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Government Schools

Interview: School Board candidate Rick Tatnall

If you’ve been to a neighborhood clean-up, community meeting, or civic gathering of almost any kind over the past few years, there’s a good chance that you saw Rick Tatnall there. Both an inveterate organizer and a man who likes to get his hands dirty, Rick put together both last year’s East End Community Activist & Advocate Convention and a series of events at Sugar Pad down by Rocketts Landing. He is now running for the 7th District School Board seat.


You have a long history as a community activist in the area. How long have you been in the East End, and what brought you to the here and now?

I lived in Church Hill up on East Leigh Street back the 1990s, my recent stint started in 2006.

I’ve been living in my apartment at 30th and Clay since 2006… Right behind Chimborazo Elementary, in between Chimbo and George Mason, it has enabled me to connect to those schools more readily.

I was born and raised in Philadelphia, I grew up in a fairly good middle class upbringing. I didn’t really get “activised” as a youngster. I was married and got divorced, and moved to Richmond to the city in 1987 and that’s when my advocacy bug jumped in. Ever since then I’ve been doing something, and just getting more intentional about it as the years have gone by.


You considered a mayoral run in 2012. This year you started off running for mayor and then switched to School Board. What’s the appeal of public office, and why the switch from one to the other?

I have been working for more than a decade on a plan called the Plan to Create a Proud and Unified Community of Richmond. My community of Richmond is centered geographically and spiritually in the city, but it includes the entire region. I think until we look at things from a regional perspective and start to act on that, we’re never going to achieve the greatness that this community can have.

The city needs to be the driver, not the butt of jokes, it needs to be the leader. My interested in my mayoral run in 2012 and my initial mayoral run in 2016 was simply to more quickly effect the Plan to Create a Proud and Unified Community of Richmond.

My mayoral run in 2016, it ultimately turned out that there were 17 other people who were a part of that campaign. Both the personalities and the individuals involved, as well as the lack of attention to strategy and current ideas showed me quickly that I didn’t have a chance to win.

Soon after I made that decision, Don Coleman announced that he was not going to run and I saw an opportunity to get into the control room, to effect change in a way that is really my core expertise of Richmond Public Schools in the East End.


You have called for the formation of a full-funded 30-year plan for Richmond Public Schools, in part to “end the in-fighting and acrimony between the Mayor’s office, City Council and the School Board”, and you foresee a future where “Elections will become about how folks will better implement the strategic plan”. Can we talk about this?

I’m calling for a plan that will become “our plan”, not “my plan”.

I’m confident that this is the most important election that the city of Richmond has ever had and may ever have, we are finally at a point where where pretty much everybody is on the same page in the fact that we have to something about our schools, that we have to look longterm. […]

There’s ben enough talk. There’s an opportunity for everyone who feels the same to act on that feeling. And that the implications of what we could do by creating a plan are no only a positive change versus whats been going on, but it gives everybody an opportunity to decide how they can help.

Rather than talking about what’s not right, and what isn’t working, we now can all start to work what a plan is. If there are pieces of the plan that people don’t like they can make’em better, and that includes not only the Mayor, City Council, School Board, RRHA, all the other folks, but individuals throughout the schools, and parents of RPS students. I’m going to promote this idea over the next several months, I think that we can get more people to be on board ad throw their ideas into it so that it becomes an “our plan”, so that when January rolls around we’ll have already thought about a lot of the things and we can actually get ready to act.


Is there anything specific about our area schools or at an area school that you’d like to shine a light on immediately?

I plan on having an amazingly large involvement at a school that’s not in my district – Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. I think it is the most important school for Richmond Public Schools, and the most important school in the East End. The fact that it’s in the 6th District doesn’t mean that I can’t and won’t advocate for it. […]

It’s an example of utter disfunction. Jeryl Scott, the new principal, I hope and expect that she will do well, but she certainly can’t do it on her own and the community has to step up.

It will provide an amazing benefit to the 7th District if we can turn that school around and make it not just a destination for East End folks, but a destination for the city. To take this new building and run with it and make it work.


You don’t have any children in RPS? Not any that you know about, ammirite? Does this matter?


I think it doesn’t.

I certainly will never be able to say that I have the understanding of what it’s like to be the parent of a student in Richmond Public Schools, but I think that the counter to that is that the time that I have and the energy that I can expend in support of the schools and of all the students and of all the parents and of all the administrators will be more because I don’t have children.

And that has enable me to be the advocate that I have been over the last 30 years because I haven’t had to make the decisions that I’d have to make if I had children. It’s enabled me to live in poverty, which is the only way that I could have been the advocate that I’ve been.


That’s my five questions. Is there anything else that you’d like to share, that you’d want to make sure gets said?

I’ve been an advocate for a whole lot of things over a real long period of time, if I had to break it down and say what is the one most important thing that I’ve been advocating for and that I think we need is that citizens have to be more involved in their community than they currently are. And schools is a critically important element of that involvement, but it can be in the parks, in can be in picking up trash, in can be in all kinds of things.

Until we get the citizens to truly be citizens, we’re never going to achieve the greatness that we can have here in this community and our schools are never going to be what we want them to be unless we get involved. I think everybody has to step up and stop talking and start doing something.


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BAF 08/31/2016 at 9:52 PM

Unfortunately, Mr. Tatnall disqualified himself for public office in my book with his act of vigilantism earlier this year. I am sure he is well meaning, but that sort of impulsiveness is ill-suited to public office in my view.

