March 2, 2022
Dear Community Members (Principals, Teachers, and Staff),
Equity is an Action Word.
When I was a student more than two decades ago, several schools across the country made plans to prioritize culturally responsive teaching. The shift to emphasizing classroom instruction and school discipline with a multicultural lens came in the wake of a generation removed from the abolition of Jim Crow legislation. Schools have since become more diverse. Not only are school districts in the Commonwealth of Virginia diversifying in terms of socioeconomic status, but as shown in the 2000 U.S. Census, communities in Arlington Public Schools saw significant shifts in race, ethnicity, and multi-language learners. Educational leaders thought it wise to invest in professional development training for classroom instructors to lesson plan for diversity, build community, teach students who speak English as a second language, serve students with disabilities, and honor students’ cultural backgrounds. The approach was necessary because the teaching staff remained predominantly heterosexual, Christian, and white, although the student body changed drastically.
While not necessarily a byproduct of what was once multicultural education, the practices of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have become the framework to ensure that schools serve the needs of ALL students. The inception of this framework was intended to provide school systems with a roadmap to teach and reach a growing, diverse student body. Yet, over time, the framework has become mudded by thinking that in order to have equity, someone has to lose something. This reasoning is divisive and exactly where candidates compete for support in contentious primary elections by levying allegations that equity is based only on race and not for all students. Too many campaign advertisements and proposed bills exploit our students while demonizing our educators for the sake of political expediency. Additionally, other obstructions to the goals of equity are the lack of appropriate funding for resources for all students in a fair, balanced and equitable manner. For instance, one way content areas focus on improving curriculum that will benefit every single student in APS is through curriculum audits. If we want all students to be able to explain how they learn, be engaged in learning, and express their learning in creative ways, then we need to examine learning in a collaborative way. In every attempt to empower our students and staff, my office provides the following as definitions of diversity, equity, and inclusion: Diversity: The many identities from which people in Arlington Public Schools differ. At Arlington Public Schools, we see this uniqueness shaped by areas of status, sexual orientation, national origin, creed, color, race, marital status, military status, gender identity or expression, pregnancy status, genetic information, citizenship status, disability, socioeconomic status, age, physical appearance, and any other area in which people may experience or express differences. We also think of ideas, perspectives, and values as a key aspect of diversity. Diversity means that each individual or group will possess different perceptions and engage independent of societal norms in social interactions.
Educational Equity: The identification and implementation of policies, practices and procedures that lead to the just and fair distribution of resources based on the needs of individual students and individual school buildings. To guarantee that all students, families, and employees have the resources to succeed, Arlington Public Schools focuses on four approaches to equity: governance equity practices, educational equity practices, workforce equity practices, and operational equity practices.
Inclusion: The active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with Arlington Public Schools’ diversity. Inclusion in Arlington Public Schools is about welcoming and including differences in policy decisions, school processes, instructional practices, family/community engagement, and extracurricular activities.
I fear that the contriving or persistent misrepresentation of the function of equitable practices will take us to a place where DEI services can no longer bring about the type of change that helps all students and families thrive in our APS system. As a result, school leaders and teachers have aborted many equity initiatives that once aimed to serve the needs of all students. The decades worth of work by our educators – conservative, liberal, and those in between – to turn our public schools into places of belonging by way of resource allocation, community partnerships, and culturally responsive teaching have largely been stifled by this climate of fear.
Equity is for everyone! Equitable practices exist to serve the dominant culture as much as those from underrepresented communities. For instance, we have students who lack opportunities for after school tutoring and extracurricular activities solely because of transportation. Tackling these issues with an equity mindset will allow us to find solutions for those families who have a need in this area.
Conflating equity with other, more contentious concepts in educational programming has made equity an unnecessary flashpoint. Even in divisions that are not threatened by divisiveness, they are thinking twice about how to proceed with identifying gaps in access, and they are pausing data-driven approaches to provide equitable learning for all students. We will work to maintain that practices such as educational equity continue to exist in Arlington Public Schools.
A key pillar in equity work is data analysis. Data practices are designed to help Arlington Public School leaders avoid subjective decision-making. My hope is that we do not move away from objective scientific analyses that result in impartial, emotionless action steps. We will work to ease concerns that practices such as educational equity exist as a divisive force. To that end, I will continue to learn as the APS Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer, and I am committed to ensuring that APS will always value viewpoint diversity when it comes to DEI-related decisions.
Jason Ottley, Ph.D.
Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer
SPANISH VERSION: Spanish-DEI 2022 Letterhead re Equity is an Action Word-
MONGOLIAN VERSION: Mongolian-DEI 2022 Letterhead re Equity is an Action Word-
AMHARIC VERSION: Amharic-DEI 2022 Letterhead re Equity is an Action Word-