Board of Education Progress Report

The fall semester at Orange County Schools has ended, and report cards have been been distributed for over 7,400 students. This begs the question: how would Justice United leaders grade our working relationship with the Board last fall? For many of us it felt incomplete.

Justice United has allies on the Board who have publicly supported our grassroots agenda for change at OCS. During their election campaign this spring four of the seven current Board members made public commitments at Justice United’s April 10 assembly to increase teacher diversity to match the diversity of the student body, and to hire bi-lingual front office staff in every school.

However, this fall Board Chair Brenda Stephens and Superintendent Todd Wirt were either not willing or not able to meet with JU leaders at a second public assembly planned for November 15, during which specific strategies and benchmarks for these hiring goals would have been discussed.

(It’s important to note that Vice Chair Sarah Smylie and Board Member Hillary MacKenzie had confirmed their attendance on November 15, but were unable to make commitments on behalf of the Board).

Over the course of the fall JU leaders were told the Board now considers our organization a “special interest group” to which the Board cannot be held accountable. Some Board members went as far to  express concern that to meet publicly with JU again, on our own turf, would “set a precedent” that they would have to have meetings out in the community with every group that had an interest in the school district. As far as Justice United is concerned, we think this is an excellent precedent to set!     

JU believes that we have allies on the Board who want to engage with the community on this issue. We also believe that there are members of the Board who think that change on this issue can only happen on their terms, and only on their turf. The message from some Board members seems to be: “trust us.”

We believe that trust has to be earned. It is rooted in respect, recognition, and reciprocity. JU leaders came out to a Board of Education meeting in October to make our case for collaboration. We call on Board Chair Brenda Stephens and Superintendent Todd Wirt to return the favor, and to come out into the community to meet with us publicly on this issue.

Ultimately our demands are very reasonable. We want a long term public relationship with the Board and Superintendent, and to make measurable progress on increasing teacher diversity and bi-lingual staff.  

Specifically, we call on the Board to endorse a working relationship between Justice United and Superintendent Wirt with the goal of shaping hiring strategies and setting benchmarks for the 2019 summer hiring season.