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OC Schools Board of Education hears equity plan update, unanimously accepts


The Orange County Board of Education building sits on East King Street in Hillsborough on Monday, March 28, 2022.

The Orange County Schools Equity Task Force presented their equity plan update and outline for board equity training at the OCS Board of Education meeting Monday. After the presentation, the board unanimously accepted the proposal.

The plan focused on professional development, curriculum adoption and creation, and student and community engagement. 

The first area focused on professional development for OCS staff. This includes developing diverse school libraries, emphasizing culturally responsive teaching and Courageous Conversations, teaching to and about Native Americans in North Carolina and equity training for the OCS Board of Education. 

According to their website, Courageous Conversations is a protocol to engage, sustain and deepen interracial dialogue. 

The task force plans to hold a December session and two consecutive spring sessions. This training will be for principals, the cabinet, the extended cabinet, equity facilitators, instructional coaches and anyone else who is leading teachers. 

They will also hold four half-day sessions for the school board starting in late spring and continuing into the next school year.

“This work from Courageous Conversation is good pedagogy,” Lee Williams, chief equity officer at Orange County Schools, said.

While the first part of the plan concentrates on professional development and trains faculty and staff members, the plan also includes providing a curriculum for diverse learners. 

This curriculum would include lessons about Hispanic heritage, gender and sexual identity. The task force said they would also like schools to teach about the 1619 Project — a long-form journalism endeavor by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones that examines slavery's modern legacy and the contributions of Black Americans to the nation.

“The project provides a lens to look at history where the contributions, in particular, of Black Americans, are at the very center of the narrative of the United States,” Kumar Sathy, a fifth-grade teacher at OCS and equity facilitator, said. “And I just think about the value of that, and how wonderful it would have been for my students, all of my students — but particularly my Black students.”

The final part of the plan, which focuses on student and community engagement, takes a holistic approach, with mentorship opportunities for historically resilient students, quarterly parent equity sessions and student and family-led equity listening tours for board representatives.

“We also know that research says that when schools have relationships between home and the community, we have increased grades, the testing gap decreases, behaviors and discipline decreases, attendance increases and students and students and families have better attitudes towards school in the educational journey,” Jessica Dreher, director of Student Engagement and Support Services for OCS, said.

The task force also encouraged the disruption of cultural appropriation and texts that support stereotypes. 

At the end of the presentation, Williams and the rest of the task force acknowledged existing policies and acknowledgments that were already put in place.

After the presentations, the board opened the meeting for discussion.

“I really appreciate what this group has put together and how you’re modeling having hard conversations and sharing hard personal experiences,” Board of Education member Carrie Doyle said. 

Will Atherton, the chairperson of the Board of Education, suggested the Equity Task Force work with the Special Needs Advisory Council to create a more holistic approach. Williams said he will take the lead to make that connection.

Board of Education member Bonnie Hauser worried that too much money was allotted to training the board. She said she would like more equity training for schools. Williams suggested keeping the plan the same, but he is open to returning for additional training for staff members. 

After the discussion, the board decided to move forward with the proposed plan.

“These types of conversations, they are needed to engage mindsets, to help promote culturally relevant learning communities,” Board member Jennifer Moore said. 


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