Editorial: 50 questions for the RPS School Board

50 questions for the School Board in light of their 5-to-4 vote to close Clark Springs Elementary School and radically redistrict Cary Elementary School.

The following was posted as a comment on our primer on rezoning and school closing.

By Adria Scharf & Thad Williamson

At the 11th hour, the Richmond Public School board has voted on a 5-to-4 vote to close Clark Springs Elementary School and radically redistrict Cary Elementary School, with a plan that will overall affect 20% of the district’s elementary school children. It will also affect Adult Career Development Center, Norrell pre-K, and the Thirteen Acres program for emotionally disabled children.

This decision has been made without members having the correct data to assess the impact of this change on families, schools, and racial integration in the school district.

The next two School Board public hearings on the proposals to rezone and close schools are scheduled for these dates:

  • May 28, 5:30 PM • Thomas Jefferson High School (4100 W. Grace Street)
  • June 3, 5:00 PM • City Hall City Council Chambers (900 E. Broad Street)

In addition, here are the emails of school board members. The advocates of the rushed rezoning and school closure plan are the first five individuals listed. Please share your thoughts with them and the other school board members:

glen.sturtevant@gmail.com, kgray@richmond.k12.va.usv, jbourne@richmond.k12.va.us, klarson@richmond.k12.va.us, djones15@richmond.k12.va.us, mtaylor4@richmond.k12.va.us, smuhamme@richmond.k12.va.us, teppes@richmond.k12.va.us, dcoleman2@richmond.k12.va.us

If you care about the children of this city, make your voices heard.

