When President-elect Joe Biden delivered his acceptance speech to the nation on Saturday, he ushered in an era of new hope and promise for education both across our nation and for us in Alexandria City Public Schools.
“… Teaching isn’t just what she does. It’s who she is,” he said of his wife, Dr. Jill Biden. “For American educators, this is a great day for y’all. You’re gonna have one of your own in the White House.”
So despite the number of positive cases continuing to rise in the pandemic, our very real concern about future funding and the health and safety of our students and staff in our schools, we may finally see the support we originally sought from the top levels of government in our country.
From Jan. 20, 2021, our nation’s First Lady will be one who has dedicated her career to public education and understands the challenges, opportunities and the needs of our young people. Jill Biden taught English and reading in high schools for 13 years, and also taught adolescents with emotional disabilities at a psychiatric hospital. Since 2009, she has been a professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College – where I am sure she has taught many ACPS alumni.
With the promise of new national community health and safety measures and this week’s announcement of the first potential vaccine, we can start to look forward to a broader reopening of schools. Public schools that have struggled to manage already tight budgets in 2020 can also now look forward to the potential of increased financial support through a new stimulus package.
In addition, Kamala Harris will be the first female, Black and person of South Asian descent to be vice president of the United States. Her election is an example of racial equity for our community. The incoming administration has vowed to be focused on healing and unity which will support our mission, vision and core values in ACPS. We can look forward to fulfilling the ACPS mission to ensure success by inspiring students and addressing barriers to learning, just as we can look forward to fulfilling the plan’s vision to empower students to thrive in a diverse and ever-changing world.
While we have not allowed ourselves to be led by the rhetoric of the White House during the past four years in ACPS, it will make it easier not to fight an uphill struggle when it comes to our students and their futures. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
But this week also reminds us of the work that still needs to be done.
In November 1960, the U.S. experienced the closest presidential election in its history, which eventually led to the election of President John F. Kennedy as the 35th president of the United States. Kennedy only won the popular vote by 100,000 votes and his election exposed the divide between the country in regard to racial equality during the civil rights movement.
Sixty years later, the close results of last week’s 2020 presidential election revealed that racism has not yet been abolished. In fact, it validated the racial divide among Americans across our country. Even with the blatant racism and bigotry across our country, many people in our country continue to deny modern-day racism. In 2020, we still have achievement and opportunity gaps in public education among students of color and their white counterparts.
Our public classrooms continue to lack diversity across our nation’s schools. Low-income families continue to be marginalized and have to overcome barriers to high quality public education, while the federal government continues to underfund public schools and focus on nationally normed and biased assessments that perpetuate academic disparities in public education.
So what does this mean for racial equity in public education? The one common thread in America that illuminates disparities, inequities, injustices and division derives from race. Racial equity must be the heart of our work every single day.
We look forward, as we always have as a nation, never forgetting our past, but harnessing it. We look forward to a world without racial inequities and disparities. The time is now like no other time before.
The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.