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RPS: A snapshot from the state

Editorials

10/4/2019, 6 a.m.
There were no surprises in the report released this week by the Virginia Department of Education. The report showed that ...

There were no surprises in the report released this week by the Virginia Department of Education. The report showed that fewer than half of Richmond’s public schools — 20 of the 44 schools — are fully accredited.

A faint glimmer of hope: That number is up from the past two years, when only 19 of the city’s schools met full accreditation standards.

There’s a lot of work to be done. We all know it. Richmond Public Schools administrators, the Richmond School Board, teachers, city officials and area residents have known that for years.

Data posted on the Virginia Department of Education’s website offers a dismal snapshot:

• In the 2018-19 academic year, RPS student achievement lagged at least 20 percentage points behind state averages in the core subjects of reading, writing, math, science and history. The results of the state Standards of Learning tests, which were released in August, showed us that.

• None of the city’s seven middle schools met full accreditation standards, nor did any of the five comprehensive high schools. Only the three specialty high schools, Franklin Military Academy, Open High and Richmond Community High, gained full accreditation.

• Interestingly, more than half of the city’s elementary schools are accredited — 16 of 26, including the charter elementary school, Patrick Henry School of Science & Arts.

Should we applaud the fact that RPS’ absenteeism rate has dropped from 19.2 percent in 2016-17 to 14.8 percent in 2018-19? Or should we point out that a 4.4 percentage point drop in two years is painfully slow progress?

Additionally, one in five students in RPS drops out, according to the state data. Last year, that number was one in four.

Should we be pleased that the 25 percent dropout rate in 2017-18 has decreased to a still abysmal rate of 20 percent in 2018-19?

According to the state Department of Education snapshot report, RPS has an enrollment of 24,763 students, including youngsters in the pre-kindergarten program. The data show that 66.1 percent of RPS students are African-American, 17 percent are Latino, 13.4 percent are Caucasian and 1.2 percent are Asian.

A majority of RPS students — 65 percent — are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, while 16.1 per- cent of students have learning disabilities and 9 percent are English learners.

Superintendent Jason Kamras has pledged to have 100 percent of our city’s schools accredited by the 2023-24 school year. That’s an ambitious goal that we hope the RPS team can make in just four years.

Aspirations are needed, but they are empty without a plan. While Dreams4RPS, the five-year strategic plan, is designed as the roadmap to get our school system to the goal, it is important that Mr. Kamras and the School Board keep the Richmond community fully informed of whether the plan is working.

Our students deserve the best efforts from Mr. Kamras, the School Board and the entire cadre of RPS teachers, administrators and support staff in order to excel academically. While measures are important, our students are more than just numbers on a scale showing progress. Their lives and futures depend on the support of each and every worker and volunteer in the city school division.

The difference between a student dropping out or reaching a future of excellence involves all of us, including home and community support. That means parents, guardians and others in the village — at church, at libraries, at barber and beauty shops. Guidance and support can come in many forms and from many places — all of it good.

If there is a literary reference to cite, perhaps it is “The Little Engine That Could,” the eternal children’s book by Watty Piper that inspires optimism and hard work. That little engine succeeded by staying on track.

Certainly, the Virginia Department of Education’s data show that RPS could use a healthy dose of optimism and hard work and a plan to stay on the right track if our students are to succeed.