Loudoun parents left a recent panel discussion on black student achievement in Loudoun County Public Schools with a call to action: Hold school administrators and elected officials accountable, and get involved.
The Feb. 2 panel discussion — hosted by the Loudoun County Alumnae Chapter (LCAC) of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. — explored topics such how black students are disciplined at higher rates, black student’s underrepresentation in gifted programs, test scores and enrollment the Academy of Science and Academy of Engineering and Technology, and the disparity between black and minority teachers when compared to the percentage of black and minority students.
LCPS has taken on initiatives over the years to increase diversity hiring, expand STEM and gifted feeder programs and decrease discipline disproportionality, for which statistics were shared during Saturday’s event.
Most recently, LCPS Superintendent Eric Williams included $200,000 in the fiscal 2020 proposed budget to hire an equity and cultural competence specialist position and supporting training resources. However, several community leaders, including past minority student achievement advisory aommittee chairs, said this is not enough.
LCAC Social Action Chair Katrecia Nolen, who shared LCPS statistics with event attendees, said the $200,000 that would cover the new position and training programs makes up less than 0.25 percent of the nearly $1.3 billion proposed budget. MSAAC has been asking LCPS for a team to handle equity and inclusion for more than 10 years.
Nolen said Loudoun needs a department, similar to Fairfax County, that reports to Williams and makes sure efforts are truly carried out by every principal and should at least receive 0.5 percent of the budget.
“They recognize, they value the diversity of their community and of their students and of their staff. We want to be that same community that values all of us,” Nolen said. “In order to do so, you have to understand that the budget has to reflect priorities of the community.”
She urged parents to attend Tuesday’s 6:30 p.m. budget work session and adoption at the LCPS Administrative Office in Ashburn to advocate for an equity and inclusion department.
“As part of Black History Month, let’s not just celebrate the past, let’s celebrate the future we want to lay out for our students. Let’s be there,” Nolen said.
The theme of showing up was prevalent in the panel discussion and presentation.
John Champe High School Principal Kevin Tyson, Leesburg Elementary School Principal Shawn Lacey, Loudoun NAACP Youth Committee Chair Amira Bray, LCPS fifth grade teacher Ashley Tyson, Loudoun NAACP President Michelle Thomas, Loudoun NAACP Legal Redress Chair Buta Biberaj and Loudoun School Board candidate Kenya Savage sat on the panel moderated by LCAC President Katrina Smith.
The panel fielded questions on navigating gifted education, special education, preparing for the Academies of Loudoun, advocating for diversity hiring, handling discipline and resources on student rights.
Panel members resoundingly told parents to learn the school system’s infrastructure, be familiar with the student handbook, and meet teachers and administrators before a problem arises.
Ashley Tyson and Lacey said testing for gifted education starts as early as kindergarten and first grade, and that if parents and students have an interest in gifted education, they should examine the standardized test scores and talk to teachers about how to advance.
On the topic of special education, Lacey said parents should understand accommodations under special education are about making public education accessible and attainable for students. Savage said that students who receive accommodations may feel inferior, and it is up to parents to encourage students and make them understand it’s alright to be different, and that different students learn differently.
Kevin Tyson said many students in his school who receive accommodations graduate with advanced studies diplomas and take Advanced Placement courses. He said the No. 1 barrier to AP classes — whether it be students in special education or general education — is adult encouragement.
“We have to do more as a school system and as parents, because that barrier, that adult was not just inside the school,” Kevin Tyson said. “It was literally, people had never asked this kid to do it, or pushed this kid to do it, and there’s this fallacy that some of our other kids are just actively selecting these courses, and no they’re not. Their parents are making them do that.”
Thomas also said it’s on the community to get involved in tutoring and mentoring students.
Savage also encouraged attendees to vote in local elections for School Board members, and Thomas urged local parents to get involved in policy, hold administrators accountable and be loud in advocacy.
“I hope the dialogue and conversation today will lead you to action on behalf of your children, and I hope it will continue to make our community stronger,” Smith said.