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Richmond Times-Dispatch - High Stakes Newsletter | RTD's Education focused news each week
Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

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A gun rights rally on MLK Day

I struggled with what to write about in this space this week.

Under normal circumstances, I’d tell you about the biggest education news of the past week. This week is different.

Thousands are expected to descend on Richmond today - they’re likely already here by the time you’re reading this - to protest gun control, which is making its way through the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. Many attendees will likely be from Virginia, but state officials are worried about potential violence, especially from extremists. The FBI arrested three men tied to a white supremacist group who planned to come today.

There’s no other way to put it: Richmond is on edge.

The RTD and other outlets will have coverage throughout the day, both on Richmond.com and on Twitter. I truly hope everything ends peacefully.

All of this, of course, comes on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. We’re supposed to be celebrating the civil rights leader who was assassinated fulfilling his life’s mission of nonviolent protest and fighting for fair treatment of black sanitary public works employees in Memphis.

Gov. Ralph Northam, who declared a state of emergency for Richmond, said this on Friday:

“That is a fundamental right,” he said of the right to assemble. “But I also hope and expect that they will take a page from Dr. King’s example of nonviolent protest. Dr. King spoke of resolving conflict through love and that is the best way we can honor his legacy.”

I hope in my writing to you next week I can tell you that today was peaceful; that through disagreement people were civil; that people remembered MLK in the way they protested.

(ABOVE PHOTO BY JOE MAHONEY/TIMES-DISPATCH: Now under state of emergency powers of the governor, the Virginia state Capitol in Richmond is on lockdown, in anticipation of a rally by a large number of gun-rights backers on Monday. The state Supreme Court on Friday refused to overturn Gov. Ralph Northam's temporary gun ban on Capitol grounds.)

Making the rounds

  • Saint Gertrude High School, currently in Richmond’s Museum District, is moving to Benedictine’s Goochland campus next year.
  • A group wanted to honor President Donald Trump on MLK Day. Virginia Union said not on its campus.
  • Speaking of Union: The school hosted its annual MLK breakfast last week, during which elected leaders pledged action on various issues, including school discipline reform.
  • VCU professor and national school desegregation expert Genevieve Siegel-Hawley has a new book out. I did a Q&A with her about the book and Richmond rezoning.
  • Chris Suarez writes that a federal judge has concern with the premise of the NAACP’s lawsuit over Hanover’s Confederate school names.
  • Chris also has an update to the graves on the University of Richmond campus discovered last year.
  • There was an active shooter scare at a Henrico County middle school last week, Ali Rockett tells us.
  • Also from Ali: A Richmond high school basketball coach was charged with sexual battery.
  • Relevant to teacher unions: A new group has been created to fight a repeal to Virginia’s right-to-work law.
  • Virginia passed the Equal Rights Amendment last week, becoming the 38th state needed for ratification. A court battle is almost certainly ahead.
  • A Senate committee killed a bill to put a Bible class in Virginia schools.
  • The chief operating officer for Chesterfield schools is leaving the district, Sean Gorman writes.
  • Lynchburg high schools are holding their graduation ceremonies at Liberty University in what The News & Advance describes as a controversial move.
  • Franklin County isn’t banning the Confederate flag in its school dress code, per The Roanoke Times.
  • Also from The Roanoke Times: Radford has a new provost.
  • The Progress-Index has an update on Hopewell moving to year-round schools.
  • The Virginian-Pilot caught up with Virginia’s new student loan advocate.
  • Anne Holton has an Op-Ed on Virginia’s talent pipeline.

(ABOVE PHOTO BY MARK GORMUS/TIMES-DISPATCH: L-R, Jesse Grapes, Headmaster of Benedictine College Preparatory, Sister Cecilia Dwyer, OSB, Head of School, Saint Gertrude High School, Sister Joanna Burley, OSB, Prioress of the Benedictine Sisters and Fr. Jonathan Licari, OSB, Benedictine’s Canonical Administrator, Mother Mary of the Church Abbey Fri. Jan. 17, 2020.)

