that my successors on the School Board are able to do more. I know, for example, that the District of Columbia schools provide up to eight weeks of paid parental leave. In many other countries, they have made a decision to support longer parental leave to support mothers or fathers who are able to guide their children through the very important early months of development.
We are blessed in Arlington with the quality of our school employees. I am hopeful that our paid parental leave initiative will give them support as they do their work on behalf of our children, an additional reason to continue their service as successful educators, and help them raise their children in ways that increase the prospects of life success.
Emma Violand-Sanchez will complete her service on the Arlington County School Board in December after serving as Chair during the 2015-16 school year. Emma joined the Board in January 2009 and previously served as Chair during the 2012-13 school year. She is a career educator and has lived in Arlington since 1978.