Blair Magnet Letter Regarding Race and Equity

Dear Magnet Foundation and Program Alumni,

Earlier this summer, Samantha Cody (Class of ’13) wrote a personal essay in which she discusses equity concerns in both our program and our school. We, the staff and administration, do not disagree with these concerns. While it is very important to our Magnet community to create a unique program, we understand that our efforts to do so can reverberate poorly both school- and program-wide. Racially biased opportunity gaps exist even prior to students’ applications to our program; these gaps further contribute to an ill-suited homogeneity within our program.

We desire that our program look like the Montgomery County community as a whole. Despite increased access to the program application process county-wide, our student body still does not represent MCPS demographics overall. Additionally, a disparity exists between the experiences of Hispanic, African American and female students versus White and Asian male students, marginalizing the aforementioned group.

Race and equity issues are not specific to Blair; they occur throughout the STEM community as a whole. However, we can address these issues without compromising the quality of our program. Although the work is not new to us, we must continually modify and improve our efforts.

Over the past few years, we have:

    • supported, through the magnet foundation, innovative programs such as the “Pipeline Project” that supports student access to enrichment programs;

    • adjusted, in accordance with the MCPS offices overseeing our program, the county-wide recruitment procedures to make our application more accessible to all students;

    • added specific questions to our senior interview relevant to race and gender disparities in the program to better understand student experiences;

    • engaged freshmen classes in discussions about pre-judgements of people based on race, gender or differing experiences;

    • established optional assignments where students listen to and discuss selected podcasts, most of which focused on equity issues in STEM; and

    • connected magnet students and parents with Black CAP, an organization aimed at supporting equity initiatives within our special programs, school and county.

As we move into this new school year, we strive to improve both our recruitment efforts and school-wide student experiences. These efforts include:

    • working with Mr. Rahman Culver (Class of ‘96) — Blair’s newly appointed Diversity and Inclusion Instructional Coordinator — to develop, implement and monitor educational practices aimed at addressing equity concerns;

    • implementing a book discussion group for magnet teachers to engage in roundtables about race, equity and instruction;

    • continuing to push for MCPS to establish new, more holistic selection protocols;

    • providing safe spaces where students of color can share their experiences and concerns, as well as receive support from staff and peers;

    • requiring discussions/assignments that incorporate race and STEM related topics (e.g., algorithm bias in computer science coursework); and

    • working with our academies to create obvious pathways for students within the larger Blair population to access magnet electives during their junior or senior years.

Our staff is dedicated to creating an academically strong and accessible environment for students who have the capacity to thrive in our program. Neither race nor gender nor socioeconomic status determine this capacity. As alumni, you can support initiatives that help erase opportunity gaps in our community and school system. Additionally, we are seeking mentors for our students and feel that our alumni would make excellent mentors, particularly for our female students and students of color. We look forward to partnering with you.

Thank you,

Peter Ostrander, Magnet Coordinator (