The new initiative helps Richmonders help their public schools.
It sounds like a roving gang of superhero parents hell-bent on doing good for Richmond Public Schools, but RPS Action Squad is a more practical (less mob-like) initiative.
“If you have access to time and you have the strategy to make the attention funneled in the right place, things will happen,” said Sarah Milston, co-creator of the new group. So how does RPS Action Squad work? Milston said the best way to describe it is to discuss how it began.
Several weeks ago, Northside parents complained about an intersection on Hermitage Road they felt was dangerous for children and families to traverse on their way to nearby Holton Elementary. Those parents publicized the issue on social media and contacted numerous City and RPS officials. About two weeks later, Richmond Police dispatched an officer to direct intersection traffic until the department hires a crossing guard.
Milston recognized two things that happened: 1) parents made the time to address the issue and 2) they used political and School Board contacts to press the issue. “And that’s why it was solved,” Milston said. She wondered why couldn’t the same approach benefit all schools?
So last week Milston helped created RPS Action Squad, a volunteer-based initiative that seeks to “spread change across the entire city, rather than individual schools,” she said. RPS Action Squad does this by bringing concerns to the fore and pooling volunteer resources to address changes across the school system.
For instance, if a parent notices moldy ceiling tiles in a particular school classroom, that parent can inform RPS Action Squad about the issue. A volunteer,1 either themselves or with the help of other volunteers, would then work to figure out if other schools had similar issues.
Once gathered, that information would be forwarded to City and RPS officials, with the website documenting their responses.2 If officials don’t respond, or if their responses are unsatisfactory, it’d be incumbent upon the public to press them. “Accountability is at the core of how this is going to work,” Milston said. “We need other citizens to hold their elected officials accountable.” So far, RPS Action Squad volunteers have earned responses from four council members and two School Board members on specific issues. The first two issues RPS Action Squad has taken on are crosswalk safety at all RPS schools and procuring tablets for teachers.
Just a week old, RPS Action Squad has received a request from an unlikely source: Richmond Public Schools. Officials sought help promoting $200,000 in renovations to the John Marshall High School athletic field. RPS Action Squad used that outreach and created a project to classify the conditions of all RPS high school athletic fields. As of Monday morning, Milston said volunteers are still needed for help on that particular issue. Milston said RPS Action Squad is open to all volunteers, parents of RPS students or not.
Although busy with her own business, The Spark Mill, Milston enjoys the time she spends on RPS Action Squad. “I’m totally energized and having an absolute ball,” she said. Milston believes that the foremost detriment to Richmond isn’t crime or need for a new baseball stadium. It’s the schools. And if people can help improve Richmond Public Schools, she said, the entire city improves with them.
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photo by Tomash Devenishek