Fix what’s broken


5/31/2019, 6 a.m.
We are dumbstruck by the continuing depth of problems associated with Richmond Public Schools.

We are dumbstruck by the continuing depth of problems associated with Richmond Public Schools. 

The latest debacle to come to light: “Inappropriate practices” by those on the front lines in the city’s high schools, resulting in at least 280 seniors being prevented from graduating in the next two weeks.

An audit prompted by issues that arose last year has uncovered major flaws in how schools have been awarding course credit to RPS students.

Our initial reaction to the latest report by Superintendent Jason Kamras’ top staff was profound disbelief, then empathy for the angry parents and students who trusted teachers and school counselors to guide them accurately through the four-year process of what it takes to graduate.

Already, Richmond Public Schools has one of the lowest graduation rates in the state, with only about 75 percent of its students graduating on time — that means in four years.

This revelation gives another black eye to the city’s public school system, which is struggling to deal with issues of poor student achievement. Add to the list the latest raft of problems that give the perception of incompetence or indifference on the part of the “professionals” who work in the schools.

It’s probably a good thing that Mr. Kamras has signed a five-year contract as superintendent or this latest debacle could have had him heading for the hills.

We don’t mean to make light of a grim and urgent problem that can have grave and debilitating consequences for the futures of several hundred students. Strikingly, the entire episode shows that no one — largely former RPS superintendents and their administrators who may still be on the job — was really paying attention to whether Richmond’s public school students are being educated.

For such a problem to persist for so long, even in the face of low graduation numbers, shows either a lack of interest in getting to the bottom of the issue or a desire to cover up the problem, pass the students and let the problem of a lack of education become someone else’s to deal with.

If RPS officials were in charge of a soda pop factory and learned that only 1,100 of the 1,700 bottles on the conveyor belt were being capped, then they would be fired if they didn’t find a way to fix the problem and get all or most of the bottles on the belt capped.

So why is it when only 1,200 or fewer students graduate each year after roughly 1,700 students started out in the class as ninth-graders, no one looks closely to see what’s going on? Why did it take an audit to uncover years of problems that have been inflating graduation rates and affecting students’ readiness to enter the workforce or go on to higher education?

It is clear RPS has many broken parts, even beyond the old and dilapidated school buildings.

The Richmond School Board must ensure that this mess is cleaned up. While the 280 or more students impacted by this may be able to go to summer school or remain in school another year to obtain the credits they need to graduate, the problem must not impact next year’s Class of 2020.

If the RPS administration can’t fix the problem, then the School Board must fire the superintendent and his people. And if the School Board doesn’t fix the problem, then the voters in Richmond need to fire the board members.

More than 24,000 children in Richmond are depending on us to make sure they get an education. We cannot let them down.