Charlottesville School Board Oct. 3, 2019

KATHERINE KNOTT/THE DAILY PROGRESS

The Charlottesville School Board meets Thursday at Charlottesville High School.

The Charlottesville School Board is one month away from adopting a policy that will drive the division’s work to improve equity.

On Thursday, School Board members reviewed the second public draft of the policy, which will be voted on Nov. 7. The board was more receptive compared with the initial draft presented in August.

T. Denise Johnson, the division’s supervisor of equity and inclusion, worked over the last months to build out the policy in response to the board’s feedback.

The latest version calls for schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins to develop and implement a system-wide equity plan “with clear accountability and disaggregated metrics,” and to regularly report on that plan and outcomes. The School Board and division staff also will identify and annually revisit key focus areas such as literacy, discipline and staff diversity.

“It looks great,” board member James Bryant said, adding that he liked the provisions for the annual review and for the superintendent to report back.

Board members also reviewed a draft anti-racism policy that “officially denounces racism and all racial inequities.” Paired with the equity policy, it’s designed to dismantle individual, institutional and structural racism that exists in the division, according to the draft.

The idea of a division equity policy was first broached in December. Division officials have said it would help to ensure equity is considered in all decisions.

An initial draft of the policy was presented to board members in August. It was 212 words and outlined a series of beliefs and commitments for the School Board. At that meeting, members said they wanted more specifics and metrics in the final policy.

“What I want is substance and metrics,” board Chairwoman Jennifer McKeever said in August. “This means nothing … It’s like cotton candy. It’s sweet but doesn’t fill you up. I don’t want a feel-good equity policy.”

The latest iteration gives more concrete measures and defines equity.

The policy defines educational equity as meaning “that all children receive what they need to develop to their full academic and social potential.”

Additionally, this version outlines broad steps that would be involved in creating a more equitable school division, such as “removing the predictability of success or failures that currently correlates with any social or cultural factor” and “interrupting and dismantling harmful or inequitable practices and policies, examining biases.”

The seven measures in the policy include recruiting, supporting and retaining a diverse workforce, training staff to implement the policy and working to “equitably allocate resources to accomplish strategic plan goals.”

McKeever said this version will give clear guidance to future School Board members on the division’s equity work.

Johnson drew on policies from other school systems to draft this version.

In Albemarle County, all policy changes must be reviewed with an equity checklist developed by division staff in 2018 and an equity education policy that outlines board commitments and three action steps.

In the last year, the city division has reviewed community feedback and decided to focus on four areas: a supported and supportive staff; growing relationships; diverse, inclusive and rigorous learning experiences; and equity foundations. The progress in these areas will be documented at charlottesvillecityschools.org/equity. The webpage will serve as a landing page for updates and key measures, as called for in the draft policy.

“You can watch us grow,” Atkins said.

McKeever said that while the webpage and list of actions scratch the surface, they do provide accountability for the board.

“I just really can’t tell you how vital it is to have something like this in the world demonstrating our basically foundational documents and show where you want to be and how to get there,” she said.

Gifted education

Also during Thursday’s meeting, the School Board officially signed off on changes to its gifted education program — unveiled in June and enacted at the beginning of the school year.

The overhaul is aimed at ensuring all students benefit from lessons and activities designed to challenge them through a “push-in” model. Previously, those services were available to a select group of students, a majority of whom were white.

Over the summer, an additional eight gifted-resource teachers were budgeted for to support the new model. Seven have been hired so far.

McKeever said the board wants to receive regular reports on the new program’s implementation.

“It’s not something we are going to approve and be done with,” she said.

On Tuesday, the Albemarle-Charlottesville branch of the NAACP said it was “deeply concerned” about the changes and that the new program won’t address the achievement gap between white and African American students. The organization didn’t respond to a request for additional information about their concerns.

“The School Board appreciates the NAACP’s steadfast and immobile position on the performance improvement of African Americans,” McKeever said in a statement. “We work in partnership with the NAACP to advance performance.”

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