Chances are you don’t know Chiquitha Lloyd yet. But if you follow anything related to public education, you probably will before 2017 is over.
As the new director of diversity and inclusion for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, she’ll be in the thick of the district’s most sensitive and vital projects: Redrawing school boundaries. Ensuring that teachers understand their students. Examining discipline disparities. Protecting the rights of LGBT students.
In a city that’s torn over race, class, immigration and sexual orientation, she’s charged with helping everyone find ways to talk about the issues and work toward solutions.
“I expect a lot of heated discussion over the next few months,” Lloyd says. “I don’t want to see things blow up to where it’s really ugly.”
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Lloyd, 49, has worked for CMS for the last 14 years, overseeing the program that recruits minority- and women-owned businesses for contracts. She has become well known in those circles, but this year Superintendent Ann Clark decided Lloyd was ready for a bigger role.
Clark says she saw grace, poise and a natural leadership style that weren’t being fully used in Lloyd’s old job. In 2017, “she’s going to be out there in the community representing this district,” Clark says.
Lloyd, who now works in the superintendent’s suite of offices, will be part of the team helping Clayton Wilcox make the transition from a small, rural district in western Maryland to superintendent of a large urban/suburban district that is growing ever more international.
Lloyd would like to run a school district herself some day. She has taken a nontraditional path into public education – and she knows what it’s like to arrive in Charlotte as an outsider.
The road to CMS
As a child in Arkansas, Lloyd was bused 45 minutes to a mostly white school during court-ordered desegregation. She says the experience, along with her mother’s diverse circle of friends, taught her the value of knowing people of different backgrounds.
She majored in psychology at the University of Oklahoma, and worked in clinical practice with adolescents and homeless people.
Then she worked for the Chamber of Commerce in Toledo, Ohio, where she got her first experience recruiting and supporting minority and female business owners.
Her then-husband got a job with NASCAR, which brought the family to Charlotte. Their three children attended CMS, and Lloyd went to work in marketing research for United Way of Central Carolinas. That’s where she got a sense of how vested in education the local business and philanthropic community is.
In 2002, CMS hired Lloyd to work with the supplier diversity program. That work taught her to stand firm in the face of confrontation, as she entered the mostly white, mostly male world of construction talking about changes they perceived as threatening their livelihood.
“They were not happy,” Lloyd recalls. “I’m a female walking in the room, saying you’re going to have to be inclusive in your procurement practices.”
She says she listened without backing down, and mutual respect developed: “Now I don’t have that confrontation.”
A bigger job
CMS spending with diverse vendors has grown dramatically under Lloyd’s watch. Once focused mostly on construction contracts, the program now pushes all departments and schools to look for chances to expand their business circles.
About this time last year, Clark tapped Lloyd for an additional task: Oversee the opening of schools in August 2016. If nine months seems like a lot of time to prepare, consider the logistics of a district with more than 147,000 students, 18,000 employees and 168 schools: Making sure bus routes are charted, schools are staffed, supplies are up-to-date, new buildings are ready to open, class schedules are set and students are assigned to schools.
“She just did a magnificent job,” Clark says.
In August, Clark promoted Lloyd to the diversity director job. She still works with vendor diversity, but oversees a much broader array of projects, including cultural competency training for teachers and “Dismantling Racism” workshops for administrators and school security staff.
Working on cultural understanding means helping educators understand that despite good intentions, their own background may put up barriers to their students’ success. That can easily raise hackles, especially if teachers believe they’re being labeled racists or blamed for society’s problems. Lloyd says the key is avoiding a punitive approach and getting everyone to explore the way their own world view – shaped by race, class, geography and other factors – interacts with that of students.
She’ll also be involved as the school board continues to study equity in teacher quality, racial disparities in student suspensions ... and, of course, student assignment.
Passions run high
In the past year, Lloyd has watched emotional protesters pack board meetings over such diversity-related matters as student assignment and new anti-bullying regulations for transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual students. At the same time, September riots following a police shooting exploded Charlotte’s complacency about race.
Lloyd sees the emergence of a new diversity-driven magnet plan as a quiet victory amid the turmoil. By the time the board voted unanimously for the plan in November, much of the anxiety had abated and some former critics voiced cautious hope.
“To get a board to vote unanimously in agreement, that’s huge,” Lloyd said. “It was refreshing to see that we had the community input and we were able to apply it.”
The magnet plan takes effect with the January assignment lottery. At about the same time, CMS will start rolling out proposals to break up concentrations of disadvantage in neighborhood schools. Lloyd knows that will be even tougher, especially if people believe changes threaten their schools and communities.
“You have to listen,” she says, “and you have to step back and understand where it’s coming from.”
José Hernández-París, Lloyd’s predecessor, left the job about a year ago to become director of Charlotte’s Latin American Coalition. He worked closely with Lloyd and says she’s a strong choice to handle the difficult work ahead. But he notes that she’s still doing her old job, plus taking on more work than any one person can handle. If CMS is really serious about diversity, Hernández-París says, the district should add staff and elevate Lloyd’s job.
“Make it a cabinet-level position,” he said. “It needs to be a ‘chief’ position with the influence that comes with that.”
Lloyd’s new boss will likely be the one to make such decisions. When asked what she’d tell Wilcox, who will start his transition to CMS leadership in the spring, Lloyd notes that anger and fear related to education issues generally comes from people’s passion for their schools.
“You want that,” she said. “It’s worse when the community doesn’t care. We don’t have that problem here.”
Time in Charlotte: 18 years
Family: Three children. Two are Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools graduates and the youngest is a junior at Mallard Creek High.
Background: An Arkansas native, she started her professional life as a psychologist, then worked for the Toledo Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Central Carolinas before starting with CMS in 2002.
Why she’ll make news in 2017: Her new job as CMS diversity and inclusion director will give her a key role in hot-button topics ranging from cultural competency in the classroom to socioeconomic diversity in neighborhood schools.
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