G. 09/01/2016 at 9:38 AM

I concur with BAF (#2). This “impulsiveness” also evident in his actions with his “friend” – the band saw – may have worsened an existing problem.

But my main concern would be: “I plan on having an amazingly large involvement at a school that’s not in my district…”. As a citizen/taxpayer, Mr. Tatnall may advocate for any cause that he wishes – but as an elected official representing the 7th District, clearly he must understand that a school in the 6th District is under someone else’s domain. How would he (or Don Coleman) feel if another school board member stepped on his toes? If the issues revolving around MLK Middle meant so much to Mr. Tatnall, maybe he should find a way to run for the 6th District seat…

Bless his heart, phooey to his tact.

Rick Tatnall 09/01/2016 at 2:57 PM

@ BAF – while I understand you are not happy with my removing the completely illegal signs erected by Mr. Bilder in a public park, the word vigilantism is inappropriate because it means action without authority. Just as the signs were defined as illegal by the Richmond City Code – Division 2, Sections 11-74 to 11-79 – my actions were authorized by those same sections of the Richmond City Code. For the record, the signs were returned to Mr. Bilder and he has at least one of them up on the construction fence.

@G – I have admitted that I was unaware of the reproductive capacity of the ghetto palm, but making the problem worse would only occur if nothing else was done. Along with opening up the view, me and my friend have inspired a group of local citizens who are currently developing a plan to work with the City and take care of the problem on the entire hillside – stay tuned for more info on that plan.

As to your main concern, you obviously do not understand that while School Board members are elected by District, their charge is the entire school system and ALL of its schools across the City. In this particular case, all 5 elementary schools in the 7th District feed into MLK Middle, which then feeds back into Armstrong HS, in the 7th District. So, in order to do the best for the 7th District it is the duty of the 7th District School Board Member to pay close attention to MLK Middle. My current work at MLK is done with the full understanding and support of current 6th District School Board Member Shonda Harris-Muhammed and if elected my future work at the school would be coordinated with the 6th District School Board Member. When I met with new MLK Principal Jeryl Scott earlier this summer, the meeting included Don Coleman who is also invested in the school even though it is not in his district. In the end, I hope that all 9 School Board members become fully invested and involved with MLK Middle because fixing the problems there will play a large role in RPS’s efforts to fix the problems at all of the RPS middle schools. Worrying about stepping on toes is what got us into the problems we have today. The future must be about collaboration between the 9 school board members, Dr. Bedden and the RPS administration.

BAF 09/01/2016 at 6:47 PM

@Rick Tatnall

I will stand corrected and no longer refer to your actions as vigilantism as I was unaware of 11-78. What a horrible ordinance since it allows the citizen to play judge and jury without requiring them to check whether the sign meets Sec. 11-77 (a)(6). That needs to be amended.

Given how the incident played out on here, I am going to assume unless you are prepared to explicitly say otherwise, you didn’t know if Mr. Bilder’s signs had an exception under 11-77 (a)(6) when you decided to abate them, so I would argue impulsivity still applies.

Understand that I am not riding you on this issue because I have any abiding interest in Bilder’s activities. I could not pick the man out of a line up, nor do I care what he does. I am riding you on this issue because I passionately agree with you on one point, Mr. Tatnall–this may be a truly pivotal election for the future of the city. I am looking for sound, experienced leadership that is going to use good judgment for once to build on the excellent things that are happening in RIchmond in spite of the leadership in City Hall at in the schools. I think you mean well, but nothing you have written here or that I have seen on here indicates to me that you have the temperament or the experience for this. Rather, I get the sense that you are going to go beyond the role of the School Board member and go around the Administration to meddle in individual schools when you have the itch to do so. Just my opinion.

Kathleen 09/02/2016 at 6:46 AM

Rick – Please work with Friends of Chimborazo Park on any plans you have to remove the ghetto palms from the Park hillside. We met with the City a couple of months ago regarding the overgrowth and other issues of concern in the Park. It would be best to have one good solid plan of action for ridding the hillside of the ghetto palms and reclaiming our view.

Rick Tatnall 09/02/2016 at 9:33 AM

Kathleen, working with Friends of Chimborazo Park is at the top of the list – please send me an email at so we can arrange a meeting to talk. Thanks.

Ray 09/02/2016 at 12:21 PM

Tree of paradise may be a misnomer but why refer to the plant as “ghetto palms”? It’s an invasive species that will grow anywhere if left unchecked just like bamboo, kudzu, etc. No where else in the states have I heard this plant being called by that name, but this sounds typically Richmond.

Kathleen 09/02/2016 at 8:54 PM

The very least offensive thing about this particular *plant* is its knickname of ghetto palm. I didn’t give it that knickname but find it completely appropriate, imo.

Kathleen 09/02/2016 at 9:00 PM

Rick, I’ve passed your message on to the president of FofCP.

Rick Tatnall 09/02/2016 at 9:54 PM

@ BAF – I have been an activist working to fight illegal signs in Richmond for many years and believe that Richmond’s sign laws are one of the most progressive aspects of the City Code in large part because it defines right there in the code what signs are exempted, which from a private citizen standpoint amounts to neighborhood watch signs and nothing else. Citizens aren’t playing judge and jury because the City has already done that for them. The only way around this is defined in the section you cited which allows “signs permitted by the Council upon proper application for an encroachment or other form of variance from this division”. Before I abated the nuisance left by Mr. Bilder I checked online to make sure that Council had not approved such an encroachment or variance. Finding no approval from Council I was 100% confident when I pulled down those signs that I was doing so legally.


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