Raising Richmond: City schools, county schools

We’re sticking with Richmond Public Schools because we want to support our city. And also because the school is right by our house and daughter already likes that playground. It would be weird if we didn’t send her there.

We live within walking distance of the elementary school that my daughter will eventually go to, and I’ve been aware of the school’s push for people in our district to actually send their children there for a while. At first I was confused by this. Was everyone in my neighborhood sending their kids to private school? How do people have that much money to do that? Can I have some money? Also, the school is right there. Why not just go there? You already paid for it.

Then I realized that parents pick up and move to a surrounding county instead of dealing with Richmond Public Schools (again: how do people have money to do that?). As the small kids we know get older, the trend seems to be about half go with RPS, and the others are heading out (or planning to head out) to Chesterfield County. Some of my kid’s friends will start with RPS this year. I’m looking forward to the feedback, though I have heard nothing but good things about the elementary schools where our daughter could possibly attend pre-K next year.

Recent news about the conditions of the schools that we’re sending our children to has been eye-opening. It’s important to make those issues known, and it’s been inspiring to see how the students and parents are reacting. I have faith that things will improve as long as people work toward it and don’t stop being outraged. I don’t know how I fit into this right now, as my kid is not in school. I’m in “paying attention mode.”

I attended Richmond schools for elementary school. My parents have implied that we moved to Chesterfield County because of schools. My elementary experience was great,1 but our middle and high-school options in the city weren’t.

I don’t know what makes a “good” or “bad” school. Schools have reputations for sure, and my friends who work for RPS and the people I know who work for Chesterfield or other county schools have problems so different that it’s like they don’t even share a profession. I think that a child can still do well at a “bad” school, but limited resources and teachers who can’t do their jobs the way they need to are obstacles that all students deal with and keep kids from doing better.2

Am I nervous about sending my child to RPS? No–not right now anyway. I admit that the middle school options look bleak to me, but I think that’s mostly because I don’t know what to expect. We’ll likely live somewhere else by then, and that location will be driven by schools. But that’s a decade away. By then I’ll know people whose kids have gone through it and can confirm that the school is not built on a Hellmouth.

I don’t judge people who move out of the city for better schools, or any reason. I see the appeal. I have drooled over the spacious houses that people have out in the counties that have closets bigger than my bedroom. Northside is on my list of places I’d consider living, and that goes across city limits.

I don’t want to end up in Chesterfield County (although Bon Air is adorable). No offense to Chesterfield (especially Bon Air), but I lived there as a teenager and all I did was wish we still lived in Richmond. Even as a student I knew that I was getting a mediocre education. I definitely had some good teachers, including one who irresponsibly egged us on to challenge the school and administration. I did well in school, but not because the curriculum was challenging or relevant. I did well because I had a few good classes; my friends were smart and funny; I read on my own constantly; and I had parents who were interested in learning new things. I am not of the impression that school alone prepares you for anything.

Basically, the only reason that I can see to go to county schools is that it’s less likely that a ceiling fan will land on my child during class. Those schools are old, too, and they’ll be hitting RPS-like problems soon enough. Those parents will then start moving out to the closest, more rural counties, leaving behind a trail of Wal-Mart Super Center breadcrumbs.

Richmond is being built up as a great place to visit, and not a great place to live. For those of us who do live in it, it’s like our tax dollars go to supporting the date-night needs of the surrounding counties and little more (maybe trash pick-up). I don’t know the incentive to move here and start a family if you’re looking at it from the outside. You can access the cool things about the city just as easily from Henrico. But if you’re already here, like me, it’s hard to find things about the counties that are as appealing as living within a mile of stores, restaurants, parks, playgrounds, the river, and schools.3

So we’re sticking with Richmond, and will be sticking with the schools. I know the challenges that we’ll have. I’m ready to fight on my child’s behalf and to understand the balance between student needs and resource limits. I’m ready to learn new math and bug my coworkers with her fundraisers. I think RPS will provide my child with a normal elementary school experience. We’ll see what happens from there.

Plus if I move back to Chesterfield County, my 16-year-old self will time travel and murder me. And she’s bigger and meaner than I am, so I am scared of her.

  1. I fondly remember my years at J.B. Fisher Elementary school. It was interactive with the city. The principal when I was there knew everyone’s names. I was also going to mention how excited I was to have Mrs. Brooks as my third grade teacher, and when I looked up the school’s website I saw that she’s the principal now. 
  2. I have zero qualifications for talking about what teachers and school administrators go through. I’m going by what I’ve read, and Friday Night Lights when the Taylors moved to East Dillon High. 
  3. Although I drive everywhere right now. Walking a mile with a three-year-old takes four days. 
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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

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