Richmond Public Schools’ Challenges
Currently Richmond Public Schools (RPS) is facing a perfect storm of entrenched and daunting challenges that cannot be properly addressed with money alone. These challenges are not unique to Richmond as they are common in urban communities across the country, but Richmond’s problems are exacerbated by years of inaction and the impact of multi-generational poverty and its many negative social consequences. The current challenges facing RPS can be divided into four (4) categories:
- Insufficient funding to properly operate the school system
- Uncertainty of funding from year to year
- Poor condition of current school facilities
- Facilities are poorly positioned for current and future student needs
- Inconsistent instruction due to the RPS teacher revolving door
- Lack of control of the classroom – small % of students causing havoc for all
- Substandard equipment and technology
- Lack of athletics and after school activities
- Insufficient professional development for teachers
- Impact of dealing with traumatized students and families living in concentrated poverty and surrounded by violence
- Lack of unity and common purpose throughout the RPS community > administration, educators, staff
- Uncoordinated and inconsistent community support for students and schools
- Lack of diversity > significant student segregation by race and socio-economic status
- Ineffective open enrollment / school choice process that is increasing segregation with its major obstacles for poor and under-informed families.
- Lack of parental involvement in education process
- Poor overall educational environment outside of school
- Overall lack of respect between educators, students and parents
Solution – A Long Term Community Support Strategic Plan for RPS
For a community to grow and prosper, education must always be considered a top priority. Long term priorities require strategic planning to coordinate short term needs and long term goals. Long term planning is not about years, it’s about decades. Thirty years from now it is certain that Richmonders will see education as a top priority, so if we are a progressive community it is incumbent on us to consider today’s issues and tomorrow’s needs.
For far too long the community of Richmond has danced around the many problems associated with Richmond Public Schools, allowing negative issues to grow and fester. Richmond must draw a line in the sand and choose to face these problems head on and all at once. Dealing with the challenges all at once is the holistic way and is ultimately much easier and more effective than trying to address challenges one at a time. To do this successfully Richmond needs a long range comprehensive strategic plan offering both the financial support (money) and the community support (time) necessary to turn Richmond Public Schools into a consistently high functioning school system. Creating a comprehensive long term community support strategic plan for RPS will inspire Richmonders to start strengthening our village today, and provide a pathway to assure the Richmond village remains strong for generations to come.
Components of Richmond’s Long Term Community Support Strategic Plan
The Richmond Public Schools Long Term Community Support Strategic Plan will be the sum of many component strategic plans collectively addressing the four categories of challenges faced by the school system. Success relies on the collaborative support of all RPS stakeholders. Accountability is critical to inspire confidence and create efficiency. The overall RPS Strategic Plan and its many component strategic plans will define accountability on a macro and micro level, specifically identifying which person / department / agency / entity is responsible for implementing each aspect of every strategy. Currently ten (10) component strategies have been identified to address the four categories of challenges faced by RPS.
RPS financial challenges will be addressed by the implementation of two funding strategies:
- 4 Year Operational Funding Strategy
- 10 Year Capital Improvement Funding Strategy
RPS infrastructural challenges will be addressed by the implementation of:
- Zoning Plan + Facilities & Facilities Maintenance Strategy
RPS instructional challenges will be addressed by the implementation of three strategies:
- K-12 Academic Achievement Strategy
- Career Technical and Adult Education Strategy
- Alternative Education Strategy
RPS social challenges will be addressed by the implementation of four community strategies:
- Diversity Strategy
- School Choice / Enrollment Strategy
- Strategy to identify and address the developmental needs of RPS students and families
- Strategy to engage and coordinate the support of the community
4 Year Operational Funding Strategy
This strategy will deal with the funding needs of RPS operations considered on a four year basis proposed to start in 2017, coinciding with the election of a new Richmond government in 2017 and every four years thereafter. It is proposed that RPS Administration define a budget for the four fiscal years starting 7-1-17 and ending 6-30-21. It is further proposed that the City of Richmond create the RPS Budget Committee tasked with approving the four year operational budget for Richmond Public Schools, based on the proposal presented by the RPS Superintendent with committee amendments. The RPS Budget Committee is proposed to have eleven (11) members representing the Richmond community and the three elements of City government with varying levels of representation – Richmond City Council will have the largest number of members since it is ultimately the grantor of RPS funding from the City.
