Interview: School Board candidate Trent Park

Trent Park, along with Glen Sturtevant, is vying for the 1st District School Board seat being vacated by Kimberly Bridges.

Trent Park, along with Glen Sturtevant, is vying for the 1st District School Board seat being vacated by Kimberly Bridges.

Park, a small business owner, previously worked for the City of Richmond’s Department of Community Development, served on the Richmond Public Schools Rezoning Committee, and has a degree in Historic Preservation from Mary Washington College. He has 3 daughters, all attending Mary Munford Elementary School.

I sat down with Mr.Park for an interview a few days ago, and instead of a typical Q&A session, it became a 30-minute discussion on attracting more students to RPS, empowering parents, and making more efficient use of RPS resources prompted by the 5 priorities listed on Park’s website. Here are some of Mr.Park’s own words:

“Well, as a parent in RPS, I think that I have a unique perspective in this race. What made me want to run for office is in part due to conversations I started having with other parents last year when my oldest was in third grade. Parents start talking about their plans over the next two years, their exit strategies from Richmond Public schools. It disturbed me because I grew up in public schools, I’m a fan of public schools, and I think that the city should offer public schools that people are comfortable with and confident in.”

“The First District is a little bit unique in that in the city in that we have a lot of parents who pull their kids out after fifth-grade, sometimes after fourth period. They either move or go to private schools. Enrollment in schools is important, the more kids that we have in the city the better off the city schools are.”

“And I think it warrants more study, we need to look at the people that are leaving and why they are leaving. Is a lot of anecdotal conversation that happens around. The bottom line I think is that there is still the perception that public schools are not as good as the County or the private schools.”

“Empowering teachers parents and principals… I hear all three stakeholders talk about how their hands are tied. The counties, when they hire a new principal for a school, they will get together a group of parents and teachers, a small group representative of the school and that group will go though the applications for the new principal before the administration even take a look at it. And they will make a pile of applicants who they think are a good fit for the school. I’d love to see RPS adopt that. Increase immediate buy in from the community being served.”

“I’m really excited about the prospect at Albert Hill. I think that Albert Hill is on a great trajectory already. I think that one of the defining things in our race in particular is what to do with Albert Hill. My opponent has a plan modeled after the Columbia secondary school in Harlem […] probably the University laboratory school is the best vehicle for that to happen. It creates a secondary school that has its own board, run by the University. Anybody from the Commonwealth can apply to attend, it’s by lottery. It would no longer be a district school, it would be something beyond that.”

“And I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, I think there are some things that we can do to get the community involved at Albert Hill, the principal has already set up the coffees to meet with parents and introduce herself. ”

“Parents have a time horizon, a two to three-year horizon that they are looking at for their kids’ schools. I talk to parents that will call and talk to somebody at RPS, or somebody at the middle school or high school, and they will say “my child is in the third grade and I just want to talk to you about the middle school”, and the response that they get back is less than accommodating. RPS generally has a very short horizon, and make decisions very quickly. […] They seem to work on a six-month to one-year horizon. They have to expand that, you have to be able to let parents know what’s happening and where the kids are going to be much farther out than that.”

“The honors program at Albert Hill, a lot of parents are open to the idea of sending their children to Albert Hill, but feel like their kids deserve to be in the honors or honors AP track at Hill. They want to know a year or two years out what the criteria is, what the considerations are for that. And the responses that they get back are sort of mixed. RPS doesn’t know what the criteria are or what the selection method will be.”

If they’re considering going to the county or to private school, they’re going to make that decision two years ahead of time. They’re not going to wait around for six months, eight months before the next year – they might have to sell their house, they may have to go through the application process at private schools. They want certainty, there’s a lot of uncertainty.”

“RPS publishes these FOIA requests sheets at their board meetings. It’s really interesting the type of information that people are asking about, and that stuff should be available on line. There is a transparency issue there. There’s certainly a lot of people are very curious about what’s going on in schools and how the money is being spent. It we just put that stuff online, I think it would cut down on a lot of this perception that there is nonsense going on in the background.”

“I served on the city’s rezoning committee. It was a committee made up of 40 or 45 citizens from around the city. We were given a lot of information to digest. It became apparent to me that we have a lot of empty classroom seats. It would appear as though we have about a 30% excess capacity in the city. For a school system that operates in the red and has all this pressure from the city to cut costs and operate more efficiently, it seems a waste to me to have that much empty classroom space.”

“I did some rudimentary calculations, if you keep all of the teachers (because you assume you’ll be teaching the same number of kids and you don’t want to increase the ratio) and all instructional staff and everything, and just look at consolidating buildings… Another benefit to the students from a consolidation, you are better able to focus resources. If you were to consider closing and consolidating a middle school or high school, you end up with slightly larger schools […] but you would be able to offer so many more resources. In a time when it is tough for us to get critical needs teachers and have vibrant resources like laboratories, and libraries, and computer labs and things like that, we could serve more students with better resources, better teachers, better equipment.”

“I was talking to a current board member, and she was talking about this disparity between the students who are eligible to apply to Maggie Walker, and she was saying that there is a whole group of students who aren’t eligible to even apply because of they don’t have the classes necessary. This is a symptom of having too many schools, and not having the classes and the teachers that we need at each of the schools. This is a cost-efficient way to be able to provide better for our students.”

“I wouldn’t say that I’m a big fan for increasing the budget or decrease the budget, I think that the schools should be adequately funded. When I see opportunities to reallocate resources, I think that we have to act on that.”

Trent Park | Facebook

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