Monthly Messages from DEI

Dr. Ottley creates monthly messages to the APS community about the work the DEI team is doing and the vision for APS.

MARCH 2022 Community Letter (with translations)

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.

Respectfully,

Jason Ottley, Ph.D.
Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer

SPANISH VERSION: Spanish-DEI 2022 Letterhead re Equity is an Action Word-

ARABIC VERSION:  Arabic-Translation 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-

Dr. Ottley’s Critical Race Theory Message to the Community

January 21, 2022

Dear Community Members,

The offices of Academics and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion have made strides to produce social and curricular experiences that are meaningful and praiseworthy. Among our achievements is an Equity policy, passed by the school board August 2020, which holds district officials accountable for creating and maintaining a culturally responsive environment that strives to eliminate district and community-wide inequities in governance practices, workforce practices, operational practices, and educational practices. Considering Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Executive Order (EO) No. 1 (2022) designed to end the incorporation of “inherently divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory and its progeny,” I would like to provide some thoughts on our educational equity practices.

The debate over teaching and learning in the education system in our Commonwealth is not alone in this current politicized climate. Before the new year, at least eight states passed laws restricting the teaching of “divisive concepts.” More than a dozen other states have proposed similar laws, which include prohibitions on, not just pedagogical practices and curriculum, but call for bans on certain books.

Since our country is a democracy, and Arlington Public Schools is a microcosm of our larger society, the polarizing impact of political ideology has and always will influence school policy. I hear arguments from both sides: one set of ideals maintains that discussions on race and sex are attempts at political indoctrination; topics such as CRT cause students to feel shame or guilt of their racial, sexual and gender identities. The other claims such laws or executive orders are bans on truth, and that they suppress the teaching of darker moments of American history while resulting in the exclusion of underrepresented voices.

CRT is an academic theory that is used to understand the role race has played in the development of legal, social, and political policies throughout the history of the United States, past and present. While it is primarily taught at the university level, the public has raised concerns over some of the theory’s core tenets, which include: (1) race is socially invented in order to privilege one racialized group over others; (2) racism is a natural part of everyday life and is thus institutional, as opposed to individual; and (3) racialized and other marginalized people possess a unique perspective into the nature of oppressive systems, structures, and institutions. Acting accordingly, the best way to understand racism is by listening to personal testimonies that may provide a counter narrative to how people experience society.

Gov. Youngkin writes in EO No. 1 that CRT “instruct[s] students to only view life through the lens of race and presumes that some students are consciously or unconsciously racist, sexist, or oppressive, and that other students are victims.” In other words, the argument here is that CRT admonishes all white people for being oppressors while classifying all Black people as hopelessly oppressed victims. CRT does not attribute racism to white people as individuals or even to entire groups of people. To wit, CRT states that U.S. social institutions (e.g., the criminal justice system, education system, labor market, housing market, and healthcare system) are laced with racism embedded in laws, regulations, rules, and procedures that lead to differential outcomes by race. However, many Americans are not able to separate their individual identity as an American from the social institutions that govern us—these people perceive themselves as the system. While CRT has been useful for academics and social prognosticators in creating a more just United States, I assure you that the tenets described above are not taught in any of the schools in the Arlington Public School District.

Subsequently, students are alarmed by how little they have learned about inequality. They are upset at their schools, teachers, and even their parents. So, this is the conundrum: teachers in K-12 schools are not actually teaching CRT. But teachers are trying to respond to students asking them why people are protesting and why Black people are more likely to be killed by the police.

I write not to coax anyone in the community into a position. But I know that educators in Arlington Public Schools teach the standards written by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). VDOE’s “Standards of Learning for History and Social Science” were last updated in 2015. Its standards for history and social sciences do not include CRT. VDOE maintains a policy of revising its standards every seven years. Acting accordingly, the Virginia Board of Education voted one year ago to review and revise its standards by November 2022. We do not believe CRT will be written into the revised history and social science standards once completed at the end of this year. Even if they were, the Superintendent is responsible to make recommendations to the APS school board on whether to adopt the new state standards.

I want to say unequivocally, our job as educators is to educate all our children in a manner that is inclusive in school textbooks, images, and stories. Our educators have a responsibility to provide our youngest learners an experience that makes them excited about entering our schools daily. This means, we must provide students with the resources where they see characters like themselves who are valued in the world. We must offer students a culturally sensitive curriculum that teaches empathetic views into someone else’s experience. And as our students travel vertically through the school system, our educators must help them become engaged citizens that think critically about the world. All this means, students entering and exiting APS should learn about the rich diversity of our country so that when they return to our community, they work to create a more perfect Arlington.

Since EO No. 1 is a reality, my team is currently exploring two paradigms that involve dialoguing with community, staff, and students. First, we examine our history and acknowledge that the education system has been here plenty of times before. The most recent debate wherein control over education was this prevalent in the media occurred during the 1970s. The topic was “moral education.” It occurred after the Watergate scandal and a generation after school desegregation following Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. Implications of both challenges (value-sorting and diversifying student bodies) stirred debate over the role of educators to teach about moral behavior, prejudice, and discrimination. Some schools grappled with school busing across district boundaries in order to achieve a racially balanced school population. Other, already desegregated, schools were challenged to consider changes to the curriculum to align with student demographics. Schools in many places were challenged to use classrooms to discuss “moral literacy.”

