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Nikki Jenkins, Equity division leader and instructional supervisor for science, health and physical education, explains the concept of equity in education.

Fauquier County Public School teachers are aiming for a modern concept of fairness, one described by Dr. Martin Luther King as “equity.”

“Equity in the classroom can be defined as giving students what they need,” explained Nikki Jenkins, former teacher, now instructional supervisor and Equity Team lead last week, sipping a Starbucks coffee early on a work day. “It’s all about leveling the playing field.”

Appointed by Fauquier County Schools Associate Superintendent for Instruction Major Warner in the fall of 2017, Jenkins is tasked with preparing the way for implementation of equity training throughout the county’s school system. She has a team of four school division personnel: Blaire Connor, lead instructional coach and mentoring coordinator; Mark Malloy, Kettle Run High School assistant principal; Laura Hoover, Margaret M. Pierce Elementary School principal; and Danielle Tapscott, Fauquier High School principal.

Jenkins describes educational equity this way: Equity in education means that personal or social circumstances such as gender, ethnic origin or family background are not obstacles to achieving educational potential and that all individuals reach at least a basic minimum level of skills.

Last year Jenkins and her core team spent four “intense” days in “Deep Equity” training, along with other mid-Atlantic area county teams. They returned with the workshop curriculum they’ll use to train their teachers and staff.

Every department in our system can contribute to the goal of equity for all students, Jenkins said. For example, she explained, it can be as simple as making sure everyone has eaten a hearty breakfast, lunch and dinner; that levels the playing field for students. Librarians can rethink the books they offer. Teachers can look for unconscious bias in themselves, and open their minds to different, more inclusive ways of doing things.

Last month Jenkins reported the equity team’s status and goals to the Fauquier County School Board. “We are in phase two of our plan,” Jenkins said. Each of Fauquier’s 20 schools will have a school-based team of equity trainers. “Right now, we’re training our teams and giving them the toolkit and resources they’ll use to train their teachers.” Equity training sessions will run through May 2020.

Corwin, a Sage publishing company of educational books about equity, describes Deep Equity training as “a capacity-building model that empowers school leadership teams to lead equity efforts at the building and classroom level. School leadership members gain the process, protocols, language and tools to engage in courageous, authentic, measurable, sustainable work that produces results.”

“It is important for us to examine our beliefs and practices,” Warner said, when asked what equity training is all about, “to redesign our thinking and understanding to reflect that some kids need something more, something different, something intentional to fulfill their potential. That is the essence of what it means to be equitable.”

Jenkins, a Fauquier native and Liberty High School graduate, taught in the county for 10 years before becoming the county’s science, health and physical education, and environmental studies supervisor. Any day now she hopes to be accepted into a doctorate program in education at the University of Illinois.

Equity is not taking away anything from anybody, she said. It’s enhancing the environment for all students. All students deserve to be well prepared for the life they want to lead. “We are taking a giant leap in the right direction.”

Reach Karen Chaffraix at kchaffraix@fauquier.com

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