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Progressive Voice: A Year of School Progress in Arlington

Emma Violand-SanchezProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By: Emma Violand-Sanchez

The following is an adaptation of an end of school year address:

Good morning! Buenos Dias! It has been a privilege to serve as School Board Chair for the 2015-16 school year. I am proud of our world-class school system and our top priorities of student achievement and meeting the needs of the whole child.

I am also proud of APS’ recent accomplishments. All 31 schools are accredited by the Virginia Department of Education. The 2015 Washington Post Challenge Index listed all APS high schools in the top 3 percent in the U.S. This is the seventh year in a row all APS high schools made this list. In 2014 and 2015, almost 92 percent of all student graduated on time. The dropout rate has declined by two-thirds since 2010. These statistics show that our students are thriving and taking advantage of multiple options provided to help them succeed academically.

This year the School Board supported our students with initiatives such as the Arlington Tiered System of Support and enhanced opportunities for our students to succeed in a global economy.

We have set a goal to have our students be proficient in more than one language. Bilingualism is a social, economic and educational asset.

In that regard, we reached our objective to offer foreign language at all elementary schools. New language courses have been added at the middle school level. The number of students enrolled in world language courses – including sign language — is steadily increasing. This year, over 550 students received the Board of Education Seal of Biliteracy certifying that they graduated high school proficient in one or more world languages.

To help Arlington students prepare for a successful future in the 21st century — including the importance of technology and innovation — our schools have partnered with universities as well as non-profit organizations such as The Dream Project. Dual enrollment between our high schools and Northern Virginia Community College has increased by 20 %. Over 50% of the students in Grades 2-12 have received computer or IPad devices to enhance personalized learning.

The opening of Arlington Tech provides additional progressive educational opportunities for our students. This program will provide our students with integrated hands-on, project based learning, ultimately preparing our students for different paths toward success after high school.

As a school system, we wholeheartedly believe in supporting the whole child. Our Whole Child Working Group developed a framework to ensure that each child is healthy, safe, supported, academically engaged and challenged.

The local historic designation of Stratford School is another proud accomplishment. It was an honor for me to help celebrate the courage of those who helped APS play the historic role of being the first school system in Virginia to integrate its schools on February 2, 1959.

Without a doubt, the struggle and bravery shown by the young African-American students attending Stratford that day and the ongoing efforts of Black and White supporters of school desegregation laid the foundation for greater educational opportunities for all students, not only in Arlington but across our nation.

With all of the accomplishments of our schools, the Board recognizes the challenges presented by our growing enrollment — especially at the high school level.  This year we worked hard on an adopted budget that continues a commitment to excellence. We designated funds to invest in instructional support, infrastructure, and staff and benefit compensation.

Another important way to address the challenges was our approval in June of the FY 2017-26 Capital Improvement Plan. The plan focuses on providing seats for students in the areas of most critical need in light of the continued, sustained growth in student enrollment. Our commitment to investment in APS facilities this year included opening Discovery Elementary School and investing in maintenance of APS facilities to provide optimal learning environments.

I am thankful to staff  and citizens who are always willing to step in and help us with our work, such as the South Arlington Working Group, Arlington Facilities Planning Council, and Building Level Planning Committees for projects at Stratford, Wilson, Abingdon, McKinley, and the new elementary school in South Arlington.

It has been an honor to serve our community on the School Board and our community. Thank you for your support. Arlington’s school system is a reflection of our commitment to success in our culturally, linguistically, and racially inclusive school community.

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.

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