The Office of Equity for Loudoun County Public Schools, headed by Dr. Lottie Spurlock, was created in the summer of 2019 to address systemic inequities in the school system. The Office is currently working to expand its impact through the school system by implementing “Equity Leads”.
Announced in May of 2020, Equity Leads are two staff members of each school chosen by that school’s principal to work with the Office of Equity and the principal to create a supportive environment for the entirety of Loudoun’s diverse student body. Dominion’s Equity leads are Mrs. Korsen and Ms. Nuñez.
Korsen describes her role as to “build a more equitable climate at Dominion by determining our inequities, addressing them, and enhancing staff understanding of an equitable environment.” The Equity Leads at each school also have a Staff Equity Affinity Group that consists of teachers who are working with the Equity Leads to carry out the work of the Office of Equity.
At Dominion, Equity Leads’ work got off to a late start in response to the Coronavirus Pandemic, but have since begun to ramp up initiatives now that distance learning has become a pandemic norm. Korsen described the team’s progress thus far, “We defined and discussed the meaning of Equity in the context of our school system, shared the outcome of a county-wide equity assessment, and provided a capture tool for those school leaders to document examples of inequities they or their team members have observed.”
Mrs. Korsen also mentioned that Ms. Nuñez, herself, and her team had developed “advisory lessons” such as celebrating Winter Holidays, and colorism.
Mr. Yupanqui is also working with Dominion’s Equity Leads to create a monthly newsletter, detailing work that’s being done, and explaining to staff their role in improving equity. “Our newsletter offers information about holidays, origins of holidays, different topics that are current and relevant to equity practices,” Yupanqui said.
In addition to the Equity Leads program, The Office of Equity is also looking for students to get involved and share their experiences through their Student Equity Ambassador program. Dr. Traci Townsend, Supervisor of Equity for LCPS, explained, “What we’re trying to do is meet with secondary students, middle school and high school students, from every school building, to hear about their experiences . . . to hear their voices, and respond to their voices.”
For her part, Korsen mentioned that they had already identified three Equity Ambassadors, who she says, “will work to identify microaggressions and Dominion, and work with counterparts at other schools across the county. These students will also work with a Student Affinity group set up by our counseling department.” She also noted that the students have formed a “Student Equity Council” to work with other Dominion students to address the inequities they have experienced. The students will also meet on a monthly basis with their counterparts from other middle and high schools in Loudoun, and attend staff equity meetings.
The Office of Equity has been impacted significantly by the pandemic that has disrupted many aspects of the American education system. “[It] really has impacted our ability to see students, connect with them, and really let them know they matter,” Dr. Spurlock said. She added that the Office endorsed some immediate steps ensuring universal access to food, and devices and Wi-Fi to get work done.
Dr. Spurlock and her Office have been involved in the issue earlier this year of whether all students should be required to keep their cameras on during class. “I get it. I’ve been a teacher, we’ve [Dr. Townsend] been teachers, we’ve been administrators, and we want to see students, but we also know what’s on the other side of the camera is not the same for everyone,” Dr. Spurlock said.
As for the future, Dr. Spurlock cited English Language Learners as a key area of improvement for the Office. “We’re not just focused on so much language acquisition, but access to opportunities, because people just assume that a child doesn’t know the language therefore, it cancels out many things,” Spurlock stated.
Likewise, Spurlock mentioned the LGBTQ+ community as an area for improvement. “We could probably have greater intentionality around that, as well as supporting students who be victims of gender identity bias and incidents,” she said.
This Spring, the Office plans to continue its work as LCPS expands the amount of in-person instruction students receive. Dr. Townsend also noted how much of this work involves supporting teachers and administrators directly. “When staff members reach out to us regarding concerns about inequities, we talk with them directly to help determine the best approach to address those inequities, or we may also reach out to another LCPS office to collaborate in order to handle the specific concern appropriately and effectively.” responded Townsend via email. However, Dr Townsend also noted that while their input is included in plans for reopening, The Office of Equity is not directly involved in the “day to day planning” of the return to the classroom.
Speaking of the impact he hoped the newsletter would have, Yupanqui said, “I hope it will equip all who read it with the terminology to be aware and participate in equity work. Also, though I did not foresee this, I’m learning more . . . it’s opened my eyes to even more things, so I know there’s much to explore, both personally and as a community/society.”