An exceptional opportunity

8/30/2018, 6 a.m.
We extend our hopes for a good year to the more than 153,000 students attending public schools in Metro Richmond, ...
Volunteer Latisha Gordon gives school supplies and other goodies to 4-year-old Jayla Morrison at the Richmond Police Athletic League’s Stop the Violence rally last Sunday at Lucks Field in the East End. The event, with free food, beverages and music, was organized to help bridge the gap between Richmond Police and the community, while also helping youngsters get ready for school. Photo by Sandra Sellars

Summer is winding down. Labor Day is upon us. Those are the signals that school is about to begin.

We extend our hopes for a good year to the more than 153,000 students attending public schools in Metro Richmond, as well as to the parents and guardians who support them day in and day out.

We are at an unusual juncture in Metro Richmond, with three school systems beginning the year with new superintendents.

 Dr. Amy E. Cashwell, a former Virginia Beach school administrator, took over the helm of Henrico County Public Schools on July 1. 

Dr. Mervin B. Daugherty was named superintendent of Chesterfield County Public Schools last week. Dr. Daugherty, a former Delaware Superintendent of the Year, begins Nov. 1.

And in Richmond, Jason Kamras, a former administrator in Washington’s public school system and the 2005 National Teacher of the Year, took over the reins as superintendent in February and is starting his first full school year with Richmond Public Schools.

With this collective star power, we are encouraged that our students and school systems are in the hands of talented and progressive leaders who have the skills to help conquer the obstacles plaguing our schools. Chief among them are the gaps in academic success among students of color and the harsh and disparate discipline that studies show is meted out to students of color and disabled students. 

We understand that neither of these problems cropped up overnight, and that a host of countervailing issues are involved, including those arising from home situations.

But we are buoyed by the recent critical mass of effort to help advance a turnaround in RPS. More than 1,000 volunteers of all ages put on their work clothes and pitched in last week for RVA Shines! to spruce up many of the city school buildings before next week’s opening. 

On Wednesday, Mayor Levar M. Stoney announced a nearly $6 million investment by corporate and foundation partners that, along with $1 million in additional city spending, will expand after-school programs to an additional 1,000 Richmond elementary and middle school students over the next two years through schools, recreation centers and nonprofit operations. The investment — a $2 million boost from last year — is aimed at providing the supervision, homework help, recreational and other enrichment activities to help nurture and develop children academically and emotionally.

All summer, individuals, community groups, churches, religious organizations and corporations have engaged in efforts small and large to provide backpacks, school supplies, shoes and clothes for youngsters.

And efforts by the Richmond School Board and city and schools administration to ameliorate deplorable conditions at aged, decrepit school buildings by funding the future construction of new schools and the immediate rehabbing of others are a major step in the right direction.

All of these endeavors demonstrate the breadth and depth of community support for Richmond children and our city’s public school system. 

It is abundantly clear that Richmonders want to move our school system beyond the Sisyphean task of continuing to push boulders uphill. We want our children to learn and thrive and enjoy the bright futures that come with authentic academic success.

Having such an outpouring of community backing is important for any school system. Now that RPS has such a confluence of efforts, it is even more critical for Mr. Kamras, the School Board, Mayor Stoney and City Council to provide a unified vision, direction and action plan for the future.

This is opportunity time for RPS. And we will monitor our RPS and city leaders’ efforts and progress on this front.

We also hope our teachers will discover — or re-discover — during this year the reasons why they chose education as a career. We need their energy, devotion and demonstrable care for young people to light up their classrooms and inspire their students each and every day. 

As Mayor Stoney said at Monday’s back-to-school rally, none of us would be where we are today if it hadn’t been for great educators.

Have a great school year!