School Board Recap - March 19, 2018
The School Board received a wonderful treat on Monday evening. The talented students of the Green Elementary School Orchestra presented three lovely musical selections for the Board and for the audience assembled. “This is the reason why we do what we do – because of our children,” School Board Chair Dawn Page said as the students were applauded for their excellent performance of Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star, Ode to Joy, and Crippled Cabbage.
In addition, Mr. Gonzalez, the Spanish Interpreter for the School Board, was pleased to announce that at the most recent RPS Parent-Teacher Conferences, there were over sixty (60) Spanish interpreters utilized by the families in the community.
Adoption of the Agenda
There was a little bit of confusion around the adoption of the Agenda for the evening, which led to a bit of lengthy discussion. There were some items that were moved around on the Agenda, in addition to the proposal for an amendment by School Board member Kenya Gibson. She asked that the Agenda be amended to include a period of public discussion regarding the Superintendent’s proposed structure for his new administration. Originally, this discussion was to take place during a closed session, in which the public would not be able to hear about it. There were a couple of issues regarding this amendment, the first (1st) being a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) complication. Discussing the structure would require the discussion of personnel matters. Given that individuals have not been appointed or hired to positions yet, their names cannot be exposed to the public yet, as that would be a violation of the FOIA. If the personnel were already appointed or hired in their positions, then their names and other relevant information regarding their positions could be discussed publicly, which would not violate FOIA because at that point the individuals would be publicly known officials. Superintendent Kamras noted that even if he presented to the public the organizational chart for his proposed structure, he would still be compromising personnel information.
The second (2nd) issue about the amendment was that Superintendent Kamras was not prepared to speak on his organizational and structural proposal at Monday night’s meeting. He stated that he could speak on the costs and the budget, but he could not talk about the central office or his Cabinet structure. Yet, while he could talk on the costs and the budget, Mr. Kamras explained that he “can’t talk about the budget without talking about the central office, and can’t talk about salaries without talking about specific personnel.” Furthermore, to talk about the central office would mean talking about 200 employees.
There was some further discussion about perhaps setting parameters around what is said in either a closed or an open session regarding the matter, but ultimately the Board agreed not to dwell on the matter much longer, as it was simply “a hard conversation to get into.”
In closing out the discussion, School Board Chair Page reminded the audience assembled that “It is the Board’s responsibility to hold the Superintendent accountable and to provide oversight on the outcome district with regards to achievement and the quality of education.”
Former Interim-Superintendent Mr. Kranz provided the School Board with a couple of updates regarding Richmond Public Schools. The first (1st) update was with respect to Secure Solutions. Secure Solutions is a proposal that would allow for about 8-10 schools to utilize solar power. RPS would still be buying energy from Dominion Power, but the Secure Solutions plan would provide about 25% solar energy to the schools, thus saving RPS some money. Mr. Kranz recommended that the School Board move forward with the planned proposal.
Mrs. Doerr supports the Secure Solutions plan, stating that it is a great opportunity to “teach students about a ‘green’ future and saving the environment,” in addition to allowing RPS to save money.
The second (2nd) update Mr. Kranz provided was regarding replacing the roof at Westover Hills Elementary School, the cost of which is estimated at $592,000. He noted that additional costs may be incurred, as there is potential damage that could occur or be discovered as that roof is removed. However, he asked that the Board proceed with the plan, as the roof covers 85% of the school rooftop (the gymnasium has an updated roof that does not need to be touched) and is over thirty (30) years old.
A representative from the VA Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (VAHCC) came forward to remind the School Board that the VAHCC is an ally. “RPS is over 12% Latinos…and also has the highest dropout rates.” The representative stressed the importance of ensuring that no child gets left behind due to language barriers. “VAHCC brings solutions to the problems,” he said.
Don’t Throw Out the Whole System
Echoing the first speaker, Robert Auberbright highlighted that the ESL Spanish Academy at Oak Grove Elementary school, which has been operating for the last five (5) years has yielded dramatic results for students thanks to the tutors who have been available on weekends to work with these student.
Mr. Auberbright also spoke on the issue of transportation, specifically the shortage of bus drivers for RPS. He asked that Board re-evaluate its walking policy, as there are students in walking range who get the bus to school, while others who need the buses to get to school do not have access. He stated that the school is making a $300,000 investment that is not working properly. He suggested that the Board “don’t throw out the whole system, but throw out the systems that don’t work or are not needed.”
