The first of the Mayor’s 7th District Roundtable Meetings after the summer break attracted a light turn-out for an interesting conversation on perceptions and problems of the Richmond City Public Schools, featuring 7th District Schoolboard Representative Keith West and former representative Reggie Malone.
The meeting informally began early; I walked in to a free-form discussion on bus issues, hours of attendance for high school students, and a general criticism of the schoolboard & administration.
West got the discussion focussed with a critique of the schoolboard, saying that the “schoolboard needs to be fixed before you can fix the administration”. He went on to say that “the board has failed by not giving direction” to the system as whole. He pointed out that there are successes among individual schools, but that there is no over-all guiding structure in the system. Speaking of progress made on SOLs results and school accreditation, West declared that “we have made some great progress in the past 4 or 5 years”. He went on to say that “the board is coming together” (at least partially in response to the recent outside pressures), and that he is “more hopeful than anytime in years”.
Keith West then put forth a call for a schoolboard that provides direction for the system, stating that the board needs to say “here is what we’re going to build and this is what it will look like”. He proposed ideas based on the classical notion of education that experiences at school can offer guidance for the students ethically, mentally, and physically. He spoke on offering school choice, some type of personal education plan for every student, and utilizing the central position of the schools to build community connections and offer services.
West then asked “what are the issues that face the system?”, and pointed out that as a system 70% of the students receive free or reduced lunch (an indicator of poverty). An older black woman responded that poverty is not the issue, that “you need to deal with the parents”. A discussion ensued on what parental involvement means and looks like in the East End. One man responded that no school system “can deal with everyones’ social ills”.
The same woman proposed that we need technical training for students whose strength is not book learning. There were complaints on the rigidity of the curriculum. One attendee spoke about her experiences with students and parents being stereotyped because of their address and name. Some folks felt that the schools and students need more structure, going so far as to propose specific rules of engagement between students and teachers. At one point a scathing critique erupted of the inefficiency and poor service of the administration downtown, some of the school board, and the superintendent.