Dr. Ottley’s January 2022 Equity Message to Families

Dear APS Community,

In our ever-changing global society, the effort to rectify educational disparities remains a formidable challenge for school districts throughout the United States, ours included.As stated on the Arlington Public Schools (APS) website, “equity is one of our core values and fundamental beliefs.”

Since its founding in 2019, the APS Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion has worked to bridge existing equity gaps; however, today I want to make sure our community understands the importance of DEI planning and implementation.


Dr. Durán’s roadmap to equity is “meeting the needs of every student by name and need.” In addition, equity is the continued practice of ensuring personalized educational resources for all students to achieve academic success based on their individual needs which eliminates opportunity gaps.

Our Vision for Equity

Our office is committed to ensuring that all students receive personalized educational resources, so that they can achieve academic success based on their individual needs. Setting goals and providing support for every APS student helps us meet them where they are. Every child is situated differently in our school system; therefore, our office recognizes that every student needs different supports. We will collect and analyze data to create a targeted approach to how we are helping all students meet district goals in lieu of traditional norms determining the nature of those supports.

What are we to do with our existing inequities and arrangements in our school system? How can we take proactive measures to address these issues? History has documented universal attempts to correct inequities. The Social Security Act, often described as the quintessential universal policy, was universal only insofar as the universal was a white, male, able-bodied worker. In its early years, the elderly were excluded since they did not have a history of paying contributions into the system. Under the cultural norms of the era, men were the primary wage earners, while women typically worked in the home. Because of discriminatory patterns, they were often kept out of most areas of the labor force. Unpaid household labor and child-rearing responsibilities did not count toward social security earnings. Even today, women who take time off to raise children or select careers with more flexible working hours will earn less, on average, than their male counterparts, and will therefore have lower social security benefits upon retirement (Powell, 2009).

Simply put, ostensibly universal programs have no less potential to exacerbate inequality than to ameliorate it. Treating people who are situated differently as if they were the same can result in much greater inequities.

On the contrary, targeted shared goals is one strategy that is inclusive of the needs of all student groups (See Figure 1).  

 Figure 1: Targeted Approach versus Targeted Universalism FSG Reimagining Social Change, 2018 

chart showing targeted approach vs. targeted universalism

Shared Goals

Contrary to developing general goals, policies, and practices that deny differences, targeted shared goals organize a school community around a shared universal goal then uses data to formulate a targeted process to achieve that goal.

Through the approach of collecting quantitative and qualitative data, a universal goal (e.g., 100% math proficiency among all eighth-grade students; the improvement of employment outcomes for young adults) can be achieved by deploying targeted approaches that address the varying needs and circumstances of each student group (e.g., provide ESL specific math tutoring; identify youth facing structural barriers and pair them with local mentors to help them access available employment options).

This work is long-term. With this in mind, our office will take the following steps this spring to ensure an equitable educational experience:

  •   Include parent and student voices in our Equity Teams
  •   Create a division-wide advisory task force on equity
  •   Meet monthly with student, parent, and advisory groups
  •   Provide professional learning opportunities for all staff
  •   Enhance partnerships with our Arlington community

We all want what is best for our students. Transparency about our strategies and practices that expel fear in the educational system is at the cornerstone of our work. In pursuit of equity, our office will continue to assess our actions to identify and solve institutional barriers and create opportunities, so that each student has the support necessary to achieve their highest potential.


Dr. Jason Ottley, Ph.D.
Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer
Arlington Public Schools


Chicago Public Schools. (2020). Equity Framework: Targeted Universalism. Equity Toolkit, Equity in CPS.Powell, John A. (Jan. 2009).

“Post-Racialism or Targeted Universalism.” Denver Law Review. 86 Denv. U.L. rev. 785.Wright, Ursula, Price, Hayling, and Anidi, Ebele. (Oct. 2018).

“Getting to Yes: How to Generate Consensus for Targeted Universalism.” FSG Reimagining Social Change.