Albemarle County schools has a long-term goal to eliminate racism within the division, and the plan to do so is starting to come together.
As officials work to implement the division’s new anti-racism policy, a 17-member steering committee is developing tools to examine bias in curriculum, looking at alternative discipline programs and changing how students are recommended for advanced coursework, among other strategies.
“This work is complex,” said Jasmine Fernandez, project manager for the committee.
Fernandez and Bernard Hairston, assistant superintendent for school community empowerment, discussed implementing the anti-racism policy at a recent meeting of the School Board, which has requested quarterly updates. The last update was in October.
A policy enforcement subcommittee is developing specific metrics to gauge progress.
The recently presented plan includes short-term, medium and long-range outcomes for a range of strategies as outlined in a logic model.
Hairston said that as part of the implementation, the steering committee is working to become anti-racist thinkers, which means having open and honest conversations about race.
“If we do not build the capacity among ourselves to recognize, to call out and to own individual and institutional biases, these same conversations will be recurring in 2025, 2030, 2035 and beyond,” he said.
Staff members previously have identified 27 “deliverables” from the anti-racism policy, which originally was developed by students and is designed to eliminate all forms of racism in the school system. The policy broke down that task into five categories — policy communication; leadership and administration; curriculum and instruction; professional learning and training; and policy enforcement.
In the past few months, the division has placed posters with an anti-racism policy statement in all schools and launched a form that requires schools and offices to confirm the placement of the posters and request more. Fernandez said 200 additional posters have been requested for classrooms and other workspaces.
Additionally, at the high schools, the course recommendation process is changing to be more inclusive of students and families. Students who drafted the anti-racism policy wanted a more transparent process for course recommendations to allow for greater diversity in Advanced Placement or dual-enrollment classes.
The division’s annual equity report found that while 34% of all county high school students participated in AP courses, only 10% of black students and 14% of Hispanic students took at least one AP course during the 2017-18 school year. Meanwhile, white and Asian students were four times more likely to take AP courses than were black students.
Fernandez said division staff members also are reviewing exit surveys from teachers of color over the last five years to learn more about their experiences in the school system.
“This work is going to take time, hence the four-year mark,” Fernandez said. “However, we are engaging in legacy work here, meaning that in order for the outcomes to be successful and sustainable beyond this cabinet and beyond this School Board, we have to be intentional about the implementation of this work.”
The division is planning a public awareness campaign this spring about the anti-racism policy, among other next steps.
In May, division staff will provide another update to board members.