Action Item Letter to the School Board

Hi Friends!
I hope all of you are staying warm in this chilly weather! I have a schools-specific update this week, including action items!
But first, some quick calendar items:
(1) Please note that our next small group meeting is Thursday, February 7. Please let me know if you plan to attend.
(2) The school district is celebrating 60 years since Desegregation on February 4, 2019. I’ll be there, so let me know if you want to meet up!
(3) Register for March 9th Racial Justice Allyship Workshop!
(4) The School Board has a work session on Diversity on Tuesday, February 26, which is when the consultation report and recommendations will be discussed (the report should be available prior to this, likely as a monitoring item at a School Board meeting on 2/7 or 2/21 — I’ll try to let you know when it shows up). I’m pushing for some advocacy from our group members prior to the 2/26 work session so that our School Board members are informed and aware that community members are very engaged on this topic in the interest of equity.
Action Opportunity:
I would like to ask for your help in a letter writing campaign to the School Board. I have on good authority that many letters about a particular topic from a large number of individuals (rather than one letter signed by many people) have a strong impact. I would like to suggest that we each draft a letter around equity to send, in our own words, but with some common themes/phrases that will tie them all together. These can be sent via email to each School Board member individually. Here are some topics for your consideration:
(1) Planning factors are the elements used to calculate what each school will need, mostly based on the number of students each school will have (for example X number of students = Y number of rolls of toilet paper). Right now, those planning factors are applied equally to all schools, and since they also determine more consequential things like how many specialist staff positions are available, it is worth arguing that an equitablecalculation would be more appropriate (based on SES scores and/or economic levels) so that we are actually meeting individual student need rather than treating every student as the same. For example, the way it works right now, a school with 6 students who are English-learners and a school with 300 students who are English-learners would be allotted the same number of reading specialists. This makes no sense, especially because Title I funds do not even get close to covering the difference.
(2) Currently, the Superintendent gives the principals at each school a lot of autonomy in how they choose to spend their budgets. This can be a really great thing, but the flexibility is somewhat limited. For example, a principal cannot convert a math specialist position to a reading specialist position if their student needs are heavier in a particular area. We can encourage the School Board to ask the Superintendent to allow more flexibility for principals in their specialist choices, for example. The other piece to this is that because the Superintendent is relatively hands-off at individual schools, principals must decide to ask for more resources if the needs of their students are not being met. This can be a complex decision, because while I understand that the Superintendent is responsive to the requests he receives, it is possible that principals are hesitant to make a request because it can reflect negatively on their ability to handle the challenges they face, especially in the face of budget constraints.
(3) This is particularly relevant at one ES, which is a new neighborhood school this fall and has a wonderful principal with a strong reputation leading it. The Superintendent does not need to be more hands-on, but there needs to be explicit and generous support offered as the principal shepherds the school into a new phase, particularly with acknowledgement of the embarrassingly inadequate support this school has experienced historically. School leadership should be given more than ample freedom to ask for what the students need and an explicit understanding that they will receive the support they request. We can advocate for this (and for our local families — please chime in with any helpful language or preferences since you’re most informed about this). The School Board and Superintendent need to know that the County is watching how this develops.
(4) In addition to supporting our principals, the school district can make a concerted effort in its marketing of its schools, especially when boundary processes are happening, to ensure that families are more informed about the exciting things happening at each of our neighborhood schools and less concerned about these “unknown” communities. These marketing resources can really help to address the negative impressions many residents have of particular schools and can encourage engagement between schools and their communities.
I imagine that there are other ways we can advocate for specific things that address inequities in our schools, so please feel free to add more to this list or just include them in your letter. If we can aim to send these letters to the School Board between now and February 20 (to make sure they have time to read them before the meeting on the 26th), then it may have an impact. If you want to share your letter with the group, feel free, and if you want to just let me know that you send one, that would be awesome, too. You’re also welcome to say that you’re part of our group — we’re starting to gain some recognition and all of the School Board members know about us.
Thank you in advance for engaging on this topic! And if you have any questions or concerns, please let me know.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.

