RPS problems remain no matter who’s in office

3/30/2018, 12:19 p.m.

In 2008, I ran for the Richmond School Board. I had this crazy idea that I could fix the decades-long problems with Richmond Public Schools.

A plurality of my neighbors voted for another candidate who became part of the long line of School Board members who served for a term or less and then moved on to “more important stuff.” Had I been elected, would RPS have been significantly better today? My ego likes to say, “Yes.” My realistic side is not so sure.

At the time, I had one granddaughter at Linwood Holton Elementary School on North Side. Holton is one of the successful elementary schools in the city. It is successful because of a supportive principal and because the middle class residents of the district decided they would make the school work for their children. A second granddaughter enrolled at Holton three years later.

But no matter how good Holton is, it is only available through fifth grade. After that, if you live where my granddaughters live, you go to Henderson Middle School. Henderson had a bad reputation as a middle school. Further, when my wife volunteered to help a Henderson teacher with her lessons, she found a school with zero discipline and students with no respect for adults or other children. So my daughter and son-in-law decided to go the private school route. They put my older granddaughter in Orchard House School. I still don’t understand how they found the tuition money.

Move ahead four years. My older granddaughter is about to graduate from Orchard House, and it’s déjà vu all over again. Now, I am told that John Marshall, the neighborhood high school, will not provide the quality high school education my granddaughter needs.

Richmond has two special high school programs — Open and Richmond Community high schools. They have been noted nationally. But they have a significant problem: The enrollment for each is only about 200 students. Whether or not my granddaughter is admitted to one of those programs, or my family has to leave the city to find the quality education my granddaughter deserves, is still up in the air.

That RPS provides such small arks to save so many students is a symptom of the lack of care for public education that has been demonstrated by most of Richmond’s leaders for a long time.

Most of Richmond’s children are of color and come from families who cannot afford to move outside the city to seek better educational opportunities. They are what I call “captive students.” The high school for these children will most likely be one of Richmond’s five main high schools, none of which is fully accredited by the state Department of Education.

Armstrong, George Wythe, Huguenot, Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall have many of the problems that are experienced by other urban high schools in the nation. I am convinced that a significant number of students forced to enroll in those five schools is not receiving the quality education to which they are entitled.

What is most frustrating is, regardless of who is elected to the School Board, who is hired as superintendent and who is selected as administrators at these schools, the situation seems to stay the same.

What should most upset us are the students who are suffering. As I wrote in 2013, we must not forget that RPS is not about SOL scores or about accreditation or about graduation rates. RPS is about students. These students are people, not statistics. When our scores drop, we must not forget that individual students are not receiving the quality education that we promised them. When our graduation rates are low, we must remember that individual students are being deprived.

How many students do you think RPS has failed to provide with a quality education since 2008?


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