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Adversity and accountability

6/24/2017, 1:56 p.m.

The pressure of adversity is the most powerful sustainer of accountability, so it has been said.

And the Richmond School Board certainly is feeling the pressure.

Even as the 2017 school year drew to a close last week, the board still faces overwhelming obstacles that stretch well beyond their usual struggle for funding, retention of teachers, backlog of maintenance on and repair of aged and decrepit school buildings and an abysmal record of 27 of the city’s 44 schools lacking full accreditation.

The pressure grows as the board now must also deal with escalating violence in the community that has claimed the lives of several Richmond Public Schools students.

Last week, 18-year-old Jacquesha “Billie” Clanton, a George Wythe High School student, was killed at the scene of a fight outside an apartment complex on Old Brook Road in North Side. Four people were shot — Billie fatally — when gunfire erupted.

Her death comes on the heels of two double homicides of RPS students in Mosby Court and in South Richmond.

Earlier this month, Richmond Police arrested two 11-year-olds and a 10-year-old in the shooting of a RPS employee during a break-in at the Norrell Annex building on North Side in May.

Add to all that the pressure of the city school system receiving a failing grade in a review by the Virginia Department of Education. The report pointed out serious deficiencies in areas of leadership and governance and human resources.

That report is separate from the federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights into RPS’ disparity in disciplinary practices for American-American students and students with disabilities.

With Superintendent Dana T. Bedden exiting at the end of June, the board is under a deadline to find a replacement.

Who would even consider taking the job to lead Richmond’s public school system? Superwoman and Superman exist only in comic books and the movies.

School Board Chairman Dawn Page succinctly stated the problem: “We are failing our children.”

The task of hiring a new superintendent is an enormous one, particularly for a board whose nine members are all new. But choosing the right person will be critical — not only for the school system and the city, but for the Richmond families who depend on public education for their children and its quality to ensure their children’s future success.

Because of the flurry of bad news, the staggering problems within RPS are plainly visible to the public.

But we remind our readers of the many positive things that are occurring in Richmond schools, and the accomplishments and achievements of scores of students whose stories don’t make headlines or the 11 o’clock news.

We have sought to feature on the pages of the Richmond Free Press some of the good news, including recent articles highlighting two young men at John Marshall High School who have excelled on and off the field to become valedictorian and salutatorian of the Class of 2017; the young woman at Richmond Community High School who is the highest achieving student within RPS with a 4.91 GPA; and the winners of various scholarships who are heading off to college to continue their studies.