Richmond Alternative School staying put

7/15/2016, 7:36 a.m.
Richmond Public Schools’ alternative program is staying put. A plan by the Richmond schools administration to move the Richmond Alternative ...

By Bonnie N. Davis

Richmond Public Schools’ alternative program is staying put.

A plan by the Richmond schools administration to move the Richmond Alternative School from its West Leigh Street location in Jackson Ward failed to win approval from the Richmond School Board during a June 30 meeting.

The School Board voted 5-3 against the proposal, which would have moved the program’s 200 middle and high school students to the former Oak Grove Elementary School building on Ingram Avenue in South Richmond.

Concerns about safety at the alternative program’s current location prompted school officials to recommend the program be moved. Proponents of the move say that the building has too many blind spots, stairwells, entrances and exits that put the security of students and staff at risk.

Thomas E. Kranz, assistant superintendent of facilities, said safety concerns at the building prompted the recommendation for change.

“Moving students to a new location will make them believe they are appreciated,” Mr. Kranz said. “If the decision is to stay at the current location, we will do our best to take it and make it the best we can.”

School Board member Donald Coleman, 7th District, voted to move the program.

“I hear now that people don’t like it or feel that the facility is a good one,” said Mr. Coleman, adding that he has seen “consistent failure of our alternative programs,” after serving on the RPS Student Disciplinary Committee for the past seven years. “I believe we can change and set this right,” he said.

Board member Kristen Larsen, 4th District, who also voted to move the program, believes a new environment would prove positive for the program and its students.

“We want a safe environment and tools for teachers to be successful,” she said.

The alternative program serves students who are at risk of dropping out of school or who face expulsion because of behavioral or disciplinary problems. It has been based at its current location since 2013, with the building formerly serving as Benjamin Graves Middle School and Armstrong High School.

A day before the vote, School Board member Mamie Taylor, 5th District, voiced concern that materials were being packed into boxes in preparation for the school closing. However, that was put to a halt when a majority of the board said they saw no reason to move the program.

School Board member Derik Jones, 8th District, who voted against the proposal, said the board should not make a “knee-jerk decision. We should not do this tonight,” while member Tichi Pinkney Eppes, 9th District, who joined the meeting by speakerphone, said she heard no clear and compelling reason why the students should be moved.

“A building is not going to help them academically,” said Ms. Pinkney Eppes. “If you move them with the same mindset that put them there in the first place, it will all be for naught.”

After the meeting, Ms. Taylor said she was pleased with the outcome.

“This decision means we are putting the children first,” she said. “The safety issue is incredibly exaggerated.”

Mr. Kranz said security measures that will be implemented within the next few weeks include installing a new security camera system and mirrors, reducing stairwell access and putting the program on one floor.

Joining Ms. Taylor, Dr. Jones and Ms. Eppes in voting against the proposal were Board Chairman Jeffrey Bourne, 3rd District, and Shonda Harris-Muhammed, 6th District.

In addition to Mr. Coleman and Ms. Larson, Kimberly Gray, 2nd District, voted to approve the move.

Board member Dawson Boyer, 1st District, abstained.