Arlington, VA

Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington Public Schools (APS) is moving forward with the implementation of a Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer (CDEIO).

APS posted the vacancy in early October and hopes to have the position filled by January. There is a sense within the Arlington community that this process is being rushed – unnecessarily and to the detriment of APS’ own efforts.

Whether you believe the position is unnecessary or you consider it essential to eliminate systemic biases, there are legitimate concerns about the circumstances under which APS is pursuing its implementation:

  • APS has not indicated the specific situations or problems it is aiming to solve with this position;
  • A lack of explicit objectives and measurable goals to be achieved may be setting the stage for certain failure;
  • Filling a new, high-level position in the absence of a permanent superintendent may create inconsistency or incompatibility in expectations when leadership changes; and
  • The work of the CDEIO would likely be guided by APS’ policy on diversity, equity and inclusion, which APS is still developing and the School Board has yet to adopt.

Adding to concerns that this process is being rushed is the uncertain degree to which the School Board is committed to the continued investment needed to enable a CDEIO to succeed. After the recent successive budgets that have precluded the addition of other important personnel, will the future Superintendent and Board members commit the necessary funds in subsequent budgets for staff support, training programs, or other resources the CDEIO requires?

If the Board does not invest sufficient resources, opponents who argue a CDEIO is unnecessary or will be ineffective will be proven correct.  Community fears that creating this position is nothing more than checking a box to reassure the community of the Board’s commitment to diversity and equity will be confirmed. It will merely serve as distraction while the Board forges ahead with boundary changes, capacity solutions, and instructional program decisions without a sense of obligation or responsibility to address diversity or equity within those processes and decisions.

It is noteworthy that the Arlington County Board adopted an equity resolution this past September. Despite the County’s intention to establish an interdepartmental task force that includes Arlington Public Schools, the County did not consult with APS as it developed its resolution. A joint policy on diversity, equity, and inclusion would ensure consistency in terms and definitions used by County and Schools, a shared vision and uniform practices across County and Schools, and an acknowledgement of County policy impacts on APS’ ability to provide equitable educational and social opportunities to all students.

Nevertheless, APS’ policies on equity and inclusion and diversity will be driving factors in all aspects of administration and instruction. Therefore, this position must not be allowed to fail and APS must make every effort to maximize a new CDEIO’s chances for success.

APS and the School Board should delay the hiring process. Then APS must:

  • Adopt a strong diversity, equity, and inclusion policy that will guide the work of the CDEIO and inform the interview panels about what to look for in a CDEIO candidate;
  • Develop specific goals and accountability measures for the position;
  • Afford the yet-to-be-named new superintendent the opportunity to hire the CDEIO in a setting of consistent leadership and vision; and
  • Determine its level of commitment to, and ability to invest in, the CDEIO’s success.

Additionally:

  • The County and APS should consider a joint comprehensive diversity, equity and inclusion policy that provides consistency for Arlington residents and identifies areas for collaboration in meeting the needs of all APS students and County residents.

Taking these steps will give the new Chief — and perhaps diversity, equity, and inclusion — a fighting chance.

Maura McMahon is the mother of two children in Arlington Public Schools. An Arlington resident since 2001, McMahon has been active in a range of County and school issues.  She has served on the Thomas Jefferson, South Arlington, and Career Center working groups and currently serves as president of the Arlington County Council of PTAs.

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