Improvement plan

Richmond School Board hears details after flunking Va. Dept. of Education review

6/24/2017, 10:54 a.m.
The Richmond School Board has its work cut out for it to get the city’s public school system fully accredited. ...

By Holly Rodriguez

The Richmond School Board has its work cut out for it to get the city’s public school system fully accredited.

The Virginia Department of Education, which outlined chronic problems within Richmond Public Schools in a recent report, shared plans for getting the school system back on track at Monday night’s School Board meeting.

The recent VDOE review of RPS is the reason for the state’s involvement in the school system’s plan to resolve declining school performance.

Between the 2014-2015 academic year and the 2016-2017 school year, the number of city schools denied accreditation rose from three to 16 after failing to meet minimum VDOE standards.

“The review is a wake-up call to the sense of urgency that the board shares — an expectation in fostering a culture of accountability,” said School Board Chair Dawn Page. “This is unacceptable. How much longer do our children have to wait for excellent schools?”

Steven R. Staples, the state superintendent of public instruction, discussed with the School Board two specific plans toward resolving RPS’ chronic issues — a memorandum of understanding and a corrective action plan.

The work to come is a tall order for the board, eight of whose members have held office only for six months. The ninth member, 3rd District representative Cindy Menz-Erb, has held her seat for only three months.

The board also must function in the absence of a permanent schools leader. RPS Superintendent Dana T. Bedden resigned in late April in a mutual agreement with the board. His last day is June 30.

Thomas E. Kranz, RPS’ chief operating officer, will take over the post temporarily on July 1 until a permanent replacement is found. A national search for a superintendent is underway.

Dr. Billy K. Cannaday Jr., president of the VDOE board, briefly addressed the RPS board regarding the memorandum of understanding.

“This is not just a document that you sign,” he said. “We are here as partners because your children are our children.”

The five general focus areas of the memorandum include academics and student success; leadership and governance; operations and support services; human resource leadership; and community relations and communications.

A list of essential actions are to be completed for each category, with each action to have a specific person responsible for implementing it, a person monitoring the action, and a timeframe and documentation to verify completion.

While the process is just starting and details are incomplete, actions outlined by the VDOE include creating a plan to align a written, taught and tested curriculum; regularly reviewing the division’s organizational chart to ensure alignment with the RPS strategic plan; and creating a process to regularly identify and assess community and family needs.

One of the actions in the operations and support services category — conducting an assessment of fleet operations, which is a review of all of the school division’s vehicles — already has started. Results are to be released by Dec. 31.

Alongside Dr. Staples, Dr. Bedden presented the plan to the state Board of Education during a June 21 meeting. Approval of the plan is anticipated by Tuesday, June 27.

By July 17, RPS staff will begin to work with the VDOE on the corrective action plan.

“Some (long-range plans) may have to wait until you have completed the superintendent search,” Dr. Staples told the School Board on Monday night.

Dr. Bedden told the board that RPS officials recognized the problems identified in the department’s report prior to asking for their help.

“We invited the VDOE in for this review and we (voluntarily) met with VDOE,” he stressed.

He added that his attempt at transparency about school system findings turned into a blame game.

“Show me a struggling school system and I’ll show you a struggling community,” he said, aligning RPS progress with the uplift of the Richmond community as a whole.

“This review creates accountability as we look at the organizational structure and the implementation of instruction with positive outcomes,” Ms. Page said. “We need to own it, accept it, address it and move on.”