Loudoun Schools’ Equity Committee Shapes Early Goals

None of the members of the Loudoun County Public Schools’ Ad Hoc Committee on Equity, or the public and staff present at the April 11 meeting, were born or raised in Loudoun County. This revelation—uncovered during an ice-breaking “trust exercise” during the panel’s second meeting—is indicative of the rapid growth in the county over the past decade.

“They told me there were a lot of new residents in this county, but that’s never happened,” said Jamie Almanzan of the Equity Collaborative of Oakland, CA, the consultant who was hired to facilitate the committee’s work. Another group of consultants is preparing an equity audit of the school system during April and May, with results to be presented to the committee in June.

The 25-member panel includes three members of the Loudoun County School Board along with teachers, parents and representatives of community groups including the NAACP and PTA. School Board Vice Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) is leading the committee.

Achieving equity among all county residents is an ongoing problem that will require more than just a series of meetings. Almanzan reiterated this message as the committee starts the process of determining what can reasonably be accomplished, while staying within the scope of the project.

In the trust exercise, two groups lined up facing each other and were asked to step forward if they agreed with a series of statements. Many people stepped forward when asked if they have children in the county school system. Almost everyone stepped forward when asked if they felt they had been discriminated against, and most moved up when asked if they felt confused about what terms to use when talking about race.

Another large concentration stepped forward when asked if their racial identity made them feel stronger. Everyone went to the middle when asked, “Do you believe your life has a calling?”

The calling for members of the Equity Committee is to not only come up with plans that can make a difference for students and teachers, but also to set long-term goals to keep the momentum moving forward and hold school leaders accountable after the documents are written and approved.

“It’s people that have to change,” said Graig Meyer, also with the Equity Collaborative, adding that “this committee is here to name the specificity of the outcome.”

Committee members expressed a desire to engage local leaders to avoid becoming “just another exercise.” They want to build on the efforts of the school district’s longstanding Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee while adding in a higher level of accountability. “These conversations have happened over and over again,” one member noted.

The advisory committee is partnering with the county school system on the effort, and identified potential solutions to areas of concern, including requiring mandatory bias training for all LCPS licensed and classified staff; improving school discipline policies to remove discriminatory and exclusionary practices; allocating resources to ensure equitable access to technology; revising the policies and procedures related to LCPS enrichment programs; and regulating hiring and selection processes across all schools.

During the initial April 4 meeting, members of the committee used a “Café Conversations” format to discuss the work of the committee and get to know each other better. That resulted in a series of responses to three questions about what the committee should focus on, and what they would like to see within the school system in five years.

Responses to the group exercise ranged from general to specific, including the need for more tolerance, diversity in hiring, updated curriculum, and more “teachers who look like our students.” Others noted the need to provide a voice to underserved students, offer tools for parents to raise cultural awareness, and address bullying and other results of racism.

“Every student deserves the opportunity to learn and succeed,” one member stated. “We need to change how we serve our community and influence how we service our students,” another member added.

The next meeting of the Equity Committee is Thursday, May 9. For more information, email the committee at equityadhoc@lcps.org.

aparker@loudounnow.com

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