To improve schools, let’s work together

1/13/2017, 7:20 p.m.
The success of Richmond Public Schools, its students, and its families is critically important to the City of Richmond and ...

Levar M. Stoney

The success of Richmond Public Schools, its students, and its families is critically important to the City of Richmond and will be a top priority in my mayoral administration. Voters in 2016 made it very clear that they want their leaders to prioritize education, and that they want to see public officials collaborate to support schools.

Richmond Public Schools faces many challenges, none more so than the impact of poverty on both our neighborhoods and our children’s ability to learn. We, therefore, must take a comprehensive approach that addresses the needs of children and their families, inside and outside of the classroom, in order to succeed in our effort to improve educational outcomes and reduce poverty in the City of Richmond.

This goal — to improve educational outcomes and reduce poverty — is challenging on its own, but it is even more challenging in a climate of scarce resources. About two in five children in the city live in poverty, and nearly four in five RPS students are classified as low-income. Helping these children reach their innate potential often requires extra support and attention. Yet resources in the city are limited. State funding has been flat in recent years, the statewide funding formula disadvantages Richmond and the city itself has other critical needs such as infrastructure and public safety.

Success thus demands that the mayor, City Council and School Board work together to establish not only clear goals and associated measures of accountability, but also a shared understanding of what resources are necessary to accomplish these goals. As we’ve learned during the past few years, without a commitment to work together toward common goals using a common plan, we have no hope of making durable progress or meeting all our funding needs.

I am confident that we have an historic opportunity to permanently transform the City of Richmond if we are willing to work together, make difficult compromises when necessary and stand shoulder to shoulder to fight for the future of our city’s children. As mayor, I aim to support Richmond Public Schools so that we have a school system that provides a top tier education to all of our children, especially those who face extra challenges due to poverty.

Past mayors have criticized the shortcomings of Richmond Public Schools and tried various approaches to influence the actions of schools. As mayor, I am trying something different. Rather than pit the needs of schools against the needs of other agencies in city government, I will lead the city to work collaboratively with RPS in a way that addresses the whole child.

That means that we must pay attention to critical needs within RPS, like recruiting and compensating great leaders for our schools and classrooms. It also means that we must pay attention to strong support services, to after-school and summertime programs and to what is going on at home.

It means that we must not only engage parents and families, but also ways for parents and families to further their own education and bolster their own careers. It means that we have to invest in public safety, and it means that all those who interact with children in Richmond understand the history of our community and the impact of trauma on many kids.