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

  • Thad Williamson

Fifty Fixes for the Fifth, Back to School Edition! #6: Build Community Support for Every School

Summertime was fantastic, but now it’s time to hit the books again. About 25,000 Richmond students returned to class last week to open the 2019-20 academic year. Their success this upcoming year is truly the mark of our success as a community.

This is an especially important year because it marks the first full year of implementing the RPS Strategic Plan, Dreams4RPS. The City of Richmond stepped up to the plate to provide full funding for the plan this year, and critical action steps in a number of areas—from improving Human Resources to curriculum improvements to broadening access to advanced courses—will be made this year.

I’m a big fan of Dreams4RPS. It’s a strong plan, it’s holistic, it reflects community input, and the RPS administration has attached clear price tags to its component parts. The most important thing City Council can do to support education in Richmond is to find the resources to continue funding this ambitious plan.

Here’s the reality of the situation: while the City was able to come up with additional local funding this past year, the strategic plan calls for an additional $18 million of new funding in 2020-21. The newly elected representative to City Council’s 5th District is going to walk in on December 1 facing a hugely challenging budget process.

I believe we need to find a way to make the investments called for by the plan, for reasons detailed later this week in Fixes 7, 8, and 9 (focusing on early learning, supporting teachers, and connecting graduates to college and career). How we can get there, I’ll talk about on Friday under Fix 10 (“Making the Education Compact Work.”)

But let’s start with something more fundamental.

Fix #6. Build Community Support for Every 5th District School

The 5th District is home to Maymont Pre-K, Amelia Street School, John B. Cary Elementary School, Swansboro Elementary School, Patrick Henry School for Science and the Arts, Binford Middle School, George Wythe High School and Open High School.

Many 5th District students also attend numerous schools physically located outside the district: Blackwell Elementary School, Westover Hills Elementary School, William Fox Elementary School, Albert Hill Middle School, Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School, Armstrong High School, and Thomas Jefferson High School.

The only way each of these schools can thrive is if RPS as a whole is thriving. That’s why implementing the RPS Strategic Plan effectively is so important. We must move from having “pockets of excellence” to having system-wide success.

Each school in the 5th District has distinct needs. But here’s one thing all of them have in common: they could all benefit from strengthened community support, whether that means building on existing partnerships and relationships, strengthening enrichment opportunities for our students, or revitalizing and building capacity for a school PTA.

As a City Council representative, I would see it as part of my job to help folks connect the dots: to make sure people who want to help and have the resources to do so are connecting with school-based leaders and community members. I have a lot of experience facilitating partnerships and bringing people together, on small and large scale. And I don’t have any problem challenging folks with resources to do more to support our schools.

But make no mistake, the initiative for change to build stronger support for our schools must focus on empowering school-based leaders (staff, parents, families). Several action items within Priority 4 the Dreams4RPS plan focus on building school-based capacity for community engagement. As Council member, I will take my lead from those leaders as well as from the 5th District School Board representative to find out what is needed to bolster community support for our schools; then I will do what I can to help make it happen.

Coming up tomorrow: Fix #7. Invest in Early Learning (Dreams4RPS 1/3)