White Folks Facing Race: Action Item Letter to the School Board

[This is part of my White Folks Facing Race series, originally written on January 30, 2019 to an email group created for community members in the Washington, DC area.]

Hi Friends!

I hope all of you are staying warm in this chilly weather! I have a schools-specific update this week, including action items!

But first, some quick calendar items:

(1) Please note that our next small group meeting is Thursday, February 7. Please let me know if you plan to attend.

(2) The school district is celebrating 60 years since Desegregation on February 4, 2019. I’ll be there, so let me know if you want to meet up!

(3) Register for March 9th Racial Justice Allyship Workshop!

(4) The School Board has a work session on Diversity on Tuesday, February 26, which is when the consultation report and recommendations will be discussed (the report should be available prior to this, likely as a monitoring item at a School Board meeting on 2/7 or 2/21 — I’ll try to let you know when it shows up). I’m pushing for some advocacy from our group members prior to the 2/26 work session so that our School Board members are informed and aware that community members are very engaged on this topic in the interest of equity.

Action Opportunity:

I would like to ask for your help in a letter writing campaign to the School Board. I have on good authority that many letters about a particular topic from a large number of individuals (rather than one letter signed by many people) have a strong impact. I would like to suggest that we each draft a letter around equity to send, in our own words, but with some common themes/phrases that will tie them all together. These can be sent via email to each School Board member individually. Here are some topics for your consideration:

(1) Planning factors are the elements used to calculate what each school will need, mostly based on the number of students each school will have (for example X number of students = Y number of rolls of toilet paper). Right now, those planning factors are applied equally to all schools, and since they also determine more consequential things like how many specialist staff positions are available, it is worth arguing that an equitable calculation would be more appropriate (based on SES scores and/or economic levels) so that we are actually meeting individual student need rather than treating every student as the same. For example, the way it works right now, a school with 6 students who are English-learners and a school with 300 students who are English-learners would be allotted the same number of reading specialists. This makes no sense, especially because Title I funds do not even get close to covering the difference.

(2) Currently, the Superintendent gives the principals at each school a lot of autonomy in how they choose to spend their budgets. This can be a really great thing, but the flexibility is somewhat limited. For example, a principal cannot convert a math specialist position to a reading specialist position if their student needs are heavier in a particular area. We can encourage the School Board to ask the Superintendent to allow more flexibility for principals in their specialist choices, for example. The other piece to this is that because the Superintendent is relatively hands-off at individual schools, principals must decide to ask for more resources if the needs of their students are not being met. This can be a complex decision, because while I understand that the Superintendent is responsive to the requests he receives, it is possible that principals are hesitant to make a request because it can reflect negatively on their ability to handle the challenges they face, especially in the face of budget constraints.

(3) This is particularly relevant at one ES, which is a new neighborhood school this fall and has a wonderful principal with a strong reputation leading it. The Superintendent does not need to be more hands-on, but there needs to be explicit and generous support offered as the principal shepherds the school into a new phase, particularly with acknowledgement of the embarrassingly inadequate support this school has experienced historically. School leadership should be given more than ample freedom to ask for what the students need and an explicit understanding that they will receive the support they request. We can advocate for this (and for our local families — please chime in with any helpful language or preferences since you’re most informed about this). The School Board and Superintendent need to know that the County is watching how this develops.

(4) In addition to supporting our principals, the school district can make a concerted effort in its marketing of its schools, especially when boundary processes are happening, to ensure that families are more informed about the exciting things happening at each of our neighborhood schools and less concerned about these “unknown” communities. These marketing resources can really help to address the negative impressions many residents have of particular schools and can encourage engagement between schools and their communities.

I imagine that there are other ways we can advocate for specific things that address inequities in our schools, so please feel free to add more to this list or just include them in your letter. If we can aim to send these letters to the School Board between now and February 20 (to make sure they have time to read them before the meeting on the 26th), then it may have an impact. If you want to share your letter with the group, feel free, and if you want to just let me know that you send one, that would be awesome, too. You’re also welcome to say that you’re part of our group — we’re starting to gain some recognition and all of the School Board members know about us.

Thank you in advance for engaging on this topic! And if you have any questions or concerns, please let me know.

Emily

Listen. Amplify. Follow.

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Mom, Activist, Community Organizer

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