Conversation starters concerning racial equity are all around us, in the news, music, movies and books. For some, the term may trigger feelings of aggravation and discomfort, which can lead to misunderstandings. As we begin a new school year at Alexandria City Public Schools, it is important to share why we have ventured down the path of racial equity – and why this work must continue.
ACPS is actively working toward racial equity in our schools with our strategic plan, “Equity for All 2025,” because our job is to provide an optimal learning environment for all students. Our plan has been called bold on more than one occasion because it is, and we are proud of setting out a road map for how a school division can put racial equity at the heart of everything that it does.
The vision articulated in the strategic plan aims to empower all students and provide each with the ability to thrive. The mission will advance in multiple ways during the 2021- 22 school year. “Equity for All” acknowledges the role that we play as educators in perpetuating systemic racism, acknowledges the ways in which we have created barriers to learning and then actively removes those barriers to ensure both access and success.
The conversation concerning racism in America spread across the nation following the fatal shootings of Black men and women such as Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. During this time of national unrest, ACPS took a critical look at how it could do its part to address racial inequity in education. Through those conversations, this plan came to life.
The vision for “Equity for All” continues to evolve. Major steps have been taken to align the ACPS areas of focus, School Board budget priorities, superintendent’s evaluation and planning documents with the new strategic plan. The School Board recently discussed our areas of focus for the 2021-22 school year to prepare for the adoption of specific strategies and objectives related to social, emotional and academic learning recovery, Hispanic male student advancement, the middle school experience and transitions, opportunities for early college and the Talented and Gifted program, as well as ongoing work within ACPS to implement the strategic plan, equity policy audits and robust support for students with special needs.
All school staff have put the focus on racial equity via critical dialogue, awareness and self-reflection and strategic analysis of our academic and social-emotional data. All of these components must come together to work successfully toward becoming an anti-racist school division.
A unified planning process has allowed for three major city planning efforts across schools, city government and healthcare to engage together in a collaborative manner. In addition, a new formative strategic plan monitoring process has been developed and implemented. ACPS carried out our first “Equity for All Climate Survey” was carried out by ACPS last June. This survey asked staff, families and secondary school students to share their own experiences with equity in the school division. Results from this survey will be shared in the coming months.
Designed with transparency in mind, we have also launched the Equity Dashboard, a valuable tool that displays and monitors our results on key performance indicators to support and inform systems work and target inequitable social, emotional and academic outcomes for identified student groups.
The ACPS community is seeing “Equity for All 2025” come to fruition. The plan has put ACPS on a course to provide a high-quality education that is accessible to all students that will dismantle systemic racism in our schools.
“Equity for All” means acknowledging how systemic racism impacts every decision and action ACPS takes, and, as we rethink our priorities and our values, we must continue to put inclusive practices front and center in our work.
The writer is chair of the Alexandria School Board.