Elementary school kids

I am a proud product and parent of Richmond Public Schools. I attended city schools when my dad was governor of Virginia in the early 1970s. My three children also received a great public education here, which successfully launched them on to college and career. I will be forever grateful to Richmond Public Schools for the opportunities it has provided to our family. Now I share the sense of urgency of so many Richmonders that those same quality opportunities be provided to all children in the city, no matter their ZIP code or background.

Improving Richmond Public Schools and the well-being of our children is the key to a healthier Richmond. Every sector of the community has a critical role to play in helping our schools and our children progress to the next level.

Coming together starts with our elected officials and our key government agencies getting on the same page to implement common goals for our children.

That’s the simple but powerful idea behind the RVA Education Compact, developed by Mayor Levar Stoney, members of the School Board, and City Council.

Richmond Public Schools face extraordinary challenges. Many of them are related to the disproportionate stress and trauma many Richmond children experience outside the classroom, caused in large measure by our extraordinary child poverty rate. Our children’s lives inside and outside the classroom are intimately intertwined. That’s why a truly effective change has to involve adults breaking down silos to bring the work of the schools together with the work of other city agencies and nonprofit organizations to engage and support children and families.

Richmond has taken positive steps in this direction already. The RVA Reads program engages dozens of volunteers each month to promote early reading at all pre-K sites in the city. The NextUp RVA program now operating in three city middle schools brings a high-quality after-school program to hundreds of children, providing both academic support and enrichment activities from dance to cooking. RVA Future Centers provides focused support and counseling to high school students pursuing college and career plans after high school. These initiatives are partnerships providing support to RPS students from city agencies such as the Office of Community Wealth Building and/or nonprofit entities such as the Richmond Public Schools Education Foundation.

When adults cooperate, kids benefit. The Education Compact would create a framework to expand on such effective teamwork to benefit our children. The proposal, developed over the course of this spring with widespread community input, now calls for the board, council and mayor to jointly support a resolution to proceed with three simple collaborative steps:

  • Establishing quarterly meetings between School Board, City Council, mayor and city administration, and RPS administration;
  • Creating a Richmond Children’s Cabinet of agency leaders and key staff within the city who have direct impact on children and families to meet on a regular basis with RPS officials on matters of common concern; and
  • Establishing an Education Compact Team consisting of administrative leaders in the city and RPS, City Council and School Board representatives, and a diverse group of community stakeholders including teachers and parents. This team will be an advisory group, charged with making nonbinding policy recommendations on some of the toughest issues facing Richmond, such as adequately funding school facilities.

The aim of this work is to both address the critical needs of RPS and to expand partnerships and support services benefiting children from early childhood to early adulthood.

Adopting the Education Compact now will be a huge benefit to the School Board as it seeks to recruit its next superintendent. It will send the signal to prospective candidates that the mayor and City Council are serious about working with the School Board and school administration to tackle the hard problems. It also will send the message to funders — from local grant makers to the General Assembly — that Richmond leaders are finally on the same page.

As Virginia’s secretary of education in 2014, I joined with colleagues to establish a Children’s Cabinet, facilitating the same kind of inter-agency work across education, human services, juvenile justice and other child-serving entities at the state level.

I have learned in my decades of public service that there’s never a perfect time to start a major initiative, and always a thousand imagined reasons why we should wait. But I’ve also learned that there’s no bad time to start doing the right thing. Starting now will move us closer to real solutions, and help create a positive, community-wide framework to support the work of the next superintendent.

The cooperative spirit between city and schools leadership embodied in the RVA Education Compact is the best chance I have seen in decades to advance the needs of all children here in Richmond. I urge the School Board and City Council to ratify the RVA Education Compact — and ask all Richmonders to roll up our sleeves to help make sure all our children succeed.

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Anne Holton is a visiting professor of public policy and education, George Mason University, and a member of the Virginia Board of Education. The views presented are her own and not spoken on behalf of the board or university. Holton may be contacted at aholton2@gmu.edu.

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