Last week marked two milestone events in our pursuit of educational equity and excellence for children of Black, Brown and low-income families. Taken together, there was energy, engagement, and a sense of shared purpose to counter pandemic-related learning loss and to nurture all students equitably going forward.


MCPS Interim Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight answered hard questions from the community on topics from strategies to remediate Covid learning loss to bullying and other symptoms of poor school climate that worry Black and Brown students and families. The Conversation, viewed by close to 1,500 households on Zoom, YouTube and Facebook Live in five languages, was organized by MCPS and co-sponsored by Identity, the NAACP Parent’s Council, and the Black and Brown Coalition for Educational Equity and Excellence. Dr. McKnight said equity is part of every conversation she has with her staff, not an afterthought. Her priority is to make sure families and students are seen, heard and confident they will be treated well in school, saying, “We want to be very intentional about how every decision that we make impacts every student and every family and that means we have to know who every student is, and we have to know every family, and the circumstances around them.”

Watch Dr. McKnight’s statement on accountability:

Dr. McKnight fielded questions directly from the community as well as from those raised by Identity’s Executive Director Diego Uriburu and Program Director Nora Morales; President of the NAACP Parent’s Council Byron Johns, parent Lisa Taylor and student Renee Boissiere. The hundreds of comments and questions submitted through the live chat suggest parents felt safe sharing their most serious concerns, needs, fears and frustrations.

Diego said, “I trust Dr. McKnight understands that she and school leaders need to continue to talk directly with Black and Brown communities. Research shows that when parents are engaged in their children’s education, the children are more successful in school. And this conversation proved once again that there is an intense interest among our parents to help their children and work in partnership with the schools.”

Identity’s Advocacy Program Manager Diana Silva watched along with parents. “The fact that Dr. McKnight not only invited our questions, but answered them is a big, big deal. For the first time, parents felt heard.”

Nora agreed, “Even though it was at night, after work and during dinner time, so many people turned out and wanted to do right by their kids. It was really inspiring.”

Dr. McKnight provided examples of strategies MCPS is pursuing to help students catch up and acknowledged questions about how the school system was addressing other issues of systemic inequity such as unequal access to advanced classes, newer teachers and principals being assigned disproportionately to the highest need schools, as well as the serious problems that arise when front office staff don’t reflect the school population. She committed to addressing some issues immediately and to meet with representatives of the Coalition to explore ways to respond to other concerns. Parents particularly appreciated that Dr. McKnight acknowledged some schools have an issue with racism leading to bullying, which is a subject they worry about but are nervous about raising with their Principals.

Watch the complete event in English or in Spanish.


Also last week, two Identity parents and nine NAACP Parent’s Council members along with Diego and Byron (who co-founded the Black and Brown Coalition), provided testimony to the MCPS Board of Education regarding the proposed operating budget. In particular, Board Members expressed agreement with their request for more detail on what is being earmarked to advance equity and mitigate Covid-related learning loss and emotional distress. The Board members also asked their staff to clarify how MCPS will use the hundreds of millions of dollars received in federal recovery funds and the sustainability plans for equity initiatives.

Watch Diego’s Testimony:

Watch parent Sofia Lopez’s Testimony:

Diego praised the Board members, saying he believes their decisions are inspired by a desire to be more equitable. “You are doing it for the kids that need it most.” He and Byron thanked and acknowledged the Board and school leaders for making difficult decisions despite unprecedented uncertainty.

While we are not there yet, Identity, the NAACP Parent’s Council and the Coalition have been working for years to create conditions of trust and cultural accessibility – the conditions that brought us to the events of last week including a live interactive forum simultaneously translated from English into four other languages to accelerate progress. Nora summed it up this way, “Candid conversations between parents and school system leaders are strengthening the foundation for real recovery and an excellent education for all students in the system. Building upon the work done with prior administrations, we feel MCPS is really paying attention to Black and Brown experiences and that we are part of the solution.”