Violand-Sanchez succeeds Lander

Arlington School Board member Barbara Kanninen captures the moment when Emma Violand-Sanchez (right) succeeds James Lander as chair of the board on July 1, 2015. (Photo courtesy Barbara Kanninen)

Arlington School Board Chairman Emma Violand-Sánchez announced Dec. 30 she will not seek re-election in November, bringing to an end eight years in elected office and a 40-year career with the county school system.

Violand-Sánchez in recent months has expressed satisfaction with the school system’s progress in areas including graduation rates and reducing the achievement gap between students of various racial and ethnic groups, fueling belief she might be gearing up to retire rather than seek a third term.

While leaving the elected body, Violand-Sánchez is not likely to depart from the arena of advocacy. She said she is looking forward to continuing her role with the DREAM Project, which works to support immigrant students – many of them undocumented – with leadership training and access to higher education. She also plans to spend more time with her children, who are themselves educators, and her 97-year-old mother.

A native of Bolivia, Violand-Sánchez has been a strong advocate for providing access to languages beyond English as early as elementary school.

“Bilingualism is a social, educational and economic asset,” she said in a statement detailing her decision not to seek a third term. “In order for our students to succeed in a global workforce, students must be proficient in a second language, and have strong interpersonal and 21st-century skills.”

Violand-Sánchez had retired as an administrator with the school system a year before when, in 2008, she sought the Democratic endorsement for an open School Board seat. Violand-Sánchez and incumbent School Board member Libby Garvey came out on top in a crowded party caucus, and went on to win the general election without opposition.

Garvey moved up to the County Board in a 2012 special election, and later that year, Violand-Sánchez won re-election to the School Board on a ticket with Noah Simon.

With the retirement on Dec. 31 of Abby Raphael, Violand-Sánchez is now the longest serving School Board member. She twice has served as chairman, a position that traditionally rotates on an annual basis among the five board members.

Along with Walter Tejada, who was elected in 2003 to the County Board, Violand-Sánchez was among the first Latino or Latina elected officials in Virginia. For a sixth-month period in 2013, she and Tejada (who hails from El Salvador) chaired their respective bodies, likely the first time in the post-colonial period that two immigrants had held top elected posts in any Virginia jurisdiction.

The tenure of Violand-Sánchez has coincided with a growth spurt in the school system, which recently passed the 25,000-student mark and is expected to grow to 30,000 or more in coming years.

Over the past eight years, a new Wakefield High School opened, Discovery Elementary School was constructed and Ashlawn Elementary School was renovated. Plans for several new schools and renovations currently are in the pipeline. Violand-Sánchez said she was “thankful for the support of the County Board and the Arlington citizens who voted for the bonds that have helped address this growing student population.”

Violand-Sánchez retired in July 2007 as the supervisor of the school system’s English for Speakers of Other Languages/High-Intensity Language Training (ESOL/HILT). Along with Barbara Kanninen, she is one of two Ph.D. holders on the School Board, having earned a doctorate in education from the George Washington University.

The seats of Violand-Sánchez and School Board colleague Nancy Van Doren (who succeeded Simon) will be on the ballot in November. Van Doren already has announced plans to seek re-election, while at least one prospective candidate is expected to announce a bid for office at the Jan. 6 Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting.

If more than two candidates file paperwork to seek the Democratic endorsement, the party will hold a two-day caucus in May to select their endorsees. All five current School Board members secured the Democratic endorsement before winning general-election victories.

Prior to election to the School Board, Violand-Sánchez was instrumental in creation of Escuela Bolivia, a student-achievement and leadership program aimed at immigrant youth that now is known as Edu-Futuro. More recently, she has been a driving force behind establishment of the Latino Leadership Council.