Vote YES and Keep My School Open
Jeremiah Clark, a student at the Patrick Henry Charter School for Art and Science asked the Board to vote “yes” on the charter school renewal
Ariana Lucky (2nd Grade) and Jasmine Lucky (Kindergarten) also asked the Board to “please” keep the Patrick Henry School open, as they love their school and the lessons that they learn there.
Debra Corlith shared the experience she had teaching an autistic biracial kindergartener from a troubled background who successfully graduated from the 5th grade at Patrick Henry. She asked that the Board vote “yes” to Patrick Henry as well.
An Academic Asset
Analyssa Hill also requested a “yes” to the Patrick Henry charter school. She stated that is an academic asset to RPS, as it intentional and involved, diverse, and nurtures students so that they may thrive and be enriched in the school-community environment. “Every school is unique with its own personality,” Ms. Hill explained. “It should continue to be an option. Charters are not popular, but Patrick Henry is a success. We are RPS, so vote ‘YES’!”
Tom Hartman came forward to speak about the School Board and Superintendent’s strategic plan for RPS. He reminded that the failures of last time are still relevant and that there are issues that still need to be addressed. He noted that in particular, the staff attendance schedules are a mess, due mostly to the fact that the principals of the schools determine the staff hours. Mr. Hartman stated that standardized hours should be implemented by the central office, because if teachers are not treated with dignity, they will not put their best work forward. “Squeezing the best to make the worst better is bad planning,” he warned.
A Teachable Moment
A. Ramone Moore of the Richmond Education Foundation came forward to discuss the national school walkout that occurred on March 14, the one-month anniversary of the Parkland High School shooting in Florida that claimed the lives of 17 students at Stoneman Douglass High School on Valentine’s Day. Richmond Community High School got media attention for their demonstration, which was a show of equality and solidarity that promoted a dialogue between students and teachers. He said that the event was “a teachable moment for both the community and the country.” Mr. Moore also noted that the Virginia Education Foundation has a statewide taskforce for improving school safety.
Edward Bollin, a gym teacher at Cary Elementary School came forward to discuss workplace bullying, stated that he has been very harassed by the leadership at his school and that it has gotten to the point where his is considering transferring to another district or otherwise seeking new employment. He stated that he has received no answers to any of his complaints and that the administrator he is at odds with has recommended that Mr. Bollin be recommended as nonrenewable for employment in the new school year, without giving any reasons as to why that decision was made. He further noted that he has witnessed the same treatment being inflicted on other teachers at the school as well. “What has been done?” he asked the Board.
Patrick Henry School
Sara McMillian came forwards as another advocate for the Patrick Henry Charter School, praising it for being “scholastically and financially solid” and for “giving back to the community.”
Ainsley Perkins came forward to express how she was “in awe” when she visited the RPS Fine Arts Festival. The Fine Arts Festival gave students the opportunity to channel their creativity and their emotions. She stated that she would like to hear more about the Arts, as the Arts represent an outlet for many people, yet are chronically unsupported and underfunded.
Cleaning Up the House
Kandise Lucas, a parent and student activist with Parents for Advocacy in Schools came forward with significantly less enthusiasm about the Patrick Henry Charter School (PHCS). She accused administrators at PHCS of conspiring to put out an African American student with disabilities, which she is now filing a due process claim against RPS for doing so. School Board Chair Dawn Page has been subpoenaed for the court hearing associated with this claim. Ms. Lucas stated that while the “praises of Patrick Henry” have been sung very well by previous speakers, there have allegedly been illegal actions taken by school officials, including the falsifying of documents, the shredding of student records, and bullying of parents in the school. Her client’s son was put out of the school, effectively expelled, and no support has been given to the parent whatsoever regarding the matter. “How racist and bigoted can you be?” Ms. Lucas asked. “Apparently Patrick Henry is not inclusive for Black boys with disabilities. Charter schools should not be promoting Jim Crow tactics.” Ms. Lucas acknowledged that she is enraged by this incident and that the School Board should expect immediate legal action. She clarified, however, that she is not against the charter itself, she is simply “cleaning up the house” by working at the grassroots level to dismantle the school-to-prison-pipeline.
