Argentinian immigrant seeks Fairfax school board post

Fairfax County School Board candidate Dalia Palchik marches in this year’s City of Fairfax July 4th parade.
Photo by Aubrey Sylvester

Fairfax County School Board candidate Dalia Palchik brings a global perspective to her campaign to unseat Providence District incumbent Patricia Reed on Nov. 3.

The 32-year-old Jewish resident of Annandale was born in Buenos Aires and moved to Virginia with her family when she was 6. Upon arrival, she enrolled in Fairfax County’s English as a Second Language courses and participated in the school system’s free and reduced-price meals program. Graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Palchik earned a B.A. in anthropology and French at Tufts University. She is a world languages teacher at Sheridan School in Washington.

Palchik believes that her immigrant upbringing and profession as an international educator would add a voice to the school board that she says is missing from the discussion.

“I had seen community development and poverty internationally, and came back and realized Fairfax now had a third of our students living in poverty in one of the most culturally diverse counties. We have kids from every country in the world speaking hundreds of languages — almost 200 languages,” says Palchik. “I realized the educator perspective and the culturally diverse perspective weren’t really represented on the Fairfax County School Board and that I wanted to be able to do more to address some of the new challenges we have.”

Being an immigrant was hard, says Palchik. She describes the insecurity her family felt because her father was in the United States on a temporary visa. Palchik tried to learn English quickly to fit in at school and tried to hide the fact that she was an immigrant.

“By [the time I was in] fifth grade, my teachers didn’t know I was an immigrant. I didn’t want my parents to come to school. I didn’t want to be made fun of because they didn’t understand how things worked the right way, so I would fill out paperwork for them,” she explains. “I would translate.”

Support came from the Jewish community, which Palchik says welcomed her family with open arms and helped them navigate the difficult terrain facing new immigrants.

Palchik spent a lot of time at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia and Congregation Olam Tikvah, where she celebrated her bat mitzvah and was confirmed. When she was in high school, her first teaching job was at the Conservative synagogue as a Hebrew school kindergarten assistant.

“I pretty much grew up at the JCC,” says Palchik. Her mother, Marta Palchik, began the Bagel Bar there and owns Gourmet Catering, a family business she started after the native Yiddish and Spanish speaker learned English and took catering classes at Northern Virginia Community College. Palchik says that two of her siblings are also in the culinary field and that she helps her mother with marketing.

“The JCC has been in a lot of ways my extended family that I didn’t have when I moved here from Argentina,” says Palchik.

While she is often mistaken for having a Sephardic background because she speaks Spanish and has olive-toned skin, Palchik’s ancestors were Ashkenazi Jews who fled Eastern Europe for Argentina during the pogroms.

Her mother grew up with Yiddish as her first language and is now leading a Yiddish conversation group at the JCC. Palchik says that after the election, she hopes to learn Yiddish and Hebrew and that she is starting to get involved at Temple Rodef Shalom, a Reform congregation in Falls Church.

While the school board positions are non-partisan under Virginia law, Palchik has been endorsed by the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), and several Democratic state representatives, including Dels. Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax) and Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Springfield).

Palchik’s campaign issues include closing the achievement gap; ensuring the best teachers stay in the county by offering a competitive pay scale; better addressing student mental health issues; reducing standardized testing; recruiting and retaining a more diverse staff to reflect the student population’s  diversity; forming partnerships with nonprofits, businesses and government at every level; and advocating for more funding in Richmond.

The state’s General Assembly has “been cutting back too much over the years, and we had to rely too much on the local government to fund the schools,” says Palchik. “So I think it just takes a new kind of mindset and collaboration and knowing what our kids need now to be globally competitive and to thrive and to be proud and feel that whatever path they choose they are able to succeed.”

Palchik’s opponent is endorsed by the local Republican Party, by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, Fairfax Education Association and Class Size Counts, a community group advocating for smaller class sizes.

In an email, Reed touted her experience, having served on the school board for six years. Reed says that she has “the knowledge, leadership skills and working relationships to confront the challenges ahead.”

Achievements during her tenure include the hiring of the school system’s superintendent, Karen Garza, and the school system’s first independent auditor; having full-day kindergarten throughout county schools and full-day Mondays in elementary schools; enacting later start times for high schools and secondary schools; and increasing healthy food options in school cafeterias.

Palchik says her youth is an advantage as the election nears.

“As millennials, we really are the collaborative generation,” she says, “so I’m optimistic that we’ve got some hard work ahead, but that we can do it and we have to do it in a positive and much more hands-on proactive and collaborative manner.”

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