Albemarle County School Board meeting

KATHERINE KNOTT/THE DAILY PROGRESS The Albemarle County School Board on Thursday discussed ways to add a student representative to the board. The body took no vote on the issue.

Albemarle County schools staff members have outlined a plan to implement the division’s anti-racism policy adopted in March but haven’t decided on specific timelines.

“It’s a process,” said Jenn Sublette, director of professional learning for the county schools, adding that the path forward will be a long and winding road.

Staff members have identified more than 20 “deliverables” out of the anti-racism policy, which originally was developed by students and is designed to eliminate all forms of racism from the school system.

“Deliverables means regulations that we are ordered by policy to carry out,” said Bernard Hairston, assistant superintendent for school community empowerment.

Hairston and Sublette updated School Board members Thursday on the plan to implement the policy. The presentation was the first update since the policy was adopted.

Hairston said the division’s strategic approach to implementation manages existing, limited resources and involving staff members who have full-time commitments. A steering committee and project team made up of division staff members are overseeing this process.

The Office of Community Engagement, which Hairston oversees, is leading the work and partnering with other division departments to carry out different tasks.

“If it was simply the Office of Community Engagement, this policy would be an add-on,” Sublette said.

She added that working across the division will lead to “deep, cultural change,” a goal of the policy.

The policy establishes 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. However, the document did not include any metrics or timeline for implementation.

At the board’s meeting Sept. 12, some parents asked about the implementation of the policy and wondered why the policy wasn’t included in the student handbook or posted in any of the schools.

During that same meeting, School Board members pushed for a specific timeline and wanted to see some elements put into place quicker. Hairston stressed the need not to rush implementation, citing the desire for making significant cultural changes in the division.

“I just want to express my appreciation to Bernard, who insists that we go slow so that we can have fidelity to the process so that we can have systematic change rather than doing something quickly that will make a big splash but won’t ultimately change our culture,” board member Steve Koleszar said at Thursday’s meeting.

Hairson and other division staff members focused their work in the spring and summer creating and carrying out a professional development session that introduced culturally responsive teaching practices for all staff.

Sublette said that common experience was “an unprecedented event.”

“It helped to create a spark and momentum,” she said.

More schools have shown an interest in more professional development on the topic. Additionally, more than 200 educators are working on either a micro-credential or certification this school year. By comparison, nearly 80 people have gone through either program to date.

Additionally, the division has created a poster to display in each of its schools that includes a public statement against racism, as dictated in the policy. The draft of that poster can be viewed at k12albemarle.org/acps/division/anti-racism-policy/Pages/default.aspx.

Other updates on the policy are included on that webpage, as well.

Sublette said creating an anti-racist curriculum is “an incredible undertaking,” but they’ll learn from a current effort to rewrite the division’s history curriculum.

A group of U.S. history teachers in the division is meeting this school year to update the curriculum to include more diverse perspectives and to better address the legacies of racism, slavery and inequity, as part of a partnership with James Madison’s Montpelier.

“That deep dive provides a model for us as we look to other curricula areas,” Sublette said.

Moving forward, Hairston said members of the project team will create subcommittees as needed and set timelines for the different deliverables. They’ll also create a version of culturally responsive training for school counselors and plan to train staff on the policy by the start of next school year.

Hairston said they’ll return with another update in January or February.

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