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Richmond Times-Dispatch - High Stakes Newsletter | RTD's Education focused news each week
Monday, October 14th, 2019

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A hand-me-down problem

What goes down must come up? 

Richmond Public Schools' graduation rate fell again. It was the lowest in Virginia in 2017-18 (75%) and was again this year (71%). As you might recall, this was almost expected.

In the spring, Superintendent Jason Kamras told the city School Board that the district had been artificially inflating its graduation rate for years. Educators  in the city school system were rubber-stamping student work, choosing to use an alternative test instead of giving students the common state test, and putting students on individualized education programs to circumvent state graduation requirements.

“We are of course deeply disappointed by the latest graduation numbers, but as we shared last spring, we knew a decline was possible — if not likely — as we stopped a number of inappropriate adult practices that were artificially inflating our rate,” Kamras said. “We clearly have more work to do, but I’m confident we are now heading in the right direction.”

The first graduation rate release since the revelation was yet another stark reminder that RPS has a long way to go in giving every student in the city a quality education.

The district did see a small uptick in the number of schools accredited this year (up to 20 from 19). The rating for one of those schools, Fairfield Court Elementary, is questionable.

Fewer than 1 in 5 students there passed the state’s science test last year. Fewer than 1 in 4 passed reading tests, and 28% passed math.

The school is accredited, though. The logical question is "how can that be?"

I asked the same thing and wrote a story about waivers given by the state for a school's past performance that exempt them from accreditation. That allows schools like Fairfield Court, where the underlying numbers say a school shouldn't be accredited, to earn that top, coveted rating.

Here's that full story.

Question of the week: Should Virginia grant waivers for accreditation? Why or why not?

(ABOVE PHOTO BY ALEXA EDLUND: RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras handed a copy of “The Lemonade Crime” to Fairfield Court fifth-grader Isaiah Hurdle on Oct. 7.)

Making the rounds

  • Y'all should read this Sara Gregory (Virginian-Pilot) story. The rat-on-rat cannibalism is just another reminder that school facility conditions in Virginia are...not great.
  • A new report offers good insight into the benefit of school diversity as Richmond continues its rezoning process. Here’s a link to the full report.
  • Only one member of Richmond City Council attended a joint meeting of the council, School Board and mayor last week. Attendance at the meetings hasn’t been great.
  • The Richmond School Board approved specific goals for its five-year strategic plan.
  • A Salem teacher was named Virginia Teacher of the Year.
  • A VCU professor is on the National Book Award shortlist.
  • Virginia State University’s marching band was suspended over hazing allegations.
  • Sean Gorman updates us on transportation issues in Chesterfield County.
  • There's also a new elementary school coming to Chesterfield, leading to some rezoning, Sean writes.
  • I liked this Gordon Rago (Virginian-Pilot) story on a teacher who reads bedtime stories to students over Facebook Live.
  • An elementary school in Charlottesville is getting a new name, Katherine Knott at The Daily Progress reports.
  • John Gordon was sworn in as Suffolk’s superintendent, the Suffolk News Herald says.
  • CBS6 says there was an inappropriate video circulating from the Dinwiddie football locker room.
  • Chesterfield isn’t alone with transportation issues. Roanoke is still struggling with them, WDBJ tells us.
  • There are more than 1,000 extra freshmen at Virginia Tech this year, Robby Korth at The Roanoke Times reports.

(ABOVE PHOTO BY DANNY KARNIK/ASSOCIATED PRESS: St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Genesis Cabrera waves his hat in the air as he celebrates with teammates after the Cardinals beat the Atlanta Braves 13-1 in Game 5 of their National League Division Series baseball game Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019, in Atlanta.)

In brief

Another Richmond-area school system has opted not to use newfound flexibility to start the school year earlier.

The Chesterfield County School Board last week decided that it won't pursue a pre-Labor Day start for the 2020-21 school year. The General Assembly last year repealed part of what became known as the “Kings Dominion Law,” a requirement that said school districts without waivers must open after Labor Day. Schools are now allowed to open as early as two weeks before the early September holiday.

Students will have a four-day Labor Day weekend under the legislation with schools out the Friday before Labor Day through the actual holiday on Monday.

The law didn't take effect until July 1 and all area school districts had already set their calendars for the 2019-20 school year.

For the 2020-21 school year, both Chesterfield and Henrico counties have said they won't start before Labor Day.

The Chesterfield School Board said they'd want a potential pre-Labor Day change be made to the 2021-22 school year because families and staff may have already made vacation plans for August 2020.

District leaders plan to formally propose a post-Labor Day start for next school year in January.


For those of you with families, this sounds fun: 

The University of Richmond is hosting its annual Trick or Treat Street next Sunday.

The event, now in its 21st year, is scheduled to run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Children can trick or treat at UR’s Stern Plaza between Ryland Hall and Jepson Hall.

Roughly 50 student organizations will have activity booths across the plaza and there will food trucks on campus, bouncy houses, a petting zoo, straw maze, photo booth, haunted forest, and candy, the university said.

"Since my freshman year, Trick or Treat Street has been my favorite event on campus,” said Ali Ohara, a UR student and president of Trick of Treat Street. “The event brings the community and campus together to celebrate Halloween while raising money for a good cause. I encourage everyone to check out this joyous event."

All proceeds from the event will go directly to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Richmond. The university is asking families to bring a $10 donation to go directly to the Ronald McDonald House.

Around the nation

  1. The subheadline on this story made me chuckle. It’s a serious story, though: One teammate made tennis his whole life. The other had a grandfather whose company invented Hot Pockets. Guess which one went to Georgetown as a Division I recruit.
  2. Rhode Island’s free college program has seen mixed success, the Boston Globe reports.
  3. This Politico story on the after effects - drugs, depression and school discipline issues among them - of the Santa Fe and Parkland school shootings made me sad.

Study hall

  1. A new study from Ball State University suggests having recess before lunch might be the best way to boost their appetites while cutting food waste and discipline problems.
  2. Nearly half of teachers think their materials on tough topics aren’t balanced, according to the Education Week Research Center and Newsela.

Because you made it this far

  • On this day in 1982, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the war on drugs. In 1774, the First Continental Congress made the Declaration of Colonial Rights in the inferior Philadelphia.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower was born on this day in 1880. I’m about to move a mountain and wish Usher a happy birthday as well.
  • Bing Crosby died on this day in 1977.
  • It’s National Dessert Day. In my world, every day is National Dessert Day. It’s also National Online Bank Day. I used to be incredibly skeptical of online banking but, like a Boomer coming on board with an iPhone, I now enjoy it.

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.