The Charlottesville School Board discussed a potential equity policy at its meeting Thursday. Superintendent Rosa Atkins and other board members recently attended a conference and heard about Fairfax County’s equity policy, which encompasses the school division and county government.
Fairfax’s policy touches on housing, workforce development, early childhood education, public safety, health care and other areas.
“We were pretty impressed with that policy, and we brought that policy back,” Atkins said.
Atkins told board members that drafting and implementing a similar policy also would involve the City Council. Board members agreed to discuss the potential policy at a joint work session of the two bodies in January.
School Board member Jennifer McKeever said if the council isn’t interested, the division should move forward on drafting a policy for schools.
The division has held two community forums related to equity in the schools in response to a New York Times-ProPublica article that focused on achievement gaps between white and black city students.
The equity policy was one of several action steps outlined in Atkins’ recent monthly newsletter. She wrote that the division also is forming a committee on equity; conducting an internal review of its data, programs and efforts; and mapping resources of sister school divisions and model equity programs.
“I think as we have engaged in discussions about equity, what we have realized is that in order to affect equity in our school system, we must affect all institutions that actually touch a child’s life,” Atkins said. “In order to strengthen the student for school, we must strengthen them for home also.”
The Fairfax policy included implementation steps, training and an accountability framework.
“I think a policy like this causes us to revisit equity in all of our discussions to make sure that it is a part of just our everyday business,” Atkins said. “And that we not accept the status quo of any of our services or programs and ask the hard questions. If it’s a great program, is it a great program for all of our students?”
Atkins said community members would be involved in creating the policy, but there’s an urgency to the process timeline.
“We don’t want the process to be so long that we end up a year from now without a policy,” she said. “Let the process be inclusive but one where we can see an endpoint.”
Also during Thursday’s meeting, board members voted unanimously to extend Atkins’ contract through 2023. Her current four-year contract will expire June 30. Four years is the maximum length allowed under Virginia law.
Several board members praised Atkins for her leadership over the last 13 years, as well as the division’s growth.
“Our school division, under her leadership, has grown,” board member Leah Puryear said. “When she came, all groups of students were flatlined, as I like to say. And over her 13 years, each group has gradually improved. Yes, we have much to do. Yes, we have much to learn.”
Fifty percent of African-American students passed their reading SOL tests this spring, while 90 percent of white students passed.
Board members also highlighted the division’s graduation rate.
About 93 percent of students graduated on time in the 2017-18 school year. More than 88 percent of black students in the Class of 2018 graduated on time.
“We speak all the time about 21st-century learning skills, and I feel under the direction of our current superintendent, we will continue to move forward,” Puryear said. “It may not be to your liking, but we will be moving forward.”
Board member Sherry Kraft said she appreciated Atkins’ commitment to the division.
“It’s to our great benefit that Dr. Atkins has committed herself to steer this ship now and to continue to work with us and to be committed to the success of our division in these difficult times,” she said.
After the board’s vote, Atkins acknowledged that the division has a lot of work to do. She also thanked board members, teachers, principals and students. She also thanked the New York Times for prompting discussions about equity.
“Our community now is in a position in which we are having some very tough, difficult discussions,” she said. “We may not have gotten to these discussions as quickly as we have now without the article. For that I am grateful.”