More than a year after Charlottesville City Schools asked the community about equity issues in the school system and began work on several initiatives, the school division is getting feedback on those initiatives and other efforts.
In a series of equity talks this week, school officials are asking community members what they have noticed about the division’s equity work and what’s going well, what still needs to happen in the schools and how they would measure progress. An online survey posted to the division’s website asked the same questions.
The talks kicked off Monday at Charlottesville High School and will continue at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Cherry Avenue Boys and Girls Club and at 12 p.m. Thursday at the City of Promise.
“We’re touching base to see if we are going in the right direction,” said Charlottesville School Board member Juandiego Wade. “We’re here to listen and see what we can do as we can move forward.”
Wade and board member Lisa Larson-Torres along with division spokeswoman Beth Cheuk and Charlene Green moderated Tuesday’s discussion, which focused heavily on the redesign of gifted education.
Parents said they’ve noticed positive changes with gifted education but wondered how the division was measuring the effectiveness of the new model. They also wanted more communication about equity efforts at the individual schools.
This school year, the division overhauled its gifted education program to end the practice of pulling children out for gifted education classes in favor of providing services to all students, among other changes.
Green relayed that a teacher at Monday’s forum said that students were seeing their classmates in a more positive light since groups of students were not getting pulled out of class anymore.
“What I am hearing is that we need more information about what the gifted program looks like in its new context, what we are measuring and then put it out there,” Wade said.
The attendees of Tuesday’s discussion at Friendship Court were all white, and the lack of diversity in the group kicked off the discussion.
“Yes, it’s important to have diversity at the table,” Green said. “ … There are some people of color who feel like they don’t want to be the person responsible for educating white folks about what it means to be who they are and what their family experiences are like. … I know that’s part of the challenge in trying to keep these conversations as diverse as possible.”
The division used email, social media, paper flyers and robocalls to promote the equity talks, Cheuk said.
Wade added that this week’s events were one way the school system was gathering feedback from the community.
In the last year, the division decided to focus its efforts to improve equity on four areas: a supported and supportive staff; growing relationships; diverse, inclusive and rigorous learning experiences; and equity foundations. Updates on these areas are posted on the division’s website at charlottesvilleschools.org/equity.
In November, the School Board adopted an equity policy that calls for developing a system-wide equity plan with accountability measures and an annual report. Additionally, the School Board and division officials will identify equity focus areas such as literacy and school discipline.
Larson-Torres said gifted education is one component of equity, and through the equity policy, board members are looking at what metrics to use.
“We all want results and reassurance,” she said. “I feel very confident that we are doing what’s right and what’s best for our kids. But I understand the need to see something, and we are we are looking at that. We don’t want to rush into it.”