Photo: Steve Thurston
People in the small crowd of spectators at the Arlington Public School Board meeting this morning expressed relief that Vice Chair Emma Violand-Sanchez was elected chair almost unanimously by her colleagues on the dais. She is the first Latina chair of the APS board in its history. Sally Baird was voted Vice Chair.
This brings to an end, one dim--if not fully dark--chapter for the school board. For the past two weeks there had been chatter that Abby Raphael was going to seek a second term as board chair. However after James Lander nominated Violand-Sanchez, Raphael seconded. Baird was the sole abstaining vote in Violand-Sanchez’s election.
“It’s puzzling,” that the board would not have automatically supported Violand-Sanchez,
said Linda Beverley, representing an African-American parents network.
Beverly expressed what many people interviewed over the past week have said: for decades, the board has followed the policy of “shared governance,” simply rotating the vice chair into the chair’s position after at the start of the year.
Violand-Sanchez has a doctorate of education, 30-odd years of teaching and administration in the schools and two years on the school board. To everyone interviewed, she was clearly qualified to run the APS board. This begged the question: does Arlington have a race problem?
After assuming the chair, Violand-Sanchez tried to put some of this behind the board.
“We owe you a thousand thanks,” she said to Raphael. “Mil gracias.”
“I regret that this discussion [of who would be chair] took on ethnic and racial overtones...This has been difficult for all of us,” Violand-Sanchez said. She said that she had “the utmost respect for my board colleagues” and asked that they bridge differences. Each board member said they had nothing but respect for the new chair.
But people have asked why the board would have broken the shared governance tradition. The main reason people said they heard was that the board was facing major challenges and changing leadership would be disruptive. However, people interviewed did not see this as a major issue.
(Abby Raphael declined comment through APS spokesperson Frank Bellavia before the vote last week. She left the room before this reporter could break away from one interview today and speak with her.)
To be clear, no one has accused Raphael or other board members of racism, but the lack of a strong reason to skip Violand-Sanchez had some people asking the question about race. They wondered what the vote would mean if Violand-Sanchez was the first vice chair in decades not to succeed the chair.