Common concerns emerge in forum on superintendent search

5/19/2017, 7:57 p.m.
Communication. Transparency. Visibility.
Dawn Page and Charlotte Hayer

By Holly Rodriguez

Communication. Transparency. Visibility.

These are qualities participants listed as priorities for the next superintendent of Richmond Public Schools during the first of four community forums held by the Richmond School Board on Tuesday night at Huguenot High School.

The goal of the forums is to gather public input as the national search starts for candidates to replace Superintendent Dana T. Bedden.

Dr. Bedden and the School Board mutually agreed last month to end his contract on June 30, two years short of his original contract.

The abrupt end to Dr. Bedden’s tenure, combined with the School Board’s silence about the reason for his departure, angered many in the RPS community and disrupted trust and confidence in the board. The forums are an attempt to calm the fury and give the public the opportunity to voice their opinion on the next candidate.

“We want public buy-in, for (people) to share their thoughts involving what they want in our next superintendent,” said School Board Chairwoman Dawn Page.

More than 50 people turned out for Tuesday’s meeting. They were divided into groups to answer seven questions such as the desired professional background and preferred management style of a new superintendent and the single big ticket item they would like a new superintendent to implement.

One group that was exclusively Spanish-speaking was designated to address Latino student concerns.

The question that prompted the most response from participants was, “What are the characteristics you want to see in the next superintendent?” Responses that repeatedly surfaced included a strong communicator, transparency of the administration and visibility in the community.

“If we were satisfied, we wouldn’t be here today,” said David F. Jones, who has two children in city schools. “The characteristics we are looking for are characteristics of anyone who we would want to be around our kids.”

Sam Banks, who works in the RPS IT department, said transparency, communication and visibility will set the school system on the track of much-needed change, helping to improve culture at many schools and build morale. However, repairing school culture does not stop at the administrative level, he said.

“We need to offer some training to some of our parents, too,” he continued. “They need to know that what you may view as acceptable behavior in your home may differ than the behavior the teacher expects from your child in the classroom.”

Mr. Banks and several other participants expressed the need to have a superintendent who is accessible to parents and teachers.

“This person has to inspire others and . . . not be afraid of parents,” Mr. Banks said. “You have to create the vision, live it and be it — teach a class one day, do the morning announcements, be visible, be seen.”

Most of the participants agreed that these qualities are important, but other concerns were raised.

Gustavo Angeles, a volunteer with the New Virginia Majority advocacy group, said the Spanish-speaking group wants a new superintendent to ensure equal treatment of all students, address student transportation issues and allow transfer of academic credits from a student’s home country upon enrollment in RPS.