In brief

A new private school is coming to the Richmond area.

Thales Academy, which has eight campuses in North Carolina, is expanding outside the state for the first time. The college preparatory network plans to open a K-2 school in Glen Allen at the start of the 2020-21 school year.

More grades will comes in the future, according to a news release.

“We are excited to open our first school outside of North Carolina to serve students in and near the Richmond area,” said Bob Luddy, founder of Thales Academy. “We believe in providing the highest quality education at the most affordable tuition price, and we look forward to welcoming families in Virginia to our educational model.”

A parent interest meeting has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 28 in Richmond Community Church, 11801 Nuckols Road.


Richmond Public Schools has launched a new tool aimed at helping the city’s growing Latino community.

The school system announced last week RPS en Español, which will provide content in Spanish related to RPS events and activities while also highlighting community organizations and people supporting Spanish-speaking families.

The district is launching a new Facebook page that is entirely in Spanish.

“It is imperative that we meet families where they are and equip them with information, resources, and access so that they are set up for success at RPS,” said Shadae Harris, the district’s chief engagement officer. “This will help us to eliminate some of the many barriers that our newcomer families face when seeking the support they need for their students to be successful.”

Said Superintendent Jason Kamras: “We are a school system for all children and all families and we want to make sure that we are serving all children and all families as best as we possibly can. We know that we have a lot of work to do in this area and we are committed to working hand-in-hand with our Spanish-speaking communities to ensure that even more families receive the guidance and support they need to successfully navigate RPS.”


Five Richmond-area school districts are getting electric school buses.

Dominion Energy announced Thursday that its first phase of an electric school bus project will bring 50 of the buses to 16 school systems by the end of the year. Among the recipients: Chesterfield County Public Schools, Charles City County Public Schools, Louisa County Public Schools, Powhatan County Public Schools and Richmond Public Schools.

“RPS is proud to be one of the first school divisions in Virginia to receive electric buses as a part of this initiative,” said Richmond superintendent Jason Kamras. “We are committed to making RPS a ‘greener’ and environmentally-conscious division and we are taking bold and important steps toward this goal.”

He added: “This partnership will bring safer and healthier bus rides for our students, increased transportation savings for the division, and a reduction in carbon emissions for the residents of Richmond.”

Richmond is set to receive four of the buses.

Phase two of the project, which is pending state approval, would expand the program to have at least 1,000 more electric buses on the road by 2025.

According to Dominion, that many buses could provide enough energy to power more than 10,000 homes.

Around the nation

  1. The New York Times took a look at textbooks in Texas and California. The result was a story that has people from outside the education circle talking.
  2. There have been a lot of stories recently about resistance to school integration. This Chalkbeat one includes booing and heckling.
  3. Harper’s wrote about Brazilian gangs embracing evangelical Christianity. I learned a lot reading it.

Study hall

  1. Another week, another sobering student loan statistic from the Center for American Progress: Four in five black students must take federal loans for graduate school. White students? 56%.
  2. A lot of people in Richmond pay attention to what’s going on in D.C. schools given Superintendent Jason Kamras once being a leader there. Here’s D.C. Policy Center’s annual look at the state of D.C. schools.

Because you made it this far

  • On this day in 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn in for his fourth term as U.S. president. In 1887, Pearl Harbor became a naval base.
  • Happy birthday to comedian Bill Maher. It’s also Buzz Aldrin’s birthday. Neil Armstrong gets all the love.
  • Audrey Hepburn died on this day in 1993.
  • Happy National Disc Jockey Day. I was at a wedding a few years ago when the DJ played a Michael Buble CD on loop. He was fired by the bride’s father mid-wedding and they brought in another DJ.


Justin Mattingly

Your host, Justin Mattingly, covers P-12 and higher education for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He likes baseball (go Cardinals), a good book (especially biographies) and one stop light small towns. Drop him a line at jmattingly@timesdispatch.com.