School Board Meeting – October 18, 2021

After roll call, the pledge of allegiance, and other matters, the student representative was invited to speak, Kelveonya Johnson. She is a senior at Franklin Military Academy. Kelveonya is a
dedicated student, receiving the Honor Roll list by the House of Delegates and the
Dean’s List by the President of Reynolds Community College. She has also been
selected to join the National Honor Society at Franklin and Phi Theta Kappa honor
society at Reynolds Community College. Kelveonya is hoping to attend Howard
University or another HSBU after graduation, where she plans to major in Psychology
with aspirations to become an adolescents counselor.

There was then a student presentation by Anaiyah Murray. She is a senior at George Wythe High School.

Afterward, recognition was made to announce October 18-21, 2021 asNational School Bus Safety Week and October 20th as School Bus Transportation Employees Appreciation Day. The announcement recognized that “Richmond Public Schools (RPS) bus drivers normally transport more than 90 percent of the division’s students each day, safely and efficiently between school and home” and “school bus transportation employees serve with love, professionalism, and enthusiasm.”

After this, public comments were heard. Jennifer is a Maymont Preschool teacher. She is in support of the RRA and collective bargaining in RPS. Currently, teachers are given no breaks or planning, and yet more students are being placed into their classrooms. In addition, teachers were recently told that pre-school students no longer need to be potty-brained, so now teachers must deal with those daily occurrences as a result. They were also given a new lesson plan format that forces them to essentially completely rewrite old plans. These are all overwhelming changes. Teachers are burning out and this is simply not sustainable. Addressing the school board, she says “Now that you know, you have to do better.”

The President of Swansboro West Civic Association spoke. She was deeply frustrated with the progress being made on the reconstruction of George Wythe High School. It is full of mold and mildew. Teachers and students are getting sick. She does not care if there are personality conflicts between Superintendent Kamras and the Mayor, as regardless of internal issues, the students and staff cannot be sacrificed in such terrible conditions.

A 4th grade teacher at Swansboro elementary school spoke in support of the collective bargaining resolution. Teachers have been struggling for a long time, with over 50% of teachers leaving after 3 years. Based on the decisions the board has been making, they “haven’t been in a classroom for a very long time.” Without the resolution, there will continue to be a staff crisis, where everyone is exhausted and demoralized.

Ms. Williams is also a PreSchool teacher. She was frustrated at being told about trainings that needed to be done by the end of the month at very short notice. They are also told not to touch students, but how is that possible when they are expected to assist them when they are not potty-trained?

Henry, a junior in high school, also spoke in support of the collective bargaining resolution. He can tell that the teachers are struggling. “When teachers struggle, the students struggle as well.” He said that students will not remain silent, and the resolution must be passed.

Robin Gahan spoke, thanking the board for “improving RPS’ Tobacco Free Schools policy to ensure supportive disciplinary practices that promote recovery and reduce addiction. People of color, women, youth and members of the LGBTQ+ community are subject to disproportionate marketing of tobacco products. Prohibiting exclusionary practices for students that violate this policy is a key step to provide resources and cessation support. The purpose of an educational institution is to teach. Actively working to decriminalize student tobacco product possession also reduces youth engagement with law enforcement and loss of time in school.”

Elle Drake spoke about her frustrations with educators and teachers not doing enough in their role for her children. “My child has no teacher for virtual academy today, nor a substitute. Most educators would prefer that parents not tell them how to do their jobs, yet they want us to do their jobs for them.” She has put in immense effort to be a good parent, but is frustrated that she has to take over schooling for her students and being complacent to them not treating her children right. “I am beyond upset for the lack of consideration, preparation, and implementation.”

Two people came to speak on the commission made to research the open enrollment process in order to improve equity in selection processes. There’s inequity in the process with white students being overrepresented. The commission has made the commitment to develop recommendations for the school board on best practices. There is a very diverse group of people from the Richmond community in the commission, such as alumni, family, educators, etc.

Chief Academic Officer Tracy R. Epp presented an update on “Goal 5-Equity in Advanced Placement (AP) and Algebra 1 Enrollment.” The presentation explained why Middle Algebra 1 can show whether 8th grade students hit the benchmarks necessary to succeed in higher level math courses in high school, and thus have them prepared for college.

The 2018 Educational Equity Audit noted several disparities around AP access and performance at RPS:
● While Open and Community both offered more than 10 AP courses, other high schools in the division offered less than five.
● AP access was extremely limited for students who are Latinx, English learners, or who have disabilities.
● At high schools other than Open and Community, less than 10% of students took an AP exam.
● Less than 10% of AP tests at high schools other than Open and Community received a passing score. While Open and Community were higher (44% and 25%), they were still well below the state average (62%).

As such, RPS has been making strides in eliminating any disparities in AP math placements, etc. However, the data finds that more work must be done.

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