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.

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