MLK’s Legacy and White Privilege

Hi Friends!
If you’re affected (directly or indirectly) by the ongoing government shutdown, hang in there. Do the self-care you need. Many community members are organizing ways to help each other and our community, so get connected and involved if you can. You are not alone.
I’d love to hear from any group members about how you chose to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this past weekend and what you’re reflecting on. I’m finding that the more I read and the more I expand my learning, the more complex his legacy and the way our society often appropriates it becomes. Certainly spending time in service to others is worth doing regardless, but watch how his words are used and “whitewashed,” often removing them from the context in which they were said and sometimes removed from our current context of continued injustice. Remember that he viewed white moderates as more of a barrier to justice than overt racists (letter from Birmingham, Alabama jail in 1963). Also see this from Michael Harriot at The Root.
Here’s a great story about others grappling with white privilege and their “bubbles” and what to do with that. Breaking out of our ignorance is the first step to making meaningful change — this is why I started this group! When you’re willing and able to say “Wow, I’m racist,” you have the capacity for change. And as you work through it, you help other bubbles break, too. When we can be open about our growing awareness with others, we give them permission to join in the work as well.
Also, I’ve been reading Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad, which I only bring up here because I’m very impressed at the way she centers women of color and their experiences in her exploration of the role of anger in feminism and societal change. It’s refreshing to read someone so matter of fact about the realities of racism, white supremacy, and the challenges those bring to any struggle for equality and equity.
I have been very encouraged by group members who are finding ways to raise issues of injustice in their communities. One of our members witnessed discriminatory conversation around parking permits and zoning in her neighborhood and is working to share her own perspective and raise awareness about the inherent racism in keeping certain populations from parking in her neighborhood. Another member shared some of the data from my recent updates with her community to encourage them to advocate in a more informed way on educational equity issues. I love hearing from you about how you’re getting involved! Keep it up.
Some more great resources:
(1) “Trump’s Border Wall Is a Monument to White Supremacy” by Bryan Lee Jr. via CityLab.
(2) “Alabama Can’t Make Birmingham Display Confederate Monument” by Brentin Mock via CityLab.
(3) Everything on The New York Times Race/Related site.
(4) A couple of books on whiteness — Witnessing Whiteness by Shelly Tochluk and White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.
Upcoming events:
(1) A reminder of the SURJ DC orientation meeting on Sunday, January 27.
(2) Challenging Racism is hosting Table Topics on January 24 and 31.
Keep up your engagement!
Listen. Amplify. Follow.

Event Summary and Takeaways

Hi Friends!
I hope all of you are doing well. We had a great event last weekend with and I’d like to spend this update discussing some of the things that came up at that meeting. Also, thank you again to the group members who helped me put the event together!
We had a nice mix of families with rising kindergartners who will be new to the school district and some of our existing group members who wanted to be part of the conversation as well. I gave a quick snapshot of some local statistics, which I’m including here for your reference:
  • Arlington has nine Title I schools (40% or more economically disadvantaged (ED) students), eight of which are south of Route 50.
  • Last year’s Elementary School PTA budgets ranged from $20,000 to $190,000; spending ranged from $42 to $304 per student.
  • In our Elementary Schools, at the ten schools located south of Route 50, the average %ED students is 52% (ranging from 25–84%) and white students make up 27.6% of the student body. At the 13 schools located north of Route 50, the average %ED students is 19% (ranging from 2–62%) and white students make up 59.9% of the student body. At all 23 of the elementary schools overall, the average %ED students is 34% and white students make up 47.8% of the student body.
Some other takeaways:
  • I didn’t know previously about the Even Start free family literacy program for Arlington residents with children under age 10, which teaches immigrant families to advocate, and has native and non-native English speaking parents partnering with each other to help immigrant families learn English.
  • APS not taking responsibility for running excellent schools at schools where the student body is predominantly students of color. This was a perspective shared by one of our group members who has been working on issues of educational equity for a long time, but it could also be interpreted to mean “schools with high populations of children of color are not excellent” which I was definitely not intending to perpetuate. Those of us who attend schools with high populations of children of color in Arlington can attest to this. However, I think the original point gets to the fact that inequities in resources and support do exist and that we need to encourage school leadership to own and acknowledge this in order to address it adequately. One of the ways in which choosing integration can make a difference is that privileged (white) families bring with them the benefits of their privilege (whether they want to or not). The focus needs to be on advocating for equitable education for all students.
  • One of the participants noted that the meeting had only white attendees and asked “Do integrated schools matter to families of color?” This was a particularly interesting question and I think it boils down to this — any school will welcome parents who come to participate in the existing community, who do not come to colonize or to “fix” the school, but to use their voices to advocate for addressing inequities and bringing equitable resources to that school to serve all of its students.
  • We asked the group what some of their fears and concerns were about attending an integrating school. One of the questions was about how to connect to the community when there are language barriers, and the response was largely to make yourself available and be open and to keep trying to make a connection.
  • We agreed that our children are a huge motivator to work hard to participate in their school community.
  • There were also concerns expressed around affordable housing and early childhood education.
If you attended, please feel free to add your impressions and observations to the group.
I’m interested in hosting another discussion like this one in late February or early March, to encourage families to visit their neighborhood schools and to create their own criteria about how their school choice can reflect their families’ values. There are multiple opportunities for families to visit the schools they are considering and I’d like to provide more chances to support those who are considering integration and/or choosing their neighborhood schools.
If you attend an integrating school or a school that has a high transfer-out rate in the neighborhood, consider putting yourself out there on your neighborhood email list or other communications about how much you love your school or about your choice to attend it or anything else you want to share. It can be really encouraging and a good counterpoint to some of the messages families will hear about “good schools” and “bad schools” in Arlington. Simply offering another perspective can be the push someone needs — giving each other permission to do this work and to speak up against systems of oppression.
Some upcoming events and resources:
(1) Volunteer Arlington is hosting an MLK Day of Service on Monday, January 21. Of particular interest is the program “Advocacy and Activism Panel and the Legacy of Dr. King” which is hosted by a group member and the panel includes another of our group members.
(2) EmbraceRace presentation on January 22 — “How Children Learn About Race” with Margaret Hagerman (author of White Kids: Growing Up With Privilege) and Erin Winkler (author of Learning Race, Learning Place: Shaping Racial Identities and Ideas in African American Childhoods).
(3) SURJ DC is hosting an Orientation/Welcome Session on January 27.
(4) The Black Heritage Museum of Arlington is hosting a presentation on Frederick Douglass on February 15.
(5) Black Lives Matter DC is marching in the annual MLK Parade on Monday, January 21. Even if you aren’t able to attend, click on the link and read about the #ReclaimMLK movement.
Stay warm out there!
Listen. Amplify. Follow.

