Musical Chairs

Musical Chairs

The School Board picks its fourth leader in the past 18 months.

David Foster was selected as the newest chair of the Arlington County School Board last week, making him the Board’s fourth chair since the beginning of 2006.

Foster, the only non-Democrat elected to public office in Arlington, replaced Board Member Libby Garvey.

"I’m pleased to have this opportunity and I’m ready to go," he said. "I hope my wife and law partners feel the same way."

Foster, who is unaffiliated with any Arlington political party, is finishing up his second four-year term on the Board and has announced that he will not seek reelection in November. This means that the School Board will see another new chair this upcoming January.

That new chair will almost certainly be Ed Fendley, who last week was chosen as the next vice chair of the Board.

Fendley has been on the School Board for little more than a year and a half, but Garvey indicated his future promotion when she was describing the rationale behind the Board’s decision to name Foster and Fendley as its new leaders.

"It [will] be a mere 6 months before Ed will be chair," she said.

Fendley himself was more demure about his future prospects.

"We’ll address that when the time comes," he said. "We have Mr. Foster’s tenure to look forward to."

TYPICALLY, the School Board makes the sitting vice chair, in this case Frank Wilson, its new chair. But Garvey said that she advocated for Foster as chair and Fendley as vice chair because she wanted Fendley to be able to step into the chairmanship sooner rather than later.

She said that if Fendley had served as vice chair under Wilson, he would have had to wait until next summer before he could step into the leadership post. With Fendley serving under Foster, he will become the top Board Member in January.

But, of course, this plan required Wilson to relinquish his turn as School Board Chair.

"We have the tradition of serving as both vice chair and then chair," Garvey said. "We were loath to give up that tradition… [But Wilson] agreed to step aside."

"I’ve been chairman 3 times [and] vice chair I don’t know how many times," Wilson said. "My only concern is that we continue to be able to move ahead and keep an outstanding school system."

Fendley represents several new voices on a School Board that is undergoing a generational change.

Board Member Sally Baird was elected for the first time last November and replaced longtime Board Member Mary Hynes who is now running for a position on the County Board. Abby Raphael will also be another new member of the Board if she wins her unopposed election this November. She would take over for the retiring Foster.

FOSTER BECOMING School Board Chair less than six months before his retirement is not without precedent. A year ago, Hynes was appointed chair only a few months before she stepped down.

In his previous tenure as chair, Foster pushed for several key initiatives such as getting Mandarin and Arabic taught in schools. But he acknowledged that, this time, his term as chair will be more transitional.

"I have no big personal projects that I’m going to be pushing," he said. "I go in this time with less of an issue-oriented agenda." He added that, in his final six months on the Board, he is mainly concerned with "leaving behind a good legacy."

Wilson said that he believes Foster has already succeeded in this goal.

"We have one of the best reputations of any school system in Virginia," Wilson said. "When Dave goes out he can say ‘Hey, I had a part in this.’"