It takes more than a month to share the history of Black people who continue to make history daily, and much work is still needed to dismantle systemic racism in Alexandria City Public Schools and across our nation.
On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously voted that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” after a successful argument by Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first African American Supreme Court justice. The push for integrating schools began with Brown vs. the Board of Education.
In 1955, schools nationwide resisted integration and appealed to the courts for time, leading the Supreme Court to revise their decision to include “with all deliberate speed.” In ACPS, Superintendent Thomas Chambliss Williams opposed integration and followed the U.S. Senator Harry Byrd’s “massive resistance” movement to prevent schools in Virginia from integrating for decades. Prince Edward County Schools closed for five years to avoid integration.
After 65 years, one would think that the Brown vs. BOE landmark case would have helped us to tackle systemic racism within our schools. However, our schools are still working tirelessly to eliminate achievement and opportunity gaps, disciplinary disparities and inequitable educational experiences among children of color and their white peers.
ACPS integrated its schools in 1959, and we still strive, in 2021, to remove systemic barriers and become an antiracist school division where all students engage in high-quality learning and graduate ready to contribute globally, regardless of race, zip code, socioeconomic status or educational ability.
When will we bring the intent of Brown vs. BOE to fruition? Our new President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona are leading during this most challenging time for schools in America.
We are experiencing a dual pandemic with the coronavirus, impacting many lives and the education of our students, while we simultaneously advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement. We hold onto hope that change is coming, and that our marathon to dismantle racism in education is underway.
This pandemic, however, continues to exacerbate inequities for vulnerable students, especially our Black and brown students. Prior to closing schools last March, public education was not meeting the needs of our marginalized students, a problem highlighted during the pandemic.
Despite these inequities, we still have culturally biased assessments across public education institutions which do not accurately gauge the achievement of all students. The de-facto segregation of students permeates the schools in ACPS and across our nation, from segregated communities to inequitable policies that pose barriers for students to access more rigorous classes.
While this pandemic has been horrific in many ways, it also brings opportunities, especially in public education. Our federal government provided relief funds for technology, meals, eviction waivers, stimulus checks and safety measures for our schools during this challenging time.
While I am wholeheartedly grateful for this, and welcome additional needed funding, this begs the question, “How is this funding graciously provided during a pandemic, yet was unavailable prior to the pandemic?” We must continue to demand these additional resources after the pandemic and ensure our public education is funded appropriately going forward.
Looking closer to home, I commend the Alexandria School Board for unanimously voting to rename Thomas Chambliss (T.C.) Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School. These are historic and symbolic acts for uplifting our mission, vision and core values in ACPS. However, much work exists to truly dismantle the systemic racism that our Black and brown ACPS students face today.
I faced this as a student in ACPS from K-12, and many generations of Black and brown students before me faced it as well. The “ACPS 2025: Equity for All” Strategic Plan provides a roadmap to dismantle systemic racism and eliminate achievement and opportunity gaps for our most marginalized students.
In this new year, we remain hopeful and steadfast, recognizing that our students rely on us to lead by example. We stand on the shoulders of many African Americans who have paved the way to get this far. Now it is our turn, and each and every one of us can make a difference.
The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.