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Carroll County schools official wins state award for contributions to multicultural education

Carroll County schools official wins state award for contributions to multicultural education
Carroll County Public Schools supervisor of equity and community outreach Judith Jones was recently presented with the Maryland Multicultural Coalition's Jack Epstein Award for her contributions to multicultural education in Maryland. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

It’s a busy time of the year for Judith Jones. With a new proposed Educational Equity Policy just presented to the Board of Education and summer events to plan, you might not often find the supervisor of equity and community outreach for Carroll County Public Schools with spare time.

But back in April, CCPS took time to recognize Jones when she was awarded the Jack Epstein Award for Contributions to Multicultural Education.

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This award, established by the Maryland Multicultural Coalition/Chapter of the National Association for Multicultural Education, recognizes individuals who have made major contributions in Maryland to furthering multicultural education.

According to Jones, the award is a big one in the field of multicultural education, and she was honored to be thought of when the school system submitted her name and portfolio. To win was a surprise.

“I’m still pinching myself,” she said.

“I have seen firsthand the commitment and dedication Ms. Jones demonstrates for students and staff,” schools Superintendent Steven Lockard said. “The energy and enthusiasm she brings to her job have led to a focus on equity throughout our school system. Ms. Jones is truly an asset to our school system.”

After working as an assistant principal for years at Century and Westminster high schools, she came to her current role in 2016. It allows her to enact changes on a systemic level in order to work to ensure schools are inclusive and support all students, she said.

“Every day is different, which makes it exciting,” she said. “I think that makes my job extremely wonderful and stressful at the same time.”

He job is to embrace the topics that make others uncomfortable, or can be tense and polarized.

“We create a space for courageous conversation … It could be around race, race relations, things we don’t want to talk about within our society.”

It’s a win when she can create common ground between people who think differently.

“My goal is to come to a commonality,” she said.

This work can be taxing, she said, and “self care is critical to what we do.”

One of the best parts of her job is “meeting incredible students of all ages,” she said. Before her current role, her whole professional life was at the high school level, and she rarely had a chance to interact with those in the younger grades.

Teaching acceptance and tolerance in education is important even at the youngest levels, she said.

“We’re preparing them to be able to function in a culturally diverse world,” she said. “That message has to start in elementary.”

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With older students, she serves as support as they develop their own voices and form student groups.

In six out of the seven public high schools, students have formed minority student unions and advocacy groups.

Jones speaks at their meetings and events, and helps them with organization.

She also is working on student focus groups, which the school system will be piloting at the high school level next year.

“The information from these sessions will help the school system become more accommodating to those student populations,” according to a news release from CCPS.

Jones is also the mind behind establishing the annual CCPS Culture Expo, which will be held for the third time Aug. 21. She’s already started to prepare.

Members of the school system, parents, local businesses and government agencies come together for a day of diverse cultural entertainment and learning. The day includes vendors, interactive entertainment and lots of food.

Attending a night like this is one of the best ways parents can get involved in multicultural education, Jones said.

Others include participating in groups like the PTA, parent boosters and parent organizations that help shape school policies like the Community Advisory Council. Or they can get in touch with their administrators to find volunteer opportunities.

“Their voices are very much needed and appreciated,” she said.

A CCPS release praises Jones for winning the Epstein Award. “Her outreach to local colleges, civic organizations, the business community, students, and individual parents has enhanced trust and improved the school system,” the release said.

The effects of her work are felt all across the school system.

“With her influence and leadership, the theme of equity is embedded throughout the CCPS Strategic Plan,” the release said. “This has brought conversations on equity to the forefront of the school system and is ensuring that measures are in place to support system-wide equity initiatives.”

One of her biggest projects this year has been helping to form the Equity Policy for the school system as the chairwoman of the Education That Is Multicultural Advisory Council.

The goal of the policy to to be an “umbrella” that will bring together what is already written into existing policies and building a framework that weaves into many aspects of education.

Jones spent a lot of time interviewing CCPS students to see what their needs and thoughts were.

“They were very honest about culture and climate,” she said.

The policy is open for public comment and can be viewed in full at www.carrollk12.org/boe/. Citizens can submit comment online at feedback.carrollk12.org or by mail to the Superintendent’s Office, Carroll County Public Schools, 125 North Court Street, Westminster, MD 21157.

As work on the policy continues, she feels positive.

“We take equity and inclusion very seriously,” she said. “We believe and will ensure that all students and employees feel safe welcomed in our school systems … I look forward to us leading the way in many regards in the work of equity.”

And it’s not just adults who will shape what’s to come for CCPS, Jones believes. The next generations are powerful and they have a voice.

She said, “The goal is to “prepare them not just to be college and career ready, but culturally ready,” for the life that comes after school.

“Our kids are dynamic, and they are going to help lead the charge,” she said.

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