Today’s top opinion: Wrap-up

Mayor Dwight Jones meets with students during opening ceremonies for the new Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. Monday, January 6, 2014.

Half of the teachers at Richmond’s long-struggling Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School could be replaced this fall, and their replacements will earn $1,000 stipends for working in the school, officials said Wednesday.

Superintendent Dana T. Bedden said all 26 teaching positions in core subjects — English, math, science and social studies, as well as special education — will be “reconstituted” for the 2015-16 school year.

“This is a difficult but necessary step in bolstering teaching and learning for one of our schools that has struggled to meet state accountability standards,” he said in a statement.

“Our students and teaching staff deserve to be in an instructional environment that best supports their academic success. We will continue to do the necessary work to foster a positive school climate and provide the appropriate resources to support successful implementation of this plan.”

Teachers currently in those positions and who want to keep them will have to participate in a selection process that involves an online survey and a panel interview, both new to Richmond.

School officials said they hope to have a staff selected by April 17.

Teachers who opt against applying or who do but are not selected might be eligible to work elsewhere in the city, depending on their seniority.

“We have to do something different at MLK,” said School Board member Shonda Harris-Muhammed, whose 6th District includes the school. “The data shows it, and the morale shows it. We cannot continue with the lack of progress.”

The school is accredited with warning. It has missed meeting state standards in all four core subjects the past three years, and it has not come closer than 14 points in any category in that time.

In math, the school has posted some of the lowest scores in the state since the Standards of Learning were implemented in the 1990s, including a 3 percent pass rate for seventh-graders in the 2011-12 school year.

A new principal, Rickie Hopkins, was installed last January.

Changing the staff is another step in the process of fixing the school before it loses accreditation.

“This will cause some people some discomfort and unease,” said School Board member Kimberly Gray, 2nd District. “But when you look at the academic issues, the discipline problems, the attendance issues there, it’s time to make a bold move.”

Jeffrey Bourne, 3rd District, said the move was a step, neither first nor last, in the citywide effort to improve middle schools.

“What we’re doing at Binford is about increasing enrollment,” he said. “At MLK, for many years, students have basically been defrauded out of a quality public education. Enough is enough.

“We have no more time for incremental progress.”

In a telephone interview, Bedden said the change was part of a calculated effort to improve each of the city’s eight middle schools.

“There’s no cookie-cutter approach,” he said. “We have to do what’s right in each school.”

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