- Proposed RPS Budget Committee = 11 members
- Richmond City Council – 4 members proposed to be:
- City Council President
- City Council Vice-President
- 2 other members of Council
- Richmond Public Schools – 3 members proposed to be:
- RPS Superintendent
- RPS School Board Chair
- RPS School Board Vice-Chair
- Richmond Mayor + Administration – 2 members proposed to be:
- Richmond Community – 2 members proposed to be appointed by City Council
- Richmond City Council – 4 members proposed to be:
After each four year budget is approved RPS Administration will have the opportunity to come before the RPS Budget Committee each year to request additional funding for needs that were not considered in the approved four year operations budget. Positive and negative changes in funding from the Commonwealth of Virginia will be factored in when they occur.
10 Year Capital Improvement Funding Strategy
This strategy will deal with the funding needs of RPS facilities and their maintenance based on the expected future needs of the district. This strategy will be considered on a 10 year basis to start in 2017 so that it is designed along with the four year RPS operations funding strategy. It is proposed the RPS Budget Committee will approve this funding strategy.
One of the biggest decisions to be made as a part of the strategic planning process is the future of RPS facilities and their continued maintenance. It is hoped and expected that the excellent work that went into the RPS Facilities Needs Report for the Period of FY2016 – FY2025 will be amended to include the past 2 years of data and would then inform the facilities related decisions to be made. The School Board decision to support the recommendations of RPS Administration (Option 5) will be revisited by the RPS Budget Committee and a final decision made. This is when the business and philanthropic community of Richmond will be asked to step up and commit their support to the strategic plan by guaranteeing needed funding.
Zoning Plan + Facilities and Facilities Maintenance Strategy
This strategy will deal with the expected future of the City of Richmond in terms of population growth and the related public education needs to make sure that RPS has a facilities plan to match. This strategy will be influenced by the Diversity Strategy as zoning can be used as a tool to increase diversity. This strategy will inform the 10 Year Capital Improvement Funding Strategy by developing a zoning plan that best manages expected future enrollment. The zoning plan will then allow a facilities plan to be determined that best uses current facilities and defines the need for additional facilities.
K-12 Academic Achievement Strategy
This strategy will be developed by the RPS Superintendent and will essentially be an updated version of the current RPS Academic Improvement Plan, to be coordinated with the funding request related to the four year operations plan.
Career Technical Education Training and Adult Education Strategy
This strategy will be developed by the RPS Superintendent and will define the school system’s plans as relates to career technical education training and adult education for Richmond residents, to be coordinated with the funding request related to the four year operations plan.
Alternative Education Strategy
This strategy will be developed by the RPS Superintendent and will define how RPS will view and support the various means of alternative education occurring in Richmond under RPS direction and happening independently of RPS.
- Current RPS directed alternative education programs = Alternative School, LIFE Program, Patrick Henry Charter School, additional charter schools
- Non-RPS alternative schooling = home schooling
This strategy will be developed with input from all RPS Stakeholders and will define the ideals the Community of Richmond wants to be reflected in its schools as relates to racial and economic diversity. This strategy will inform several other strategies including the Zoning Strategy and the School Choice / Enrollment Strategy.
School Choice / Enrollment Strategy
This strategy will be developed by the RPS Superintendent and the School Board and will define the District’s objectives as relates to offering school choice to parents and the District’s overall enrollment strategy. This strategy will intersect with several other strategies including the Zoning Strategy and the Diversity Strategy.
Strategy to identify / address the developmental needs of RPS students / families
This strategy will address the many social challenges faced by RPS by creating a plan to provide the developmental support needed by RPS students and their parents or guardians. This strategy will inform the Strategy to Engage and Coordinate the Support of the Community by defining what is needed and then assigning responsibilities to the community, rather than the current process of accepting whatever help is offered for an undefined objective.
Strategy to Engage and Coordinate the Support of the Community
This strategy will deal with the developmental needs defined by RPS for its students and their families and the coordination of government’s and the private community’s fulfillment of these needs through programs and services. Included in this strategy will be the following plans:
- Plan to coordinate the support of RPS non-profit & for-profit educational partners
- Coordinate all of the Partners by assigning roles to individual Partners that collectively meet the developmental needs of RPS students and families
- Plan to coordinate the support of community volunteers working in RPS facilities
- Create a process to recruit and place volunteers when and where needed by RPS and its educational partners
Process of developing the RPS Long Term Community Support Strategic Plan
For it to be successful, the RPS Long Term Community Support Strategic Plan must be created and agreed to by the Mayor, City Council, RPS Administration and the School Board. Most importantly, this strategic plan must be accompanied by a formal commitment of support from the Community of Richmond – City Government, Citizens and Organizational Stakeholders – agreeing to collaborate and make education a long term priority, including enacting into law the necessary resolutions plus a legally binding commitment of financial and in-kind support from the private community. The strategic plan will inspire government, citizens and community stakeholders to cooperate and collaborate to achieve the plan’s goals and objectives because they intersect with their own. Just the decision to create a long term strategic plan for RPS should have an immediate positive impact on our City and our region as we embrace action instead of reaction. The resulting plan and the collaboration that goes into its creation and implementation will assure its ongoing success, lasting for decades to come.
The process starts with a January 2017 meeting of the following Richmond community leaders:
- RPS Administration > Dr. Bedden and Executive Staff
- Richmond City Administration > Mayor and CAO, Departments of Community Wealth Building, Social Services, Parks & Recreation, Police
- Richmond City Council and School Board
- Leaders from Virginia Departments of Education and Social Services
- Virginia General Assembly members whose jurisdictions intersect the City of Richmond
- Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority (RRHA)
- Richmond Behavioral Health Authority (RBHA) + Richmond City Health District
- Regional Leaders in the following community subsets
- Business / Non-Profit / Philanthropic / Faith / Civic
- Leaders from Richmond region higher education institutions
- RMC / U of R / VCU / VSU / VUU / JS Reynolds / John Tyler CC
- Richmond Students – High School and College
This meeting will quickly lead to the following:
- Definition of a strategic facilitator(s) to guide this complicated community process for one year, including compensation
- Definition of legislation needed to affect the changes to be considered
- A time table for completion > this is a unique process involving many complex legal issues that will require study before determining an exact timetable of events and actions
Benefits of the RPS Long Term Community Support Strategic Plan
One of the immediate benefits of the establishment of the RPS Long Term Community Support Strategic Plan will be to end the in-fighting and acrimony between the Mayor’s office, City Council and the School Board. Bad relations between these three important subsets of our government have plagued Richmond for more than a decade, caused in large part by the lack of a common destination. The RPS Strategic Plan will eliminate a major bone of contention – the future of RPS facilities – as specific decisions will be made on facilities and how they will be funded. The plan will also put everyone on the same page looking forward, not backwards. Divided we are falling, but united RPS and the City of Richmond will stand tall and prosper.
Another immediate benefit of the RPS Strategic Plan is giving hope to all current RPS administrators, teachers and staff. RPS employees, especially teachers, will see a future they want to be a part of, and all RPS employees will have access to the strategies and the tactics of the plan, enabling them to understand where they best fit and how they can assist the overall effort. The establishment of a strategic plan should significantly help with the retention of quality teachers and administrators and should attract high quality applicants for RPS positions for the foreseeable future.
A third immediate benefit is giving comfort and hope to the parents and future parents of our community as they will have a full understanding of what the future holds as far as education in Richmond is concerned. The strategic plan should be a strong incentive for current Richmond parents to stay with RPS after elementary school and a big motivator for families to buy a home and move to Richmond because of the City’s commitment to education.
An important long term benefit of having such a strategic plan is that it will help to inform future elections for Mayor, City Council and School Board. Candidates will campaign in part on how they will improve and better implement the RPS Strategic Plan, and then can be accurately assessed as to how well they did. Elections will offer voters meaningful and tangible areas of comparison between candidates as the plan and its current level of success will be an arena for specific discussion and debate.
The problems related to Richmond Public Schools have caused our community to become locked in a negative-breeds-negative downward spiral. The RPS Strategic Plan will change that energy into a positive-breeds-positive spiral leading straight to the heavens. No longer will we play the “what if” game with different factions going in different directions – having the guts to decide on a long range collaborative vision signals our Community of Richmond has a common destination and collective purpose. The positive energy of a long range community support plan that requires community time investment to be successful will be self-sustaining and will be planned to last for decades to come. The RPS Strategic Plan will commit the citizens of Richmond, now and in the future, to a logical, sustainable and progressive community supported process to educate our children and Richmonders of all ages. We will do so to honor our obligations to our youth and our recognition of the economic power inherent in a successful public school system. The City of Richmond will become known for turning around its public education offerings and the resulting educational system will be a core component of Richmond’s high overall quality of life for generations to come.
Rick Tatnall / Replenish Richmond