School Board Meeting - June 1, 2020

After the electronic meeting announcement and roll call, only seven of the nine board members are present, Linda Owens calls for a moment of silence for the pain the community and the country are currently experiencing.

Then the board moves on the adoption of the agenda. Elizabeth Doerr makes a motion to approve the agenda as amended. She seeks to add to section 5 to receive an update to the response of the Richmond Public Schools employee with COVID-19. The agenda with the amendment is adopted and the minutes are approved.

Due to the importance of this meeting regarding the new ELA and math curricula there is a surplus of emails during the public information period. Instead of the individual themselves joining the meeting to comment, Angela Wilson reads them aloud to the rest of the board. Each email is allotted two minutes.

Thomas Harman’s email sets the stage for a series of emails in support of the new curricula. He encourages the board to follow their leader, Superintendent Jason Kamras, and vote yes. However, some emails such as Amina Fola-Rose bring to light some concerns. Although she enjoys the flexibility of the curricula, she worries about how English language learners will be affected and does not want them to be left behind.

Teresa Kennedy also voices her support for the curricula specifically for the new EL curriculum. Although she knows that people will be pulled out of their comfort zones, overall, it will help Richmond students improve their literacy.

Ansly Perkins’ email creates a different atmosphere. Perkins calls out the top leadership of the board for bullying a colleague. The email reminds them that they represent Richmond Public Schools students and to be respectful.

Moving back to the curricula, Tracy Saunders fully supports the new Eureka Math believing it will have a positive impact on students. It focuses on understanding why an answer is correct unlike the current math curriculum.

Kathleen Tisdale’s email is one of many that do not think it is the appropriate time to move forward with a new curriculum. She and many others believe that the RPS funding for it should be used for the transition back to school in the fall whether online or in person. Sara Bird recommended they hold off for a year to provide the COVID-19 relief.

Some of the emails presented to the school board were originally written in Spanish to highlight the need for more resources and better support for Spanish speaking families. An email written by Lisa Deleo highlights this need. She recounts the story of a student who was given a laptop and hotspot by the school district but was unable to access it because no password information was given. They attempted to contact technical services but there was no answer and the family was unsure where to go for support. Other emails with similar concerns about the district’s lack of support for ELL students and their families were also submitted.

Valerie Schwarz wrote that if the new math curriculum was not approved that some of the district’s schools would not have math textbooks or online resources available. The old textbooks had been collected earlier in the year.

Madison Tyler is one of many teachers and faculty that wrote in to support the new curricula. The principals of Westover Hills Elementary, Linwood Holton Elementary, Overby-Sheppard Elementary, George Washington Carver Elementary, and the assistance principal of Lucille Murray Brown Elementary all shared their support and excitement for the curricula. Allison El Koubi, the principal of Westover Hills Elementary, sees the new EL curriculum as way to teach students more than just SOLS.

When the public information period ended the meeting moved onto the board action items. The first action item is to receive a second review and action regarding the new ELA and math curricula adoption. Dr. Epp, the Chief Academic Officer, gives a presentation on the new curricula. She begins by noting that plan is to fully adopt the new math curricula this upcoming school year, but there is flexibility with ELA with full implementation expected in the 2021-2022 school year. Dr. Epp reminds everyone that if the board does not move forward with the curricula the school district will no longer be aligned with Virginia education standards from K-5. Her PowerPoint presentation addresses the questions and concerns of the school community.

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