Candidates for 3rd District seat on School Board get public vetting

3/17/2017, 8:11 p.m.
More than a dozen people turned out to comment on the candidates vying for the Richmond School Board’s vacant 3rd …

By Holly Rodriguez

More than a dozen people turned out to comment on the candidates vying for the Richmond School Board’s vacant 3rd District seat following a speed round of public interviews conducted by the board.

Only 11 of the 12 candidates were interviewed, with no mention of why only Norma Murdoch-Kitt was absent.

Friends, colleagues, students and citizens stood in line at the microphone for nearly an hour to express their concerns regarding the needs of Richmond Public Schools and to offer their opinions about the best candidate for the job.

The board will choose a 3rd District representative at its meeting Monday, March 20, with the new board member to be sworn in on Tuesday, March 21.

Roderyck Bullock, an advocate of sports in RPS, said athletics is key to improving public schools.­

“And that’s why I support David Lambert,” he said about the optical director at American Eye Center/Optical Sensations and a former RPS tutor. “We need someone who has their hand on the pulse of the community. It’s important to have not just someone who has children in the Richmond Public Schools system, but also understands the needs of the district.”

During his interview, Mr. Lambert did not mention sports, but offered specific ideas to help students and the need to provide youngsters with opportunities and consequences.

“Poor vision leads to behavior issues,” Mr. Lambert said. “Students are labeled as a bad apple and then we have to go through the process of resolving the perception.”

He suggested vision screenings and setting up a database to keep track of students’ vision needs. He also recommended creating a summer jobs program for all eligible RPS students and instituting a smartphone and personal electronics ban in underperforming schools.

Supporters of the various candidates shared personal experiences in working with the prospective board members and specific attributes they said would be beneficial in the job.

Susheela Varky, an attorney with the Virginia Poverty Law Center, said Kenya Gibson, a marketing strategist at HTK Marketing Communications and vice president of the Linwood Holton Elementary School PTA, is the best candidate for the seat because she understands education as a civil rights issue.

“I know the importance of education in helping people get legal services for better jobs and to have better lives,” and so does Kenya, Ms. Varky said.

Mrs. Gibson said her children have a disadvantage when compared with her public school education because of the lack of diversity within their school.

“The issue of school segregation is the key issue that we face as a city and so many other urban schools face as well,” she said during her interview.

“White flight is a not a myth. It is a fact. And as part of the team, I hope I would be a part of more integrated schools.”

Half of the people commenting on the candidates spoke in support of Dr. Joann Henry, a retired RPS administrator and founder and director of Dream Academy, a nonprofit adult education center.

A member of Dream Academy’s board of directors talked about Dr. Henry’s strengths in organizing, planning and employing a team-oriented strategy that raises the bar.

“She knows our children and what is best for them,” said Johnny Walker. “She knows how to work with others to meet challenging goals and objectives. She’s done a fab job at Dream Academy, and I know she’ll do the same as a member of the School Board.”

“How do you speak about a woman who has changed your life?” said Angie Johnson, a Dream Academy student. “She’s the one that if I’m in the bed, she calls me and says, ‘Where are you? Come on into school, now.’ ”

Dr. Henry said her passion for student success paired with her experience with RPS first as a student and, later, as an administrator, make her uniquely qualified to fill the 3rd District vacancy.

“I have worked in just about every department in Richmond Public Schools, so I am familiar with the system, policies and procedures of our students,” she said. “With 30 years of experience, I may be able to help with policies and procedures you may not be familiar with because you are just getting started,” she said, noting many of the School Board members are new to the board.

She said the tools to get RPS back on track already exist.

“We need to use the resources that we have, and make our schools excellent again,” she said.

Adrena Woodson, a teacher at the Richmond Technical Center, said Dr. Henry understands the Standards of Learning and RPS students. She “will put the pieces of the puzzle back together again as a member of the RVA School Board,” Ms. Woodson said.

Other candidates interviewed by the board were Tanya Arney, Hassan Fountain Sr., Patrick R. Hanes, Lathaniel Kirts, Cindy Menz-Erb, Robert Peck, Hilary Scribner and Eric Spivack.

The candidate appointed to the seat will hold the position until a special election is held in November to fill the seat for the remaining three years of the board term.