Training and Resources

Hi Friends!
I hope everyone had a good holiday break! Happy New Year! Let’s get going! And if you haven’t yet, let’s please celebrate the impressive incoming legislators to Congress and the accomplishment they all represent. Positive signs.
A reminder of our IntegratedSchools event this Saturday, January 12. Please spread the word! If you need a copy of the invitation, please let me know. IntegratedSchools just launched a revamp of their website and this video they created is really insightful. RSVPs to me, please.
Events/Workshops/Training coming up:
(1) Register for Jan 20th Racial Justice Allyship Workshop! As part of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington’s (UUCA) Live the Pledge campaign to end racism, UUCA has partnered with Service Never Sleeps to offer a racial justice Allyship training for the community. This workshop will teach you about the causes of racial injustice, how to be an effective ally for marginalized communities, and how to actively influence and educate others. This is not just “another racial justice workshop.” Most people walk out of this workshop saying it was the most impactful racial justice workshop they’ve ever taken in terms of how it helps you reflect on your own implicit bias while also providing actionable steps (including role playing) for how to act with friends, family, or strangers when you witness racism.
(2) VACOLAO is holding a training for legislative advocacy on Immigrant Advocacy Day. The training is Thursday, January 10 from 7–8:30 pm at 6066 Leesburg Pike, Suite 520, Falls Church, VA 22041.
(3) The founder of Everyday Feminism is hosting “Healing from Internalized Whiteness” for a three day training, January 16–18 in DC. See more here.
(4) SURJ NoVa is discussing Alternatives to Calling the Police at their chapter meeting on Sunday, January 13. More details here.
Reading and Resources:
(1) “How To Help Kids In Poverty Adjust To The Stability Of School After Break” from NPR.
(2) Vox had a good analysis of the First Step Act (now signed into law).
(3) ProPublica has a tool on Documenting Hate, which is collecting reports of hate crimes.
(4) The New York Times Magazine focused on Black Mothers and Babies and disparate mortality rates (which is worse now than in 1850 when most black women were still enslaved).
(5) The Atlantic had an article about white parent bias against urban schools. This jumped out: “Yet the stigma persists, and the tragedy of all this is that the stigma itself is a key reason educational inequality remains. Despite signs of a reversal in the white flight that crippled urban school districts following desegregation orders tracing back to the late 1960s and ’70s, research suggests that the country is seeing a new iteration of income-based housing segregation driven almost exclusively by affluent families with children. By moving to certain neighborhoods in pursuit of what they perceive to be good schools and to flee what they perceive to be bad ones, they contribute to school-funding inequalities by taking resources and social capital with them.”
(6) The momentous passage of an anti-lynching law took a very long time to happen. The Washington Post looks at why.
(7) SURJ-DC shared a link to the Campaign to End Stop-And-Frisk in DC. Here’s a link to the website and petition.
Please join me in congratulating our newly appointed Chair of the County Board. He has a clear statement of a focus on equity, so I’m looking forward to seeing how our efforts can link with County efforts to turn words into sound policy and progress. I was particularly interested in the mention of the Changing the Narrative program with Virginia Humanities, that will factor into the County’s next steps. I also encouraged him to work very closely with the school district to resolve the budget deficit and significant growth in enrollment we anticipate for this coming year.
Let’s see what we can do with the new year ahead of us!
Listen. Amplify. Follow.