The new year is always a time of fresh starts and resolutions. But it is impossible to have those fresh starts and new beginnings without reflect- ing on aspects of the past that we don’t want to see repeated in the future.
The new year marks 65 years since Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibited segregation in public schools. This milestone will certainly be acknowledged in public education throughout the country, alongside the progress we have made as a nation.
We have come a long way since May 17, 1954, when the court stripped away the legitimacy of laws that segregated people by race, and instead made equal opportunity in education the law of the land. Since that date, Alexandria has had an African-American School Board Chair, an African-American Mayor and an African-American schools superintendent – all of them products of Alexandria City Public Schools. More significantly, all are Alexandrians.
In ACPS, our community of staff, students and their families are more diverse than it has ever been. Not a day goes by that I do not celebrate the fact that I am a product of this great school division, and that I now have the privilege to serve as the superintendent. None of these things could have happened in 1954.
It is easy to glamorize the story of Alexandria’s desegregation. While we like to think of those days in the vein of “Remember the Titans,” the real story is darker and more complex. It is one of student-led protests, race riots, police beatings and the murder of a student for which the murderer served only six months behind bars.
It is also the story of an old guard of Alexandrians, with connections to Harry T. Byrd and others who supported change but also feared the upheaval it would bring. Ultimately T.C. Williams High School was a solution to the crisis. Named after an ardent segregationist, it came to stand as a symbol of a racially unified community and helped defuse some of the tensions even if it was not in reality a racially unified community.
Even though our city and nation have made significant progress in race relations, we still have a long way to go to ensure equity in our public schools. This is one of the areas we will focus on as a school division as we mark the 65th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education and beyond. We have already been engaged in courageous conversations that are needed to ensure every student in our school division succeeds, and we know it will take our entire community to see that come to fruition.
Equity is more than race relations; it crosses all areas of focus in ACPS including facilities, academic opportunities, learning environment, fund- ing allocations, human capital and resources. Equity is not about taking from one group to give to another. It is about meeting every child where they are, not necessarily where we want them to be. Equity means that we serve all students at the highest levels regardless of special needs, gifted services, low socioeconomic status, language barriers or challenging obstacles in life.
We know that the equity discussion can be uncomfortable, but we also know that if we push through the discomfort, there is a better future beyond it for every one of our students. It is not our right to be comfortable — discomfort affords us the opportunity to grow as individuals and pushes our thinking. I encourage all of you to be a part of this courageous conversation and be willing to be open-minded about how we serve all students in ACPS as we embark on establishing the next strategic plan in ACPS in late spring 2019.
Please join me at a “Conversation with the Superintendent” session on Jan. 30 at 6 p.m. in the T.C. Williams High School cafeteria as I celebrate the end of my first 100 days as superintendent. I will be sharing what I have learned through my listening and learning sessions and starting a conversation about the future work required for ACPS to become the best it has ever been.
I invite you to join me as a champion for each and every one of our students in this important Brown v. Board of Education anniversary year. Just as it took a unified voice to overcome segregation in 1954, it will take a unified voice emboldened with Titan pride to take us to the next level in 2019 and beyond in ACPS. And so, from my Titan family to yours, happy New Year.
The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.