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Richmond’s interim schools superintendent plans to ‘move the ball forward’

7/14/2017, 7:12 a.m.
As interim superintendent of Richmond Public Schools, Thomas E. Kranz said he wants to make students, parents, teachers, administrators and ...

By Holly Rodriguez

As interim superintendent of Richmond Public Schools, Thomas E. Kranz said he wants to make students, parents, teachers, administrators and the community feel good about Richmond Public Schools again.

“One of my major tasks will be getting that excitement up, and I’ll do whatever I need to do to make that happen,” he said in an interview Wednesday with the Free Press.

“I’ll do community meetings, one-on-ones with citizens, listening to what other people have to say and telling our own story, as well.”

Mr. Kranz, who has been with RPS for four years, was named interim superintendent on June 6, following a surprise announcement by former Superintendent Dana T. Bedden and the Richmond School Board that Dr. Bedden was leaving June 30 in a mutually agreed upon departure.

Mr. Kranz takes the helm as the school system is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for alleged harsh and disproportionate discipline of African-American students and students with disabilities.

Funding issues, old and decrepit school buildings and the inability of RPS to improve the accreditation rate for schools have also struck a blow to morale for the district’s constituencies. With 27 of the city’s 44 schools not fully accredited, the Virginia Department of Education now has intervened.

Mr. Kranz said he is aware of these issues, and plans to improve school facilities and to work with state education officials to “move the ball forward,” while he is in charge through Dec. 31.

“A lot of people will say there’s not a lot you can do in six months. But we have the opportunity to improve, and that’s what we’re going to try and do,” he said.

Two major school projects include gutting and reconstructing the interior of Overby-Sheppard Elementary School in Highland Park, with some exterior improvements, while a new school is planned for South Side at the site of the former Elkhardt Middle School on Hull Street Road. That school was closed in 2015 because of mold and other environmental issues that impacted student health.

The combined Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School on Forest Hill Avenue had about 1,000 students in 2015, and Mr. Kranz said a new Elkhardt Middle would be able to accommodate up to 1,500 students.

The need for more space is based on 2015 and 2017 growth projections for the area. However, money has not been appropriated yet for a new middle school.

“I think everyone will see a wow factor, and I’m hoping people will be very happy with the changes,” he said.

A Memorandum of Understanding and Corrective Action Plan, directives from the state Department of Education to put RPS on the path to better accreditation rates, are underway, he said.

State officials first reviewed the MOU in late June, and Mr. Kranz said the document, which outlines specific tasks to get RPS back on track, will be reviewed again on July 27. He anticipates approval from the state.

“We won’t make it across the goal line because we have a long way to go,” he said. “But I’m hopeful that if we start to move the ball, we can create a level of excitement about RPS and gain some momentum.”