10 Questions with APS Diversity Chief Arron Gregory
Equity and inclusion are top priorities for the Arlington school official, who assumed his new post in January.
In January, Arron Gregory began his position as the new Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer for Arlington Public Schools. Originally from Ohio, Gregory previously served as Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Trotwood-Madison City School District in Trotwood, Ohio. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What was your path to becoming diversity chief for Arlington Public Schools?
I was a student in a predominantly white school district. I had never seen a teacher of color until middle school, when I had a substitute. After getting my law degree, I accepted a position at the Ohio Department of Education in the Office of Exceptional Children, working with students with disabilities and overseeing due process. My passion has always been closing the achievement gap, and I was asked to lead work on the Ohio Improvement Process, which was about closing those gaps by looking at data. But I wanted to get closer to the work, and I decided to leave the state and go regional to get closer to the work of being in the school systems. I received an opportunity to actually work in a school system in Trotwood and assist with their school improvement efforts and transformation.
What were some of the initiatives you led during your tenure with Trotwood-Madison City Schools?
I was able to lead the work of school improvement, including the drafting and implementation of the District Strategic Plan and District Improvement Plan. I was asked to start our school-based mental health program, where we had mental health specialists in every building, as well as social workers to provide mental health support to our students. Additionally, I oversaw our restorative justice program, which cut suspensions and expulsions down tremendously. I was also proud of pushing for the use of sensory rooms (therapeutic rooms for special needs students) in several of our elementary schools.
What does a diversity chief do? How have diversity chiefs contributed to equity efforts in other school districts?
There are many chief of diversity, equity and inclusion officers popping up around the nation. A lot of that came out of the new law at the federal level, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). They are strategic thinkers and champions for diversity, equity and inclusion. You are collaborating with the leadership, the building level, human resources, and hiring and retention, as well as making changes and looking at internal systems. As diversity chief, I will be leading the work around equity and inclusion, making sure that equity piece is at the forefront of every decision that we have to make, and also making sure we are making data-driven decisions.
What are your short-term and long-term priorities for APS?
Short-term, my plan is to engage on a listening tour, so I can hear from all the stakeholders about what they see as our strengths, weaknesses and challenges. Once I get a better feel for some of the challenges or opportunities, we will really be able to formulate some of those long-term goals. For instance, making sure we have the strongest equity policy imaginable.
What are the major issues facing APS right now?
I don’t see them as issues, but really opportunities. Opportunities include working with the county and making sure that there is affordable housing. Working with the county around health-related concerns that also impact our students. Working internally to make sure that we actually have a foundational definition of what diversity, equity and inclusion is.
Any specific equity-related issues on your radar?
Resources. We have to make sure we have teachers who are able to supply the needs of our students, that they are culturally competent teachers. We have to make sure we have teachers to serve our EL (English Learner) population. That we provide them with the professional development they need within our buildings. Also socioeconomic disparities—how we address those barriers that impact education.
What do you see as the biggest obstacles to achieving APS’s equity goals?
Student population growth. We’re growing beyond leaps and bounds here, and we have to make sure we’re able to catch up with that growth. And business. And making sure our students are prepared for success, as the climate is always changing. Making sure our families understand that we’re looking at things from an operational piece and how decisions impact everyone and not just individuals. Those are things that, as an organization, we have to message so everyone understands we are here doing our best and we are all for the children. As long as we keep the focus on the kids, that’s going to drive every policy and every decision we make.
What are your thoughts on the findings and recommendations reported in APS’s 2019 diversity infrastructure assessment?
The report was really focused on inclusion and an inclusive environment. It was driven by a series of interviews. I believe it helps us with the foundation. The other lens that I’m here to look through is the lens of data. The report was very well-written in terms of the equity piece, but it has to go further into exactly what some of the needs are. We have to go deeper into actually having an equity audit and look at auditing these different areas.
There was some controversy and pushback from community members and local groups—including the Arlington NAACP—about a lack of inclusion in the diversity chief selection process, as well as other areas of equity and inclusion policy. How do you plan to communicate with local stakeholders?
One strategy we’re working on is having some public community forums—meet-and-greets—with me. Making sure people know they can come openly to address some of the challenges we have. We’re going to make sure we’re very collaborative. In terms of those other organizations, I have a foundation with community-based organizations and understand them very well. I’m looking forward to working closely with them and hearing from them, because they are our constituents.
What is your favorite sports team?
Cincinnati Bengals for football. And of course, I’m from Ohio, so Ohio State Buckeyes for college. For basketball, the LA Lakers—but I go back to the days of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson—the days when it was Showtime.