Arlington School Board: Tannia Talento

Arlington School Board member Tannia Talento.

Arlington’s new School Board chair, who will be focused in coming months on the selection of a new superintendent, asked for patience in the community as the process plays out.

“Finding the right leader and the best fit for our community will take time,” Tannia Talento said July 1 as she rotated in as chair of the School Board for the coming year.

Talento, who succeeded Reid Goldstein, promised that “input from staff, families and the community” will be encouraged as school leaders work to find a successor to Patrick Murphy, who announced last month he was leaving in September to take the superintendent’s post in Berkeley County, W.Va.

Murphy has been leader of the Arlington school system for a decade, but like many superintendents across the nation has found himself occasionally at loggerheads with a School Board that, itself, has shown signs of fracturing into factionalism over issues and personalities.

The School Board leadership usually, but not always, rotates on each July with the start of the school system’s fiscal year. The vote to elevate Talento was 5-0, as was the vote to make Monique O’Grady vice chairman.

In remarks at the board’s organizational meeting, Talento said she is likely to preside over “a year of extraordinary change . . . a pivotal year” for the school system.

In addition to the superintendent search, Talento said she would focus on addressing achievement gaps; promoting mental-health supports; and addressing school safety.

Talento thanked Murphy for his vision and leadership. The current superintendent “is passionate . . . and has worked tirelessly,” she said.

Talento also offered thanks to former School Board member Emma Violand-Sánchez for serving as her mentor. Violand-Sánchez was in the audience for the organizational meeting, as were County Board members Christian Dorsey and Matt de Ferranti. The County Board provides the bulk of the school system’s $670 million annual budget, and earlier this year voted to impose a tax-rate hike on property owners under pressure from school leaders seeking to augment per-student funding that already is highest in the Washington suburbs.

School Board member Barbara Kanninen, who nominated Talento to lead the body, said the new chair was “ready to take on the challenges we face” and was one “who knows that our focus always needs to be on our students.”

While the meeting’s mood generally was upbeat, an undercurrent of dissension on some issues (both among board members, between board members and staff, and in the overall community) has permeated the past 12 months. It was addressed, if obliquely, a couple of times during the meeting.

“There are certainly bumps along the road,” School Board member Nancy Van Doren acknowledged. In the end, though, “we always come together – we do get the job done,” she said.

Van Doren asked for “a year of collaborating and caring” rather than one of rancor and acrimony. “That’s what our community needs right now,” she said.

The meeting provided a chance for Reid Goldstein to offer a valedictory as he transitioned out of the chair’s position.

“We have successes that can be built on . . . but we also have challenges,” Goldstein said, noting the need to keep instructional levels high while addressing growth issues.

Like Talento, Goldstein said the School Board’s top task at the moment is finding a new superintendent. That search does not seem likely to be rushed: Talento said the School Board would appoint an interim superintendent by the time Murphy departs in early September, and would hire a search firm to recruit and vet applicants.

Murphy will leave behind no obvious successor within the ranks of the school leadership, so the next superintendent could be an outsider. Murphy himself had been recruited from Fairfax County Public Schools when he was tapped to lead the school district in 2009; his predecessor, Robert Smith, had been recruited from the Houston area.

At the organizational meeting, School Board members also formally reappointed their clerk and deputy clerk, and signed a code of conduct to govern their behavior over the coming year.

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