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Report evaluates implementation so far of Albemarle schools' anti-racism policy

Albemarle County schools’ first Anti-Racism Evaluation Report will serve as a baseline for the division as staff continue to implement the anti-racism policy.

“When you look at that report, I consider it as a tool that’s going to allow us to do an even better job with the next six months or so because now we have a frame of reference — and that is a quality of frame of reference — that this work can be done,” said Bernard Hairston, assistant superintendent for school community empowerment.

The report, which reviews and evaluates the policy’s implementation, highlights key projects and those baseline metrics. Hairston said he’d like to see specific metrics for the policy’s 27 deliverables in next year’s report.

Originally developed by students, the policy is designed to eliminate all forms of racism in the school system and focuses that effort on five categories — policy communication; leadership and administration; curriculum and instruction; professional learning and training; and policy enforcement. The policy was adopted in February 2019.

Hairston and project manager Jasmine Fernandez discussed the report with the School Board on Thursday. The board has requested quarterly updates, and last week’s presentation was the first since February.

The division is rolling out new training on the policy for staff in the next few weeks and planning a public awareness campaign for early next year on the different types of racism that exist, among other projects.

The policy established reporting requirements on disciplinary actions and racial disparities throughout the division. It also mandates anti-racism training for staff, a more transparent process for class recommendations and the creation of anti-racist curriculum.

Since the board adopted the policy, Hairston said they’ve received calls from many school systems who wanted to create one. Some policies are exactly like Albemarle’s except for the school names. Charlottesville’s School Board adopted an equity and anti-racism policy in November 2019.

The policy is one tool in the county schools’ efforts to improve outcomes for students.

“By using the anti-racism policy to increase the racial consciousness of our staff, and to get them to understand the total impact of race, and at the same time we’re applying our culture responsive teaching model, I think we’re going to see some tremendous shifts in the next three to five years in our achievement gap data,” Hairston said.

Thursday’s presentation comes about a year since Hairston first laid out the plan to implement the policy. He cautioned in an interview Friday that the process will take years to complete and involve ongoing work as the division seeks to become anti-racist.

“The implementation of the anti-racism policy cannot be done in a matter of months, or in the matter of one or two years,” he said in the interview. “This must be a continuous process.”

Hairston said a key part of last year was training the steering committee, which now has 24 members, on how to be anti-racist. A division-wide book study on Glenn Singleton’s “Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools” also helped to start that self-reflection.

“When you look at the definition of an anti-racist, it’s about the practice of identifying challenging and changing base behaviors on structures and practices that perpetuate systemic racism,” Hairston said.

Hairston and Fernandez have previously outlined a logic model with short-, medium- and long-term outcomes for a range of strategies.

A student equity advisory team is working with the steering committee on the implementation. Students involved are also helping to push out messages and teach their peers about the division’s anonymous reporting system, which can be used to report acts of racism.

In the next few weeks, the division is rolling out an online training about the anti-racism policy that will be mandatory for staff. Hairston said the training will take about an hour to complete and include videos from students explaining the different types of racism — individual, institutional and structural.

“That in itself is going to have a real impact on how folks view the seriousness of this work,” Hairston said of the training.

In addition to the policy training, the steering committee and other division staff members have been working on a range of projects related to the policy Those include forming the student equity advisory team; conducting an equity needs assessment of different departments; developing alternatives to suspension; training staff on the policy; providing more resources to teachers who want to align their lessons with the policy; and changing the course recommendation process to be more inclusive.

The human resources department was the first to pilot the equity needs assessment “to determine best practices that support diverse instructional staff, and to develop and promote inclusive policies and procedures within the department,” according to the report.

The division has set a goal to hire 25 minority teachers each year but has fallen short of that goal in the last two years. Of the 124 new hires, about 20 — or 16% — are teachers of color, according to preliminary hiring data presented to the School Board in September.

The equity needs assessment involved reviewing exit surveys from teachers of color, resignation letters and other available data.

“And what we found was the need to rework our exit survey to allow for more racialized feedback,” Fernandez said. “Additionally, rather than waiting until after educators of color leave, a next step will be to convene a focus group with current educators of color to better understand the barriers that prevent them from staying with us.”

Hairston said he encouraged human resources to take on the task because the department is the core of the division.

“They need to recognize that there are biases within the individuals who are making all these decisions, each and every day, and their biases have an impact on who we’re hiring and not hiring, and their biases have an impact on our retaining or not retaining folks,” he said.

Following the assessment, Hairston said he would like to see specific strategies for recruiting and retaining minority teachers that are grounded in anti-racist work, as well as shifts in documents the department creates and the language used in surveys and interviews.

Schools Superintendent Matt Haas wrote in the report’s introduction that he used to believe that public schools would accomplish their charge to level the playing field for all children to reach their full potential by their mere existence.

“In reality, many of the structures we have in place in our schools — intentionally or unintentionally — perpetuate and enhance racial disparities against the mission we have to expand equity and inclusion,” he wrote. “The good news is that cultures can and do change. Our imperative role in cultural change is to harness our powerful force for good and drive it toward equity.”


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