School Board Recap - October 17, 2016
Awards and Recognitions
VA Transportation Poster Contest Winners
RPS Superintendent Dr. Bedden and the rest of School Board took time to recognize two students from Richmond Public Schools for their high achievements in the Virginia Transportation Poster Contest. These winners were Brianna Holland from Swansboro Elementary (District 1) who placed 3rd for Grades K-2 and Ma’at Ahmed from Albert Hill Middle (District 3) who placed 1st for Grades 6-8. Both student’s posters are featured in a calendar, with Ma’at’s poster being the cover for the calendar as a whole.
The Board also recognized the students of Groundwork RVA who do landscaping work and service projects in the community. Through volunteering and working with landscaping, gardens, and park systems, students have had the opportunity to go to places like Shenandoah National Park, Wyoming, Denver, Colorado, Yellowstone National Park, and Washington D.C. The students thanked the Board for their support and spoke about what the group has done so far and what they plan to do in the future. Groundwork RVA is currently working on seven new projects in the community.
VA School Board Association Certificates
Several members of the School Board were the recipients of Virginia School Board Association Certificates. Ms. Taylor, Ms. Harris-Muhammad, Mr. Coleman, Ms. Pinkney-Epps, and Ms. Lewis (School Board Clerk) all received this accolade.
School Board Student Representative
The School Board also recognized Bradley Heath, who was the School Board Student Representative for the month of October. He received a Certificate of Recognition and was given a chance to speak on what changes he believes should come the Richmond’s public schools. Heath said that there needs to be a change in the culture of Richmond Public Schools. “Thomas Jefferson High School did not feel like going into a school, it felt like going into a prison,” he stated. He cited the presence of metal detectors as an example. He entreated the Board to rally behind the students instead of belittling them and encouraged the Board to “Put your hand out and bridge that gap.” Mr. Coleman agreed that Richmond’s schools need a change and culture and he stated that he hoped that Heath would help the Board to create a more welcoming environment within the schools.
Hall of Fame Reception
The Board also received an update on the 2nd Annual Hall of Fame Reception held at 5th Baptist Church, which had 28 inductees this year. Each member of the Board received a photograph from the reception featuring the athletic Hall of Fame inductees. Ms. Gray conveyed that she was grateful that the Board followed through and recognized students’ athletic talents, because doing so builds morale. Mr. Coleman said that the reception was a well done and really, really amazing event that showed the power of the legacy of the schools.
"Work Together, Not Against Each Other"
Tom Hartman spoke as an individual to address not the Board, but the citizens and parents in attendance. As the parent of a special needs child, he appreciated the passion of several individuals who spoke to the Board about the issues facing students with special needs. Yet, he felt that personal attacks on members of the Board were unnecessary and that parents and the Board should try to work together instead of against each other. He warned against the dangers of libel and slander and that said he would hate to see a retaliatory relationship develop between the board and the parents.
Mr. Hartman also addressed the score shortfall of the SOLs and gave the Board some advice. He advised the Board to attend to staff morale, to reduce recess from 5 minutes to 15 minutes, to establish a dialogue (“If you don’t ask you won’t know), and to not over-participate in political affairs.
"I'm Going to Keep Coming Back"
Kandise Lucas, an advocate for the human rights of students in special education classes, confronted the Board with posters depicting Mr. Bourne and Dr. Bedden as examples of negative attitudes. “This School Bard cannot get it right,” she stated. She accused the Board of covering up and sweeping under the rug various wrongdoings, including altering IEPs, inappropriately addressing parents, and forging signatures. She compared the School Board to a gang and called Dr. Bedden a child abuser. She then accused the Board of being dead people, as “Dead people are those who are silent about things that matter. “This administration lacks integrity,” Ms. Lucas said. “Students with special needs matter.” She informed the Board that she is filing an ethics complaint against RPS and that she will win because “Justice always prevails.” She wants the Board to get rid of Dr. Michelle Boyd, who is in charge of the special education department, and until the Board does so she promises that she will keep coming back. “I’m going to keep coming back and keep making you uncomfortable,” she said. “This is about human rights. You all make this a situation of the institution versus the individual.”