Dignity in Schools
Another speaker came forward to echo the sentiments of Ms. Lucas and Mr. Bollin. She warned the Board that they need to get poor administrators out of the schools, and that she has filed a civil rights investigation against RPS as a result of administrative actions taken against her. As a student advocate, she was impeded from obtaining a position on a board that she was qualified for simply because of her profession. The question was raised of whether or not she would be able to be impartial because she is an activist for students’ rights. She pointed out that many other acts of discrimination and retaliation have been taken against her, which have been quite ridiculous. She explained that there is a moral and ethical issue going on and that she feels degraded by the administrators she works with. “I will be treated equally and not as less than human.”
Be an Example
“Young men and women need something to do,” Ed Jones told the Board as he stepped up to the podium. “And there are things that we can do that do not cost a dime – we just need the people who are dedicated. Mr. Jones expressed his desire to become the head football coach at Huguenot High School, so that he can be the first example of what RPS can be with the right leadership.
The Data is a Liar
Shelley Bautista, an English teacher at Armstrong High School, commended the Board for getting the locks put in at Armstrong. However, she had another issue to discuss with the Board: data. “The data lies,” she said. “Students are not being tested at the High School level, and students who cannot write are being put into AP courses, while Richmond as a whole does not have a writing program.” Ms. Bautista proposed that RPS suspend the AP Program and institute a writing program that will be better suited to helping student get where they need to be. “I won’t have a job anymore, but I care more about the students than about having that job.” She also pointed out that the PowerSchool Program that is utilized by RPS teachers is not what it appears to be. It is not user friendly for the teachers and it produces inauthentic assessments that do not help the students.
Elizabeth Waite, another Armstrong High School Teacher, agreed with Ms. Bautista that the PowerSchool program provides no way for teachers to look at trends among their students. However, Ms. Waite had another issue to speak about: rats. Armstrong has been experiencing a lot of rats lately, who have been discovered in the English department, the gymnasium, and in other areas of the school. A nest of baby rats was found in the school recently as well. The problem is frustrating for the teachers, as the rats not only distract students but also destroy supplies by chewing at them. “I know that our facilities and building are not a priority, but a pest control program would be greatly appreciated,” she said.
Snacks during SOL Testing
A History teacher from Thomas Jefferson High School asked about a policy change that stated that students could not have water or snacks during the SOL tests. He explained that these tests are hours long and stressful, and that this policy change negatively affects students who suffer from test anxiety. He simply asked that the policy be changed to allow students to have at least water, if not snacks, during the tests.
Listen To Our Children
An invested citizen from the community wanted to thank the School Board in advance for the Patrick Henry Charter renewal, as she “knows that [the Board] is going to vote for what is right.” She entreated the Board to listen to the children and look at what is being done. “Even though there are challenges, those challenges should be looked at as opportunities for growth,” she said. “Vote in favor of the renewal.”
Support Our Schools
Chris Lombardi expressed that he has concerns about Superintendent Kamras’s hiring process. He stated that staff deserve to see what the chart will look like, read the job descriptions, and see what the salaries are. Mr. Lombardi stated that there are new hires but no positions, which insinuates that people without positions are getting paid. He asked that the Board either 1) delay the vote until the School Board and the public have evaluated the plan, 2) set all salaries at 3% of the budget uniformly, or 3) post all positions and give others the chance to apply for the positions. He stressed the importance of transparency in government, noting that “reason and procedure cannot be thrown out of the window.”
We Are Not Voiceless
Leondre Singleton, a senior at Franklin Military Academy, had some wise words for the School Board. With regards to the school-to-prison-pipeline, he asked that students be allowed to focus on school and not be treated as criminals. He shook off the idea of students being seen as voiceless, stating that students are not voiceless and have a strong sense of understanding of the problems they face. Speaking as a student, Mr. Singleton asked the Board: “Why not get a lot feedback from students?” He noted the importance of democracy, and promoting and focusing on education and structure. He critiqued the parameters in place that do not allow a relationship or effective communication between parents, teachers, and students. He stated that teachers need to not take in only what they see from students in the school, as they have no idea what’s going on at home.
Leondre Singleton was recognized for being the School Board’s March student representative by Superintendent Kamras, Chair Page, and his Principal Mr. Hudson at Franklin Military Academy. Mr. Singleton thanked the Board for the award and said that “before we can understand each other, we must respect each other. Just because it is not what you like or what you hear, it is no less important.”
REB Award Winner
Principal J. Austin Brown, principal of Richmond Community High School, received the REB Award for Distinguished Educational Leader. He was commended for his role as a leader and for his role in growing new leaders, as shown by the student walkout orchestrated by Richmond Community students.