My Letter to the School Board

Dear Arlington County School Board,
Good afternoon! I am a white APS parent (a first-grader and a rising Kindergartner at Randolph ES) and the coordinator of Facing Race in Arlington, a coalition of community members who are working to understand white privilege and to learn how to be allies of communities of color in efforts to address systemic racism and white supremacy. One of our group’s focuses is educational equity and I hope that you have received several letters recently on this topic from members of the group.
I am writing with your February 26 Diversity, Transgender and Equity work session in mind. The most important thing you can do as you consider equity is to listen to communities of color about their priorities and experiences. Activists of color have been doing this work for generations and their perspectives should take precedence. Listen, amplify, and follow their leadership. Ask to be invited to their table.
Please also accept the following truths about Arlington Public Schools:
(1) Arlington Public Schools are segregated by race and economic status.
(2) Arlington Public Schools are not equal or equitable.
(3) Some Arlington Public Schools have an inequitable share of resources and opportunities.
(4) Arlington’s leadership has the opportunity to make measurable progress in addressing inequities ONLY if we accept responsibility and speak these truths openly.
Fostering a sense of community responsibility can help us achieve equity. If parents think an Arlington Public School is inadequate for their child, then we ask why the school is adequate for any child. We need to encourage families to think of the community good rather than only about their child. We need to explicitly work to re-balance homogeneous school environments so that every Arlington Public School more closely reflects the overall demographics of APS. In order to be successful, this will take buy-in from Arlington’s diverse communities, which must be based on honesty and trust and an open and frequent acknowledgement of our current inequities and their rootedness in white supremacy and systemic racism.
Additionally, I hope you will consider the following specific opportunities to improve equity in Arlington’s schools:
(1) Adjust relevant planning factors to be applied equitably rather than equally. An equitable calculation would be more appropriate (based on socioeconomic status (SES) scores and/or %ED levels) so that APS is meeting individual student needs rather than treating every student as the same. For example, in an equal calculation, a school with 10% ED students and a school with 60% ED students is allotted the same number of teaching specialists because the calculation is based only on the number of students at the school. An equitable calculation would make more teaching specialists available at a school with higher %ED students, especially because Title I funds do not even get close to covering the disparity. In a review of the planning factors documents on the APS website, “free and reduced lunch” is only referenced in four rows, half of which are explicitly linked with SOLs or Testing Coordinators. This is not in line with “Whole Child” and this is not equitable. APS should be educating every student to succeed in life, not focusing on testing outcomes. I understand that equitable calculations will be far more complex. Difficulty should not prevent APS from doing the right thing.
(2) Ask the Superintendent to give principals more flexibility in their choices about what types of teaching specialists they have available for their students. Please also ensure that principals at high %ED schools are given explicit and abundant support to address student needs without reflecting poorly on those principals’ ability to lead and/or manage their budgets. 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 challenges, especially in the face of budget constraints. This is particularly relevant at Drew ES this coming year. Ms. Graves deserves explicit and generous support as she shepherds Drew into a new phase, particularly given the embarrassingly inadequate support Drew has experienced historically. Drew leadership should be granted ample freedom to meet student and staff needs and an explicit understanding that they will receive the support they request.
(3) Make a concerted effort to leverage the marketing activities of APS towards educating parents about their neighborhood schools, particularly before and during boundary processes and option school application/transfer periods, so that parents can be more informed in their decision-making. Intentional marketing can also attempt to address the negative impressions many residents have of some schools and can encourage engagement between schools and their communities.
Achieving equity is going to require culture change, which takes time. It will not happen without an open and explicit reckoning with our current inequities and working daily to educate Arlington residents about the historical origins of systemic racism and our community’s responsibility in addressing it. The only way forward is to name it and to work consistently to change it.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to supporting your efforts.

Keep Educating Yourself

Hi Friends!
I’m writing early this week to encourage everyone to get your letters to the School Board before the February 26 work session on Diversity and Equity. Also, tomorrow, February 19 is the work session on Discipline, which has equity implications as well, so feel free to work in some items from a criminal justice angle if you prefer. I’m really loving the letter drafts you’ve been sending my way — please keep them going!
As a reminder, the small group meetings are an opportunity to become more comfortable discussing privilege, racism, and activism, and to ask any questions you have. All of you are welcome to attend. This work is difficult and sometimes having other like-minded people to talk to can help.
If you haven’t watched the video from last week’s update, please do. Here’s the link (Click on Archives, the session is called “Activist Listening Session on Race”, which can be viewed or downloaded). And please donate to the activists!
My inbox is overflowing with wonderful resources, so I’m going to share a bunch of them with you this week.
(1) White Awake is hosting an online course called “Roots Deeper Than Whiteness” starting February 24. More information here.
(1) Important reading about some of Dr. King’s less publicized politics, by Jessica Moulite and Ashley Velez.
(2) A group member shared this resource — Mark Charles has a 17 minute history lesson on the constitution and origins of racism founded into the US. Very good analysis on the 2016 presidential election, where he says that racism is a bi-partisan issue.
(3) “Why People of Color Need Spaces Without White People” by Kelsey Blackwell.
(4) Black Lives Matter At School.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.

