Charlottesville School Board receives update on Equity Committee

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The Charlottesville Schools’ Equity Committee provided the Charlottesville School Board with updates on its work at its April 11 board meeting.

The board also voted to include Spanish as an elective at Walker Upper Elementary School, after having previously removed it, and approved two pre-engineering elective courses designed for students to explore STEM ahead of high school.

Equity Committee members Charlene Green and Beth Cheuk told the board that the body continues to receive community feedback, and added requests for a living wage provision and to diversify classes at Walker, Buford Elementary and Charlottesville High School to the division’s budget request.

African-American history classes also were designated as an honors-option to encourage more students to enroll in them.

Green and Cheuk also detailed the continued roll out of social-emotional learning, mental wellness initiatives and other initiatives.

“While new approaches arise and some changes are being rolled out, our intent is not to create a special program called equity or to add one more thing to what we are doing. Instead the idea is to use equity as the lens for evaluating and refining all of our programs,” Cheuk said.

The committee says it is listening to the demands that CHS’s Black Student Union detailed in their recent school walk out. One demand is increased campus security through installation of locked door and buzzer systems at schools that were lacking them. Those changes are already underway.

In her presentation, Cheuk said community feedback included hiring and supporting teachers of color, making tutoring easily available, promoting student diversity in classrooms and the support and retainment of effective teachers and principals.

She also noted that the work of the committee will take time.

“There will be no quick fixes. Equity work is complex. Critical foundation work may not be easily visible. Progress will be measured in years not months,” Cheuk said in her presentation. “Change is hard. Schools across the nation that are committed to equity find themselves criticized both for doing too much and for doing too little.”

Student school board representative and BSU chair Zyahna Bryant said that no one expects or is asking for an overnight solution.

“I found the ‘sobering reality’ slide to be somewhat ironic, considering no one is really asking the board to have a magic wand,” Bryant said. “I think the sobering reality is that this is a generation problem. I think that it’s giving a bit of a weird illusion that perhaps we’re asking for there to be a quicker turnaround but in fact this conversation has been going on since the ’90s, the ’80s. I want us to be very clear about that.”

An Albemarle County resident who works in the city named Ken Horne spoke during the public comment period to express support for Bryant and the BSU.

“Folks have been trying to address this issue across the nation and we’re not getting the results that we need,” Horne said. “I think a lot of it has to do with not really addressing the institutional racism that a few of you have mentioned tonight. Not really addressing white supremacy and the way that it is embedded in all of these systems.”

Meanwhile, Green said that trust from the community will require the committee to be “very real” with how it approaches the work.

“I’ve been a part of way too many committees that have come together to address an issue — often in relation to equity and diversity — and then, a beautiful report is created and then we stick it up on the shelf and we pat ourselves on the back and say ‘well done’ until the next thing happens,” Green said. “We can’t do that. I’m tired of doing that, and I know our community is tired of us doing that.”

According to Green, the committee hold meeting on May 1

*This article originally appeared in Charlottesville Tomorrow.

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