Arlington NAACP raps School Board

Symone Walker, co-chair of the Arlington NAACP education committee, speaks to Arlington School Board members on Dec. 9, 2019.

The Arlington school system’s effort to appoint a diversity czar has run into a buzzsaw of criticism from the county’s major civil-rights organization.

The two co-chairs of the Arlington NAACP’s education committee took to the Dec. 5 School Board meeting to complain that the selection process was leaving out many of those the position is designed to support.

“I don’t think in this case [the school system] has done a good job ensuring that the people who will be most significantly impacted by this are voices that have been heard,” said Sherrice Kerns. “Key members of the community have been excluded from this process.”

The school system “has missed an opportunity,” Kerns said.

Hiring a diversity czar was one of the recommendations from a consultant hired by the school system earlier this year. The application deadline closed Oct. 31, and a panel composed of (among others) representatives from several school-system advisory bodies has been vetting applicants in preparation for a final recommendation to the School Board.

In case the School Board didn’t get the message from Kerns, the other education-committee co-chair – Symone Walker – weighed in in rapid succession, accusing the school system of a “lack of transparency” and leaving the NAACP “completely shut out of the process.”

“Shame on APS,” Walker said.

School Board members usually do not respond to points made during the public-comment period, but board member Reid Goldstein took issue with comments that the NAACP had been promised a specific role in the vetting process.

“I don’t actually recall a vote promising anything, and if I’m incorrect on that, somebody please tell me when and where it was,” he said. Other board members did not respond.

The NAACP complaints also point to a broader concern raised by the civil-rights organization – that a wide array of racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups find it difficult to navigate the school system’s advisory-panel process, which is where much of the grunt work of parental involvement in school governance takes place.

The advisory committees that sent representatives to the diversity-czar vetting process “are not diverse,” said Kerns, who suggested the school system should have broadened the way it reviewed applicants for this particular post.

“This is a new and unique position that called for a new and unique process,” she said, expressing hope the school system would do a better job of community outreach in its ongoing search for a new superintendent.

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