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Richmond Times-Dispatch - High Stakes Newsletter | RTD's Education focused news each week
Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

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Hello from northern New York.

I’m visiting family in Philadelphia, New York (yes, it’s a real place). We’re going to keep this pretty quick, but there’s something I need to say.

The most-talked-about news of last week was the initial feedback to a proposal to “pair” William Fox Elementary School and John B. Cary Elementary School in Richmond. It would make both schools much more diverse (Fox is currently majority white and Cary is majority black). The vast majority of the feedback on an online feedback form in the roughly one month since the proposal’s unveiling has been against the idea.

That resulted in this story.

Since the story was published, I’ve heard from a lot of parents and teachers in the Fox and Cary communities who support the idea. That’s great. I genuinely love talking to people passionate about schools, communities and especially rezoning. I, unfortunately won’t be at a community meeting at Fox this week because, well, I’m in the superior Philadelphia. Mark Robinson will be, though, and I look forward to hearing about the meeting/your thoughts on the idea from anyone who has them.

With that said, I haven’t been able to shake something that's bothering me: a significant Richmond schools story from last week has been overshadowed by the rezoning debate.

It deserves your attention.

Students learning English have been in classrooms with overwhelmed ESL teachers because the district didn’t properly count them. Counting. That error caused the district to miss out on hundreds of thousands of dollars it could have had to hire more teachers trained at helping these students - many of whom are new to the country and our schools.

Instead, they were in classes with as many as 40 students, according to one teacher. Yet we wonder why nearly 3 in 5 ESL students in the city drop out of school. The population’s 41% graduation rate for the class of 2018 was 32 percentage points below the state average for English learners and 51 percentage points below the state average for all students.

We can do better. It shouldn’t sit well with people that these students were getting an inferior education because of an administrative error.

So, let’s talk about that, too.

Question of the week: How can school districts better serve ESL students?

(ABOVE PHOTO BY DANIEL MIN/TIMES-DISPATCH: Monica Foster (left), a teacher at St. Joseph’s Villa, and Alberta Richards, a retired Richmond Public Schools teacher, helped compile care packages at the home of Lindsay Scott, who is also a teacher, in Glen Allen. A group of teachers collected various goods for children at the border; they leave Thursday for Texas to drop them off.)

Making the rounds

  • A group of Richmond-area teachers traveled last week to the U.S.-Mexico border to deliver care packages to migrant children.
  • House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox wants to freeze college tuition again and raise teacher pay to the national average within four years.
  • Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order to create a commission focused on STEM education.
  • A new high school is opening in Richmond where students work for their education.
  • The new “Lion King” came out and that has nothing to do with local or state education but it’s that important so I’m including this review.
  • Our Gabby Birenbaum has a cool story on a former Armstrong High School band director.
  • Graham Moomaw wrote about a Henrico student who was forced to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance at the Virginia Capitol.
  • Michael Martz reports that the Virginia Lottery doing well last year could mean good things for improving Virginia’s lackluster student-to-counselor ratio.
  • Mark Robinson says a lot of people support a referendum in Richmond to force money from TIF districts to improve school facilities rather than, say, build a new Coliseum.
  • Good story from The Free Lance-Star about a teacher in Spotsylvania who works four jobs to make ends meet.
  • Ryan Murphy at The Virginian-Pilot wrote about the possibility of free community college coming to Virginia.
  • Liz Ramos at The News & Advance in Lynchburg has the story on potential changes to the city School Board’s public comment policy.
  • Brent Solomon at NBC12 did a story on Richmond Public Schools scaling back some drug testing requirements.
  • Shoutout to The Daily Progress' Ruth Serven Smith for this scoop on the University of Virginia starting a project to identify and contact descendants of slaves.

(Here's a picture of my grandfather, Bill, my dad, Wayne, and myself at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, on Saturday.)

In brief

Richmond Public Schools has scheduled additional community meetings for city residents to give feedback on potential new school zones.

The city school system is in the midst of a districtwide rezoning process, one it hopes to complete in the fall with new boundaries taking effect at the start of the 2020-21 school year. A consultant hired by the district, Cropper GIS, has created two draft options for a special rezoning committee to consider.

In those options, Cropper has proposed relieving some overcrowding on the South Side of the city and "pairing" some elementary schools, among other things. One idea, for example, includes having students go to William Fox Elementary School for kindergarten through second grade and John B. Cary Elementary School for third through fifth grades.

To hear more from community members, the district scheduled more meetings. Here's the new rezoning meeting schedule:

  • July 22 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the North Avenue Branch Library;
  • July 23 from noon to 1 p.m. at the Belmont Branch Library;
  • July 24 from 5-6 p.m. at the Southwood Resource Center;
  • July 25 from 5-6 p.m. at Fox Elementary School;
  • July 30 from 6-8 p.m. at Thomas Jefferson High School;
  • Aug. 13 from 4-5 p.m. at the Belmont Branch Library;
  • Aug. 13 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at Fox Elementary School;
  • Aug. 13 from 7-8 p.m. at George Wythe High School;
  • Aug. 14 from 4-5 p.m. at the North Avenue Branch Library;
  • Aug. 14 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School;
  • Aug. 14 from 7-8 p.m. at George Mason Elementary School;
  • Aug. 15 from 4-5 p.m. at the Hull Street Library;
  • Aug. 15 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School;
  • Aug. 15 from 7-8 p.m. at Southside Community Services Center;
  • Aug. 20 from 6-8 p.m. at John Marshall High School;
  • Aug. 21 from 6-8 p.m. at Southside Community Services Center;
  • Aug. 22 from 6-8 p.m. at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School;
  • Aug. 23 from 6-8 p.m. at John B. Cary Elementary School;
  • Aug. 27 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at John B. Cary Elementary School;
  • Aug. 28 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at Woodville Elementary School;
  • Aug. 29 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at Southside Community Services Center.

The district also has a rezoning feedback form on its website.

Around the nation

  1. Y’all know (or if you don’t, here’s new information) how much I like third grade reading stories. NPR did one for All Things Considered.
  2. I enjoyed this Politico profile on a 19-year-old gun control activist who “has lawmakers’ ears.”
  3. I neglected to share last week Nikole Hannah-Jones’ story on busing. It’s a must-read.

Study hall

  1. Virginia is among the majority of states that don’t require the teaching of the Holocaust, according to this research and accompanying story.
  2. According to this study (hat-tip to Chalkbeat), young children learn less through video.

Because you made it this far

  • On this day in 2011, Norway was hit with two terror attacks: the first a bombing and then a mass shooting at a youth camp. Seventy-seven people were killed.
  • Happy birthday to Alex Trebek, who needs no qualifier. It’s also Selena Gomez’s birthday. Back to You, Alex.
  • Mike Coolbaugh died on this day in 2007. Coaching first base for the Tulsa Drillers, he was hit with a line drive and was pronounced dead less than an hour later. S.L. Price wrote both a longform story and a book about the tragedy. Both are good.
  • It’s National Hammock Day. Maybe you read this in the office. Maybe you read it at home. The best way this newsletter is consumed, though, is in a hammock.

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.