Diversity Assessment of F.C. City Schools Notes ‘More Work to Do’

The Falls Church City Public Schools were in receipt last week of a final report with recommendations of an “Infrastructure Assessment of Diversity” study that it initiated last February. “There need to be more than good intentions,” was a core conclusion.

The report by Julian R. Williams, vice president for Compliance, Diversity and Ethics for George Mason University, hailed the school system, its administration, teachers, parents and surrounding community for their “good intentions” caring about “creating and sustaining an inclusive and diverse school system.”

But, he states, “good intentions aren’t good enough.” The report included extensive interviews with stakeholders in all the above-mentioned roles. It cited “parents who remain concerned about racial incidents at the schools” who felt they were met with “a lack of clear and consistent communication from Falls Church City Public School (FCCPS) leadership on these incidents.”
The report recommended that there be clear communication about the nature of such incidents. “Don’t mince words,” it stated, “Call it what it is, ‘hateful,’ ‘biased,’ ‘racist/sexist,’ etc. Be direct and clear,” adding, “Always communicate the follow-up steps the division is taking to address effects” and “provide updates to the community about the remedial steps that are being taken.” This is important, it said, because “sometimes after the initial fervor has died down where there is a tendency to overlook follow-up communications.”

“Throughout this assessment, it was clear that there is a tremendous amount of strongly-held optimism about FCCPS capacity for positive growth within the areas of inclusion and diversity,” the report noted, adding “FCCPS parents consistently stated, ‘you can tell they care,’” speaking about individual school leadership, and that the system’s internal stakeholders “articulated feelings of optimism division-wide that people want to help make change, with the current school division leadership viewed as a strength.”

The report defined “diversity” as “the meaningful presence and participation of individuals who differ and are similar by characteristics such as race, age, ethnicity, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, underrepresented populations, disability and various socio-economic backgrounds, as well as individuals with a multitude of ideas, attitudes and beliefs.”

While many responses included in the report stated that “Falls Church is not very diverse,” one strength is that “it is located in a highly diverse metropolitan region,” but the lack of quantitative diversity within Falls Church “makes it even more critical that the school division jumpstart engagement through intentional efforts.”

One response about the division’s “capacity for positive change” cited Superintendent Peter Noonan as “guiding FCCPS in the right direction by discussing uncomfortable topics, for example, his movement for equity,” but added that more work needs to be done.

It cited “micro aggressions” impacting students, and “teachers of color also face micro aggression in the workplace.”

A response from a teacher stated, “I appreciate the efforts the school system and the great community makes to be inclusive, but, unfortunately, underneath the efforts there is still great racism and disregard for minority populations.”

Another added, “I feel like our hearts are in the right place, and we know we have a lot of work to do, and we could use guidance on how to get better, be more aware, improve our language and support all members of our community.”

Overall, however, the report struck the same optimistic tone reflected in responses from a lot of those interviewed. “I believe that FCCPS has the potential to be a national leader in this space,” Williams wrote, “but to get there the division must move past good intentions and create a solid framework of focus, accountability, and enhanced professional development.”

Recommendations for improving the environment, the report stated, include the creation of an FCCPS diversity webpage for enhancing communication in this area, a review of the curriculum with a lens for inclusions (noting the distinct differences in how lower schools are addressing the issues compared to the middle and high school), the creation of a FCCPS diversity recruitment plan, the bolstering of diversity and inclusion-focused professional development and the creation of a “chief diversity officer position with FCCPS.”

In its conclusion, the report said that the FCCPS “needs to get comfortable with discomfort in order to fully engage in transformative dialogues,” and reiterated that “the FCCPS is well-positioned to be a leader amongst its peers in this area.”

Two proposed solutions were particularly intriguing. One was the suggestion from some parents that an at-home “FCCPS Parent University” be set up “with ongoing curriculum and resources on leading conversations on inclusion and diversity, bullying and bystander intervention in order to build upon curricular work.” The report called this “an amazing idea.”

The other is based on citing the system’s being “very much beholden to the issues facing greater Falls Church and the region in general,” noting that “changing demographics, cost of living, and issues related to the lack of affordable housing and housing segregation heavily impact FCCPS.” It states, “It is important for FCCPS to continue to partner with community organizations and perhaps lobby for structural changes that could improve access to affordable housing for community members.”

Superintendent Noonan told the News-Press this week that the report was received in a “reflective and vulnerable manner.” It will lead, he said, to “self-evaluation aimed at taking appropriate steps.” He added that it was heartening to learn that “we’re starting from a good place” in taking steps to address the report’s conclusions.