"Focus on the Education"
Isiah James, a RPS student, and his parents, Michael Melvin and Brenda James, also confronted the Board. Mr. Melvin explained how he was at the school observing things and witnessed a confrontation between his son and another student that the teacher did nothing to prevent. Mr. Melvin then said that the student in question threatened him. Both Mr. Melvin and Ms. James complained about being called every day for Isiah, as the school focuses more on behavior than on education. The teachers keep putting him out and putting him out and want to send him back to his old school rather than working out the problem. “No one is doing anything and there is no outcome,” Ms. James said. “There’s nothing right with the IEP and the school is more worried about issues concerning themselves than about my son.” She stated that the Board needs to get on the same page, forget about politics, and focus on the education.
"The System Needs Change and Needs to Change NOW"
Garrett Prior, an organizer, spoke about changing the culture of Richmond Public Schools, which he described as a shark tank. He explained that this is not a healthy environment and that the system needs to change and needs to change now. Since the budget planning system is coming up in November, he said that the Board should focus on how money is spent rather than how and that the schools need to be given the proper tools. He spoke about the high cost of education, the limited resources in the city, and shared the statistics. 98% of the students receive free and reduced lunch and how it costs 2 times to educate lower income students. He suggested that the way to move Richmond forward is to hold a community conversation and for the City Council and School Board to work together.
Academic Improvement Items
Richmond Teacher Residency Program
The School Board received an update on the Richmond Teacher Residency (RTR) Program from Darlene Curry, a liaison, and Dr. Terry Bozher from VCU’s Center for Teacher Leadership. The mission of the RTR Program is to recruit, prepare, support, and retain extraordinary and inspiring teachers and teacher leaders who are committed to the students. This program prepares urban teachers, as preparation matters as many teachers are either unprepared or uncommitted to the work. Some elements of this residency model are targeted recruitment, rigorous selections, and continuous professional development. This program increases the retention and effectiveness of teachers in the schools by preparing teachers to lift up a city from the inside of a classroom. The teachers who come out of this program teach for a change.
The RTR Program received a grant of 5.8-million-dollar grant in 2010 and was renewed for another 7.5 million dollars in 2014. The Secretary of Education will also be visiting RTR.
Ms. Taylor, after thanking Dr. Bozher for the presentation, stated that she was interested in knowing about if or how RTR has gone about reaching out to parents to become educators and expressed that she was pleased at how thorough the program is in finding a way to address low income schools. Ms. Terrence-Muhammed had no questions and gave the RTR program her full support, saying that appreciated what RTR was doing. Ms. Gray was grateful for RTR’s efforts as well. “It’s amazing meeting the teachers, and RPS is much better for it,” she said. Ms. Taylor, as a follow up question, asked what percentage of the teachers are from RTR. Dr. Bozher did not know the answer to that question. Mr. Coleman said that RTR is one of those questions that make her proud, as the teachers in the program are committed to social justice, want to make a difference, and want to be a part of something meaningful.
Annual SOL Accreditation Results
Valentia Wade presented Richmond’s Annual SOL Accreditation Results. She presented the student achievement results and plans for progress for 2015-2016. Reading scores improved minimally, but the scores in reading, math, history, science, and writing all decreased, with writing being the biggest area of concern. Compared to neighboring districts, Richmond has a high black student majority, the highest number of students with disabilities, a 40% poverty level, and the slowest growth and progress. Richmond Public Schools is behind the other divisions in all subjects. Only 30% of Richmond’s schools have full accreditation, which is significantly lower than the percentages for Henrico, Hanover, and Chesterfield Schools. RPS is in a transition state with slow growth, but the plan is for RPS to move in a forward direction. “If you know better, you do better,” Wade says.