Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Ziegler highlighted the importance of a strong pipeline from the school district to Loudoun-based businesses and called on businesses to defend the shared value of equity during a Chamber of Commerce event Friday morning in Ashburn.
The PolicyMaker Series event, held at the Schools Administration Building, focused on the state of workforce recovery in the county and featured addresses from both Ziegler and Virginia Secretary of Labor Megan Healy, and was attended by dozens of lawmakers and business representatives from across the commonwealth.
Ziegler highlighted several of the school district’s programs that he said are training and preparing productive citizens and members of the Loudoun County workforce, particularly in computer science. He also mentioned projects that his administration is eying for the next few years, including international baccalaureate, fine arts, and study of justice programs.
He emphasized the changing demographics in county schools. Twenty-five years ago, over 80% of students were white. Since then, the population of the county has nearly quadrupled and students of color comprise the majority in the district, he said. The district’s equity work, including studies of hiring practices, treatment of students, and teacher trainings on race issues, have drawn criticism to the school district. Opponents of the district’s equity work say that Critical Race Theory is being applied to the district’s curriculum.
“Our detractors would have you believe that we are teaching and indoctrinating students with Critical Race Theory in our schools. That’s something that’s simply not happening,” Ziegler said. “What we in education call equity and equity training, which I define as the practice of acknowledging culture and respecting and affirming identity. It’s what you in business would call diversity training.”
He called on business leaders to affirm practices of racial equality and inclusion.
“I would challenge you as a group this morning to join us and speak up when our community and when our school system is attacked because of these values that we share,” he said.
Healy’s speech preceded Zielger’s and spoke to the challenges facing Virginia’s workforce as a result of the pandemic, and building the workforce for the future. She stressed the importance of providing paid internships, apprenticeships, and on-the-job training, especially to financially disadvantaged people and people of color.
“I always say you can’t be what you can’t see. … They do not have social capital,” Healy said.
But, accessing those minority groups is a goal of businesses, she said, and companies want not only a talented workforce, but a diverse workforce.
She emphasized that for businesses to come to Virginia and thrive, a capable workforce is crucial. That, she said, requires recruiting workers and implementing retention strategies. She cited shortages of teachers and healthcare workers coming out of the pandemic, and said that employers must incentivize and structure jobs to appeal to a changing world and changing family dynamics that make working a challenge for some parents.
“I’m almost at the point where, I don’t know if should say this publicly, but some industries, do we actually have the people in Virginia to do those jobs?”