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Richmond Times-Dispatch - High Stakes Newsletter | RTD's Education focused news each week
Friday, June 5th, 2020

Spread the word: Do you know others who want to stay informed about education in Virginia? They can subscribe to this weekly High Stakes newsletter at Richmond.com/Newsletters.

Taking your temperature (on this newsletter)

Hey team,

Last week was a tough one. The U.S. eclipsed 100,000 deaths from COVID-19. A police officer in Minnesota killed an unarmed black man, prompting mass protest and outrage. Neither of these things is ~directly~ related to education, but we can't in good faith move forward without acknowledging them and their impact on the world around us.

Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras wrote some about this in his daily newsletter last week, including some resources for talking with young people about race and justice. I'd encourage you to read it and use the resources.

I won't provide any commentary here - that's not my place and not the purpose of this space - but I'd like to share a quote that I've had in my head since author Bob Goff shared it last week: "Everybody, always. Not just some people, sometimes."

OK, on to our regularly-scheduled programming.

As we enter this new time, with me covering state politics and Kenya Hunter taking over the education beat, I thought it would be a good time to solicit some feedback on this newsletter. It's always accepted on a rolling basis and I appreciate those of you who frequently respond to this email. 

This ~super scientific~ survey, though, is meant to organize that feedback and help us determine how to move forward. I promise it won't take too long to fill out. Here's the link. Thanks in advance for your help.


Gov. Ralph Northam said last week that he'll make an announcement Tuesday about students returning to school. We'll have updates on Richmond.com.

Among those awaiting guidance from the state are small, private colleges across Virginia. They don't have the large endowments or enrollment as do many of the public colleges in the state. They pride themselves on an intimate experience and have budgets operating on the margins to begin with.

Here's the story about how the pandemic is impacting those schools.

“We want to maintain as much of the close, intimate setting that we can, but we’re going to have to really learn the social distancing,” Emory & Henry College President John Wells said. “It is a shift from the kind of very personal education that we do.”

(ABOVE PHOTO BY DANIEL MIN/TIMES-DISPATCH: A college book store is closed at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland on Thursday, May 28, 2020.)

Making the rounds

  • The University of Virginia released its plans for students coming back in the fall. Three takeaways: late August start, end at Thanksgiving, no large in-person classes.
  • Speaking of UVA: The flagship's COVID-19 model says Virginia's peak for new confirmed cases is still expected to come this summer. 
  • Former Gloucester County student Gavin Grimm's transgender bathroom case was back in court earlier this week. The county School Board wants the case thrown out and defended banning Grimm from the boys bathroom.
  • Jobs for Virginia Graduates, which helps at-risk students graduate and seek employment, has a new leader.
  • Kenya Hunter has the story of a family, with an autistic son, dealing with virtual learning. The mother, pictured above, quit her job to home-school her children when schools closed.
  • Kenya also reports that the principal at Mary Munford Elementary School in Richmond and his wife have tested positive for COVID-19. Richmond Public Schools has asked people at a computer distribution event the principal attended to isolate for two weeks.
  • Mark Robinson tells us that the Richmond City Council overrode a historic preservation commission's ruling, allowing for the demolition of George Mason Elementary.
  • High school football coaches in Virginia have banded together to form a new association, Eric Kolenich writes.
  • Jess Nocera tells us that Hopewell's schools chief has been named the best in Virginia.
  • Hannah Natanson at The Washington Post wrote about some Virginia families struggling with internet access.
  • Roanoke has a new superintendent, Amy Friedenberger and Claire Mitzel at The Roanoke Times report. The new chief faced an ethics complaint in Baltimore County.
  • Sam Wall at The Roanoke Times has an update on tuition at Radford University.
  • Shouts to the Bedford teacher competing on "Jeopardy!". Thanks to Jamey Cross at The News & Advance for writing this.

(ABOVE PHOTO BY JAMES WALLACE/TIMES-DISPATCH: Wendy Rufrano quit her job to home-school her three sons after Richmond Public Schools closed because of the coronavirus. She's doing the best, but admits being frustrated teaching three, including one son who is autistic. Cooper has autism and a speech impediment. Here she helps son Connor, 7, with a lesson as Cooper, 7, did a lesson on the computer, and Carson, 4, worked on a puzzle at their home.)

In brief

More than three in four Virginia college students have experienced mental health challenges as a result of COVID-19 disruptions, according to a new survey conducted by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

The agency conducted the online survey from April 20 to May 4. A total of 1,018 people from public four-year, public two-year, and private four-year colleges responded.

Here's what the students reported feeling, according to the survey:

  • 80% concerned with academics;
  • 18% worried about financial aid status;
  • 76% faced mental health challenges;
  • 19% facing health issues;
  • 8% suffering from food insecurity;
  • 45% worried about employment;
  • 11% dealing with child care challenges;
  • 34% managed technology issues;
  • 8% suffering from housing insecurity.

“I am taking it day by day, but on the whole, I feel exhausted. Trying to graduate, changing my life plans (because of COVID related issues), worrying about the now (food and job) is challenging," a College of William & Mary student said in their survey response.

You can read more about the survey here.

Around the nation

  1. Sharing another 74 story on Cleveland, this time about its efforts to close the digital divide.
  2. Chalkbeat has a story and Q&A on a new nationwide school integration initiative.
  3. I thought NPR did a good job with this piece on the looming financial crisis facing schools.
  4. Bonus: Highly recommend this New Yorker story on homelessness in San Francisco.

Study hall

  • EdBuild, the country's premier education finance think tank, is out with a new report on property tax revenue. From that study: "The average per-pupil difference between the highest- and lowest-raising districts within counties with more than one school district is a staggering $6,330." I'd also encourage you to check out the non-PDF presentation of the research.
  • The National Center for Education Statistics says in a new report that college enrollment among 18- to 24-year-olds has risen to 41%. That's up from 35% in 2000.

Because you made it this far

  • On this day in 1796, Tennessee became the 16th state. Four years earlier, Kentucky became the 15th state.
  • Happy birthday to Morgan Freeman, who is turning 83 but still has a timeless voice. Marilyn Monroe was born on this day in 1926.
  • Helen Keller died on this day in 1968.
  • It’s National Go Barefoot Day, so instead of putting on a pair of socks as you work from home, take a risk and let your feet be free. It's also National Say Something Nice Day. Here's mine: I appreciate you for reading this newsletter. I don't know what you're going through right now, but if you're human, you're likely going through a lot. Keep doing your best. Do the next right thing. We'll get through this.


Justin Mattingly

Your host, Justin Mattingly, covers Virginia politics and policy 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.