Four Activists Provide a True Gift

Hi Friends!
I hope you’re enjoying the sunshine today! I have quite a few wonderful resources that many of you have been sharing with me — thank you! However, I’m focusing on an amazing resource this week, a true gift. This might be the most important thing you can internalize this year.
I had the immense privilege to be able to attend the “Activist Listening Session” last Friday evening, hosted by four local activists of color. They were billed as responding to the Northam situation, but what actually occurred was SO much better. And they recorded it! It was truly a gift. Here’s the link (Click on Archives, the session is called “Activist Listening Session on Race”, which can be viewed or downloaded).
Please donate to the activists through SURJ-NoVa — this is heavy, vulnerable work and they deserve to be compensated accordingly. Go to and pay via PayPal, then email to let them know your name and amount and that you want the donation to be designated to the activist listening session. If you share the session link with others, please pass along the donation information as well.
I really want you to watch the video for yourself (set aside 1.5 hours and make it happen, or do it in pieces), but here are some of my takeaways (and some of these may be close to what the speakers said, so I do not take personal credit for any of this except for when I’m speaking about my own reaction):
(1) White people, even the best allies, will never completely “get it” because we can never be without the privilege attached to our skin color. Rather than seeing this as a depressing reality, I found that this freed me to focus on the steps I can take every day and stop worrying about reaching some unattainable end goal. If we can accept that we might never get there, then we can ensure that we focus on every step in the right direction and keep on moving, every day.
(2) Many POC expect white people, even the best allies, to eventually abandon or betray them. History has shown this to be the trend, with very few exceptions. Prove that you are willing to do the work, even when you are feeling fragile, especially when you are feeling fragile, and center POC instead of yourself. Saying you have nothing more to learn = you’re no longer doing the work.
(3) The creation of our country was structured in a way that institutionalized advantaging some people over others — it is in everything. This means that uplifting and centering the people closest to the pain is the only way to make meaningful change. This is where we use our privilege — to Listen Amplify and Follow POC and their communities.
(4) It’s going to be uncomfortable. When you are accustomed to privilege, equality looks like oppression. When others are given a seat at the table, it feels too crowded.
(5) Do the work because it’s the right thing to do and long overdue, not because you want someone to recognize you as “not a racist” or “a good person” — this is not about approval or recognition of you. It will take practice to stop centering yourself in this work, so work at it and apologize when you make a mistake. Keep doing the work.
Helpful links:
From Whitney Parnell
From Courtney Ariel (from August 2017)
This information is hard to accept, hard to internalize. It may be the most unfiltered truth you have heard on this topic. Sit with it. Reach out to (white) friends, or to this group, or to me, as you reflect on your reactions to it. Wherever you are in this process, I won’t judge. This takes time and patience and work. You have been indoctrinated into this white supremacist system along with everyone else. You are not alone. Keep moving forward.
Trade fragility for strength.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.

Oh, Virginia and More Letter Writing

Hi Friends!
Happy February! This Black History Month, make an effort to expand your knowledge beyond the famous few black historical figures who are remembered and/or look deeper than the often whitewashed legacies of those famous people. Here are two great resources — The Root and Good Black News.
The news about Governor Northam has been unsettling to say the least. Make sure you’re listening to the voices of people of color (who are not all unified on this) to guide your understanding of the impact this revelation has had on them. And listen to the underlying messages in what many of Northam’s (white) defenders are saying — many of them are upholding a white supremacist society when they excuse what he did as “just dressing up in costumes for fun,” for example. The local Unitarian church is hosting “An Activist Listening Session” with female activists of color to respond to the situation this Friday, February 8.
I attended the school district’s Desegregation event on Monday evening and I was very encouraged by the remarks by the local NAACP chapter president and the Chair of the County Board because they were both very clear that there is still work to be done and that everyone in our community has a role to play in doing that work. The County Board Chair even specifically mentioned groups of parents coming together to address inequities — he may have been thinking about us! It was also very encouraging to see familiar faces — a good sign that we’re making relevant connections to others working on these issues.
Black Lives Matter shared a toolkit for white people around #TalkAbout Trayvon. “White communities are used to consciously and unconsciously maintaining the racist policies and practices that led to Trayvon’s death — and, as white people, we must speak out against those policies and practices. When we remain silent and on the sidelines, we are complicit in maintaining these unjust systems. Our work is to get more white people who support us to take action toward racial justice — and to change the hearts and minds of those white people who are not yet with us.” THIS is why I started this group.
How are your school board equity letters coming? I have heard from a few who are working on them already — thank you! I also wanted to share some additional information and resources:
(1) I came across the Free/Reduced lunch numbers from October 2018. This is clear data about the disparities and segregation in Arlington.
(2) More information related to advocating for supporting principals.
(3) More information was requested about school planning factors. The district website has the details for each fiscal year. It should be noted that “equity” is used in the description of how these factors are implemented, but when you look at the actual process, it is based almost solely on the number of students. That is equality, not equity. A few staff positions (ESOL/HILT and Bilingual Resource Assistants, for example) are based on the number of English learner students.
Free/Reduced lunch is referenced in the document a few times:
(A) For a Elementary School Testing Coordinator, which says “Provide a 0.5 coordinator to 11 elementary schools with the highest free and reduced lunch percentage.”
(B) For Elementary School Reading Skills — “An additional 0.5 reading skills teacher is given for those schools that have free and reduced lunch percentage greater than 60%.”
(C) In Middle Schools, it is only referenced for the Basic Skills Improvement Program Teacher — “An additional 0.4 teacher position is given for those schools that have 25–40% Free and Reduced Lunch. An additional 0.8 teacher position is given for those schools that have 41% or more Free and Reduced Lunch.”
(D) In High Schools, it is only referenced in relation to SOLs.
The school district is making a clear connection — provide more resources for students who quality for Free/Reduced lunch with the sole purpose of improving state test scores. This is not in line with “Whole Child” and this is not equitable. The schools should be educating every student to succeed in life, not focusing on testing outcomes.
And here’s a cool organization I learned about — the Vera Institute of Justice — which recently released a study of arrest distributions and has wonderful data and graphics about the US justice system.
Keep pushing.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.