Naturally, the question of whether using a multicultural lens to talk about values became a matter of contention between dueling ideologies. Parents asked: to what extent did that curricular approach indoctrinate America’s children and youth? One can discern, then, that lawmakers, educators, parents, and students of the ‘70s were entrenched in discussions over many of the same topics that center debate in this current moment. Records show that during such disputes over education, whether they transpired during the 1920s, 1950s, 1970s, or in this current moment, there have always been calls for curricular restrictions and bans on books. It must be said, no effort to restrict critical knowledge or to ban books in history has been judged kindly. Banning a book cannot be done with objectivity. For these reasons, my office is not looking to repeat what was done in the past; rather, we wish to collaborate with students, staff, parents, and community members to study the current issue, past and present, so that we may create a path forward that will stave off problems in the future.

Second, my office is also responsible for helping the APS community, especially its staff and students, adjust to EO No. 1. We are planning a community forum featuring distinguished educators and, I hope, lawmakers, to talk through the current state of education. This forum will take place in March 2022. A specific date has not yet been selected. This may be the first in a series of discussions because we are willing to talk about history, not shy away from it. More details to come.

Respectfully,

Jason Ottley, Ph.D.
Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer

Dr. Ottley’s MLK Holiday Message

MLK Holiday

To the Arlington Public School Community, As our nation celebrates the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on what would have been his 93rd birthday, his words and deeds to unite our country serve as a powerful reminder of how far we have come, and at the same time, how much work there is still to do. This holiday also makes me reflect on the importance of service to others, the true meaning of community, and the dream for which he sacrificed his life – a diverse and inclusive country. Our community, Arlington Public Schools wholeheartedly embraces these values in our mission to be a diverse, inclusive community where everyone is welcome, safe and supported, and where discrimination and hate are not tolerated.

This holiday represents a joyous moment celebrating King’s service and endurance to create a better United States – it inspires us to serve our community. To truly understand King’s story, we must realize he didn’t work alone. The movement was not just the work of African American communities, but the effort of the American people. White Americans such as, Walter Reuther, Barbara Henry, were beacons of hope in the struggle for human rights, justice, and equality. “The problem is not a purely racial one, . . . it is not a struggle between people at all, but a tension between justice and injustice. Nonviolent resistance is not aimed against oppressors but against oppression.”

It is my hope that we all use this holiday, situated in the middle of the school year, and coming just a few weeks after the holidays, not just as a day to enjoy being with our family and friends, but also as a powerful reminder and opportunity to find new ways to be of service to others, and to reach out to serve all the people in the APS community. There is a lot of work to be done. Not just for this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but for those in our community who may still find themselves marginalized.

Dr. Jason Ottley
Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer

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.

Equity

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.

Respectfully,

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

References

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.

 

Dr. Ottley’s December 2021 Inaugural Message to Families

Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Dr. Jason OttleyOne of the highest priorities at Arlington Public Schools (APS) is to be a place where all our faculty, staff, students, parents, and caregivers feel valued and safe. I am excited to assume the position of Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer (CDEIO). In this capacity, I believe I can help APS grow as a district that already leads the way in developing a just, equitable, inclusive, and welcoming school community where everyone feels they belong. While this job demands that I design and implement school and district-wide DEI efforts and help shape a healthy and inclusive culture where our students can grow and thrive, I will also deliver DEI learning opportunities to APS educators.

As a committed agent of change, I come to this CDEIO position with experience in the K-12 and postsecondary levels. I obtained my Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy from West Virginia University, where I worked as Assistant Director of TRIO Student Support Services (SSS), sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. At WVU, I was also charged with institutional, DEI programming for the entire WVU campus. In that role, I traveled with President Gordon E. Gee to visit all 55 counties in West Virginia to address equity, inclusion, unemployment, opioid abuse, and the state’s declining health scores. Since West Virginia had the lowest percentage of residents with college degrees (15% in 2013), we created programs for low income and first-generation students. Outside of my professional duties at the university, I created Minorities in Action to increase the number of Black male teachers in the K-12 space, and to review and revise policies and practices that keep people of color from advancing in the corporate space. Minorities in Action has since become The Bond Educational Group, a non-profit 501c(3) organization with a national team of educators that delivers services to enrich instructional methods and to evaluate school policy. To date, I have worked with 14 school districts across the United States and created DEI centers for two separate institutions in higher education. Most recently, I served as a tenure track professor at Kennesaw State University.

Dr. Jason Ottley with students at Yorktown High SchoolI am confident in my ability to bring a deep understanding of the diversity challenges that exist at APS. With the support of Superintendent Durán, I have created a long-term plan to make data-driven instruction and data-driven accountability at the administrative level a priority. Below is a list of my office’s initiatives.

  • Monitor and review Arlington Public Schools Policy A-30 on Equity.
  • Create Policy Implementation Procedures (PIP) for the Equity Policy to include the specific responsibilities, procedures, timelines, and schedule for implementation.
  • Develop Equity Teams in each school to explore how APS staff best reflect current equity practices.
  • Design a data dashboard serving as the Equity Profile; a web-based platform that demonstrates APS’s commitment to transparency and accountability to equitable outcomes. This platform will house APS’s data publicly and all community stakeholders will have access to this information.
  • Provide professional learning opportunities for administration, teachers, and staff to review and enhance the social, educational, and psychological well-being of our APS community around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Create Data Learning Communities to cement APS’s commitment to data-driven decisions, solutions, and instruction.

Arlington Public Schools has granted me an incredible opportunity to advance its DEI efforts during this critical juncture in our society. Diversity, equity, and inclusion should not exist in only my office — these principles must be interwoven in the entire school community. This is why we must work together to help our students thrive. I look forward to working with the APS community to address its unique challenges, find common understandings, and produce solutions pertinent to our faculty, staff, students, parents, and guardians.

Jason Ottley, Ph.D.
Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer