A group of Williamson County parents and community members who have been advocating for antiracism practices and racial reform within Williamson County Schools has announced the formation of One WillCo, a group focused on school safety and equity.
The group hopes to collaborate with WCS and the greater community to move towards a more inclusive and equitable environment for all students and also keep the community informed about related issues surrounding the schools.
“This is an issue for our entire community. This is not just a Black issue or a minority issue,” said Jennifer Cortez, a One WillCo co-founder. “When our students of color are leaving the district because they don’t feel safe here or valued here or like they have equal opportunity here, that affects all of us in a negative way.”
While Cortez is one of several leading this organization, One WillCo leader Dr. Maya Bugg and co-founder Revida Rahman have been doing similar work for several years.
In 2018, Bugg and Rahman were part of the Cultural Competency Council, which sought to keep the WCS school board accountable and pursue a more equitable environment for all students, particularly those in racial and ethnic minorities.
Bugg said the CCC was formed in response to Edmondson Elementary School having planned a first or second grade field trip to a plantation. She explained slavery in the U.S. is not taught to students until fourth grade, so the plantation was introduced to students outside the context of slavery, which she and many parents felt was “inappropriate, disrespectful and insensitive.”
While the field trip was eventually canceled, she and others believed there was more work to be done. However, as the CCC began to work with the schools to support various professional development sessions for teachers and staff, the efforts fizzled soon thereafter due to public opposition.
“The district had not taken a public stance to say that they value antiracism and justice and equity and diversity,” Bugg said. “If you don’t incorporate those as your values, it makes it very easy to waiver. So, once they did start to get that public pushback, … some folks in the district, I think, froze, and it made it easy for them to kind of pull back.”
However, as Jason Golden began to transition into his current role as WCS superintendent in 2019, the conversations began again. Since the summer of 2020, Golden has expressed his desire to hire a third-party diversity and inclusion consultant, which was officially accomplished with a unanimous vote by the school board Monday night.
One WillCo members shared they are encouraged by this step and hope to collaborate with Fostering Healthy Solutions, a local diversity firm, and intend to continue advocating for positive change towards equity.
While One WillCo is not merely a rebranding of the CCC, the organization does share some of the same goals, including advocacy for a more diverse school staff; more equitable discipline practices, especially concerning racial disparities within special education environments; and more inclusive teaching practices.
“The way it stands now, typically you only learn about people of color and sometimes women … at moments of trauma in history,” Bugg said. “You could technically go K–12 and, depending on who your teacher is, based on the standard course of study, you’re going to learn that Black people were enslaved, then they’ll come back around during Civil Rights, and then they might come back around, say, when Obama was elected.”
As a former teacher, Bugg knows while the state does dictate school teaching standards and approve textbooks, teachers have the ability to decide how they teach, and she hopes that WCS will begin to prepare teachers to create more inclusive lessons.
Rahman said the district offering a new African American history class is encouraging, but she and Cortez also want to see the district better preparing teachers for inclusivity, whether that’s supporting them in how to address topics like Black History Month or how to include racially and culturally diverse historical figures throughout the year.
“This cannot be an issue where it depends on what teacher you get or it depends on what principal you have,” Cortez said. “There need to be systems in place that standardize these types of things so that our students are not left without support.”
Some members of the community have been vocal in their opposition to the schools addressing the topic of racism, some even denying that racism is an issue within the schools. During Monday’s school board meeting, some parents said they believed the district was “indoctrinating students” into a “political position.”
Bugg said she doesn’t believe it’s her job to change people’s minds, but rather to advocate for an educational environment that fosters equal and fair treatment and helps “build a strong citizenry.”
One WillCo is not affiliated with a political party or ideology, and Rahman said this is not a political issue.
“It is not a political issue to treat other students with equality and fairness. It should never be a situation to where someone thinks that me being treated fairly is taking something away from you,” Rahman said. “We all have a lot of value to learn in diversity, to learn from other people, to learn from other cultures, to learn what not to do and how what you may do that you’ve been doing all your life is insensitive and disrespectful to other cultures.”
One WillCo also includes resources and media coverage on issues of race within WCS on its website and hopes to be a hub of information for the community. To learn more, visit OneWillCo.org.