Arlington School Board 2016

Members of the 2016 Arlington School Board include James Lander, Vice Chairman Nancy Van Doren, Chairman Emma Violand-Sánchez, Barbara Kanninen and Reid Goldstein. (APS photo)

Arlington’s new School Board chairman says the 25,000-student school system must keep its focus on student achievement even as it grapples with the stresses of ongoing growth.

“Our litmus test must be: Does each and every child receive the support he or she needs?” Nancy Van Doren said after winning unanimous support from her colleagues to chair the five-member body for the 2016-17 school year.

Van Doren’s succeeding Emma Violand-Sánchez as School Board chair was not unexpected; she had served as vice chairman for the past year, and the chairmanship usually – but not always – rotates among members each July.

In remarks before about 80 people attending the board’s July 1 organizational meeting, Van Doren praised the “calm and centered leadership” of Violand-Sánchez over the past year, and said that despite challenges, Arlington Public Schools is on the right track.

“Arlington has the talent and the resources to ensure every child succeeds,” she said. “We will stay focused on what is most important: our students and their success.”

Van Doren won a special election two years ago to fill the seat of School Board member Noah Simon, who resigned. She and Tannia Talento are unopposed in their bids for the two board seats on the Nov. 8 ballot.

In remarks at the organizational meeting, Van Doren stressed the importance of giving support to students requiring special-education services, saying the school system needed to “rise to the challenge of including all students.”

“Their strengths and gifts are unique, as are those of every single child,” Van Doren said.

In valedictory remarks wrapping up her turn as chairman, Violand-Sánchez pointed to a host of successes over the past year, ranging from adoption of a new capital-improvement plan to approving foreign-language instruction in all elementary schools to the designation of the Stratford school site as a local historic landmark.

She also pointed to ongoing success in lowering dropout rates; in the most recent data, 92 percent of Arlington students graduated on time.

Cutting the dropout rate “was the reason I ran for the School Board,” said Violand-Sánchez, who in December will complete two terms. She opted not to seek re-election, capping a 40-year career that began as an educator and administrator in the county school system.

Among those in attendance at the organizational meeting were County Board members Libby Garvey, Jay Fisette and Katie Cristol. Several School Board members made a point to note improving planning and collaboration efforts between the two bodies and their staffs.

“We have to continue building on that until we are seamless,” said Barbara Kanninen, who was elected vice chairman for the 2016-17 school year.

Kanninen foreshadowed one potential hiccup in the County Board-School Board relationship, saying both sides need to come to agreement on new principles of school funding in an era of fast student growth.

About 80 percent of the school system’s revenue comes from the county government, which is facing its own competing fiscal challenges, but Kanninen said the two sides must hammer out a long-term agreement.

“We need to begin work right away this fall on our revenue-sharing principles,” she said. “I know we’ll have a constructive collaboration.”

The school system’s fiscal year started with no change at the helm; Superintendent Patrick Murphy on July 1 began his eighth year as the system’s top staffer.

In remarks, Murphy echoed Van Doren in promoting student achievement by focusing on each individual student.

“If you have opportunities and choices, you have hope, and if you have hope, you have a future,” he said.

Two top administrators are retiring this summer: Connie Skelton, the assistant superintendent for instruction, and Deirdra McLaughlin, assistant superintendent for finance and management.

The two “helped us pave the way to the future,” Murphy said.