Personality: Dr. Milondra B. Coleman
Spotlight on Richmond Education Association president
9/6/2019, 6 a.m.
The new school year brings increased responsibilities for everyone connected to the Richmond Public Schools system, but only one person is both managing her curriculum and plans to improve the lives of an entire city of schools employees. That person is Dr. Milondra B. Coleman, who balances teaching modern world history and AP government at John Marshall High School with her duties as president of the Richmond Education Association. The REA, founded in 1900 by Lila Meade Valentine, is a local branch of the Virginia Education Association and the National Education Association and advocates for education and educators in Richmond. This can take a wide number of forms, from community organizing to lobbying and marching for greater financial resources from the state for teachers’ salaries and public schools. The organization’s services aren’t limited to just teachers and advocacy, Dr. Coleman says. As part of its member-led mission, the REA offers custodians, transportation workers, cafeteria staff and other schools employees free legal consultation, notary services, various discounts on a number of purchases and more through services and benefits sourced from and supported by their state and national partners in the VEA and NEA. “RPS employees need an association-union that is dedicated to advocating for them at the local, state and national levels,” Dr. Coleman says. In return, the 1,100 REA members direct the focus and actions of the association through its various committees, voicing their concerns during monthly meetings and electing representatives. Dr. Coleman, who was elected to a two-year term as REA president during the spring, now divides her time between her students at “The Joy and Pride of Northside,” as she calls John Marshall High, and her responsibilities to an organization facing reports of declining student success, inadequate facilities and teacher salaries that rank 34th below the national average. Adding to an already busy schedule, Dr. Coleman serves as a board member of the Northside Coalition for Children, the Richmond Crusade for Voters, the Richmond Urban Ministry Institute and the Richmond Citywide Choir. Despite the sheer amount of work on her plate, Dr. Coleman seems just as enthusiastic about the new school year as the rest of the Richmond community, all mutually energized to ensure that RPS students, teachers and staff have what’s necessary for a great school year. “One of the things I found is that as I talk to people in the community,” Dr. Coleman says, “there’s a groundswell in terms of the interest in education.” Dr. Coleman is heartened by the support she saw from the community, pointing to recent RPS partnerships with corporate, nonprofit and community organizations through RPS Shines! and mural projects to get schools ready for the new academic year. “Maybe it has always been there,” Dr. Coleman says, “but now, we’re talking about it more. People are hearing about it more.” Dr. Coleman aims to see REA do its part to ensure an equitable and fair school environment for its employees. She identifies teacher turnover as a particular matter to be addressed and wants the organization to review the data from RPS exit interviews. She is encouraged about the continuing decline in teacher vacancies, down to 13 after 18 for the 2018-2019 school year, calling it “a great step for Richmond Public Schools.” The REA also is planning a survey of its members about issues surrounding the state of RPS buildings to help ensure that students and faculty “work in a safe and nurturing environment.” “The learning environment of our students and staff is always a concern,” Dr. Coleman says. “The school climate should be one of love and support.” Asked about her next goal, Dr. Coleman answers: Doubling REA membership by December, and setting up a June trip to South Africa for John Marshall High students, parents and friends. The dual effort speaks to the many roles she’s juggling, and a strong confidence in her future endeavors. “I am excited about having the opportunity to work with the REA,” Dr. Coleman says. “And (I’m) looking forward to all that I’m going to be able to do.” Meet the energetic new president of the Richmond Education Association and this week’s Personality, Dr. Milondra B. Coleman: