© 2019 Thad Williamson. Authorized and Paid For By Thad Williamson For Richmond City Council.

  • Thad Williamson

Fifty Fixes for the Fifth, #9. Strengthen Pathways to College and Careers (Dreams4RPS 3/3)

Fix #9. Dramatically Strengthen Pathways to College and Career (Dreams4RPS 3/3)

From a pedagogical point of view, the boldest step charted in Dreams4RPS is Action 1.1: “Passion4Learning,” an effort to “nurture our students’ passion for learning by creating an exciting, hands-on and rigorous theme at every RPS middle & high school.” It also would involve enhancing enrichment activities for all RPS students beginning g at the elementary school level.

Here’s a basic fact about RPS: it’s at the middle school level that catastrophic gaps between our achievement levels and statewide levels begin to emerge. It’s clear we need to do something dramatically different at the secondary school level.

Binford Middle School in the 5th District, which has had a dramatic turnaround since adopting an arts focus in its curriculum, is a good example of what “Passion4Learning” might achieve. The RPS strategic plan calls for investing $3 million in 2020-21 to begin making this happen at one middle school and one high school.

Supporting that effort is important. So too is ramping up programs and initiatives, inside and outside of RPS, that explicitly begin preparing students for career and/or college. Examples include NextUp RVA (after school programs based in middle school), the Mayor’s Youth Academy within the Office of Community Wealth Building (providing direct workforce experience), and the RVA Future Centers (working within each comprehensive high school to help students apply for college, financial aid, scholarships, and career opportunities).

I know each of those specific programs very well, and played a major leadership role in establishing the RVA Future Centers in 2015 when I directed the Office of Community Wealth Building, as a model partnership between the City, RPS, and a nonprofit (the RPS Education Foundation.) Each of these—and others—could reach significantly more students in an even more impactful way with expanded capacity.

Importantly, such partnerships can work in tandem with RPS’s goal of expanding Advanced Placement offerings and other academic enhancements within the high schools—an area that the system had made visible progress in already. Right now fewer than 1 in 4 RPS students graduate with an advanced diploma, compared to about 50% statewide. That’s another gap that must begin to close.

There is no reason why every Richmond high school student can’t both graduate on time and have a clear plan and pathway for life after high school. But I believe we as a community must go a step further and provide concrete financial support to allow our graduates to attend at least a two-year college, and ideally either a two or four year college. That means tuition support, but also support for expenses. Money is a barrier to our capable graduates enrolling in college. A dedicated “Promise Scholarship” program modeled off what has been done in New Haven and other cities would be a true breakthrough for our schools.

In this case, philanthropic resources rather than public money will necessarily be the driving force, as it has been in other cities with successful programs. But as a City Council member I will strongly support all the other investments Dreams4RPS envisions to prepare our secondary school students for a thriving future.

Tomorrow: Fix #10: Make the Education Compact Work