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  1. Best practice guidelines issued by the state of California regarding school closure decisions state that “The decision to close a school must be based upon hard, empirical evidence that leads to a broadly supported, incontrovertible conclusion-the district cannot afford to keep a particular school(s) open without cuts elsewhere (budget, staffing, etc.).” This is also common sense. How then can the board majority approve a rezoning and closure plan when by everyone’s admission, correct data on its demographic consequences have not been made available?
  2. Put it another way, how can you vote for a plan without knowing all its consequences?
  3. Why is Clark Springs, a school with test scores higher than the district average and with outstanding performance on the 2012 Math SOLs (PDF), targeted for closure?
  4. How much money will be saved by closing Clark Springs?
  5. How many of the board members voting for the proposals have visited Clark Springs and the surrounding neighborhood?
  6. How many of the board members voting for the proposal have otherwise spoken with the principal or staff there to discuss the school’s strengths and weaknesses?
  7. How many of the board members voting for the proposal know the name of the principal at Clark Springs? Are board members aware she is also the principal for the Maymont pre-K program? How will closing Clark Springs impact Maymont?
  8. Are board members voting for the proposal aware that Clark Springs has just over $140,000 of identified infrastructure needs, far less than most other schools in the district?
  9. Are board members voting for the proposal confident that all the students now at Clark Springs will be moving into a better academic and social environment at their new school? If so, on what basis? If not, on what moral basis do they justify harming the academic and social development of the children at Clark Springs?
  10. How many of the board members voting for the proposal are aware of the Thirteen Acres program for emotionally disturbed children at Clark Springs?
  11. How many of the board members voting for the proposal have visited that program or spoken with its leadership to assess how well it is faring in the Clark Springs context?
  12. How many of the board members voting for the proposal have begun thinking about where an alternative location for Thirteen Acres might be?
  13. If so, what is that location? Does that location provide for all the needs of Thirteen Acres children as well as or better than the Clark Springs site?
  14. Are the board members voting for the proposal aware of research demonstrating the importance of stability, and the damaging impact of instability, on children who have suffered trauma or abuse, such as many of the children at Thirteen Acres?
  15. Do the school board members voting for this proposal believe that hastily cobbling together a transition plan for Thirteen Acres does adequate justice to the children in the program, and shows respect for their needs and development? Are they willing to explain in person to the parents and caregivers of Thirteen Acres students why moving the program precipitously is an absolutely necessary step?
  16. Has the school board identified an alternative location for the pre-K center now located at Norrell? Does this location meet the needs of the program as well as or better than the Norrell site?
  17. What is the status of the restructured CCP program? What building will this program go to? How is the transition process for that program going? Is the board confident that the transition will be seamlessly completed over the summer?
  18. Where will the services and program now located at the Adult Career Development Center be provided?
  19. Will it be located somewhere easily accessible by GRTC?
  20. Will the new space allow room for future expansion of these critical programs?
  21. Is planning for the relocated ACDC being undertaken in coordination with other city agencies working on workforce development?
  22. Why has the board chosen to move all Clark Springs students south of I-195 to Cary, including those who live geographically closer to Fox, while moving all Cary students north of I-195 to Fox, including those who live geographically closer to Cary?
  23. Are the members voting for this proposal aware that numerous families at Cary living north of I-195 are already invested in Cary?
  24. Do the members voting for this proposal assume that residents on Grayland, Parkwood and other streets in Cartytown South prefer to be in Fox rather than Cary? On what basis do they make this assumption? Have they asked, or provided adequate opportunity to disseminate the proposal?
  25. Why does the board favor a redistricting option that is likely to decrease the proportion of black students at Fox at the same time it increases the proportion of black students at Cary, thereby heightening the racial polarization between the two neighborhood schools?
  26. Why does the board favor a redistricting option that very substantially increases the proportion of children in poverty at Cary (from 50% to 74%), while at the same time leaving the percentage of low-income students at Fox under 20%, compared to a system-wide average of 71%?
  27. Why is the school board undercutting Cary at a time it is showing potential to develop into truly racially and class integrated school, similar to Linwood Holton (PDF)?
  28. Is the school board aware that the proportion of white student at Cary increased from 12.5% to 20% from 2011-12 to 2012-13?
  29. Is the school board aware that 40% of current kindergartners at Cary are white?
  30. If so, why is the school board pulling the plug now on the possibility of Cary continuing to emerge in years to come as a strong, high-performing diverse school by removing all students north of I-195?
  31. Have any school board members engaged in disparaging remarks or communications about Cary or any other school in RPS, beyond purely factual, data-based observations? If so, do they believe this is an appropriate way to talk about other schools in the system, given it is the board’s responsibility to promote education in all schools?
  32. Have all the school board members voting for this proposal visited Cary and spoken with its principal? Have they taken the opportunity to speak with the principal directly about any concerns they may have with the school?
  33. Is this board committed to offering an excellent education to students in all schools, or is it planning to offer a top tier education to students in the Fox and Munford zones while treating other schools as second or third-tier? If not, why is it packing as many white middle-class families as possible into Fox under this plan?
  34. Is this board comfortable with providing final approval to a plan before many parents are aware of what the plan actually does? Why is it being proposed to spend money on an education and PR campaign for the proposed changes after the fact, rather than before the fact?
  35. Why are board members claiming that everything in the plan has been discussed before, when the total package in plan C (PDF) has only been available for two weeks? Do they not understand that talking about individual issues in isolation is not the same thing as talking about a complete plan that has several moving parts?
  36. How much time has this board spent deliberating this proposal? What alternative has it been compared to?
  37. Does the board think it is good policymaking process to deliberate on a proposal when the most basic demographic data on the proposal’s consequences have not been presented?
  38. Does the board think that after school closures have been pushed through on a 5-4 basis, everyone is just going to get along again and there will be no hard feelings in the future?
  39. Does the school board have in mind strong superintendent candidates who are eager to work for a board that is divided on a 5-4 basis?
  40. What plan is envisioned to merge Clark Springs and Cary Elementary schools? What process for staff assignment will be used? Who will be responsible for carrying it out? What additional support would be provided to help the merger go well?
  41. Is the school board aware that the foundation of academically successful schools in urban settings is a strong school culture, a critical piece of which is the relationship between the principal and the teachers? If so, wouldn’t it make more sense for the Cary principal and potential new staff at Clark Springs to have already begun building a relationship and have plenty of lead time in planning a good transition so the school is ready to go on day one?
  42. Is the school board confident in adequately carrying out all the logistical operations involved in moving schools, including moving furniture, books and supplies, figuring out what needs to go where, reorganizing space at schools accepting new students, and the like? Who in RPS will be responsible for overseeing this process?
  43. Are school board officials confident that at this late point this merger will proceed without substantial chaos and confusion? Are they aware that a chaotic start to a new school could damage the school long-term?
  44. Who in RPS will be held accountable for the success of moving Norell Pre-K, the ACDC, Thirteen Acres, and the CCP, as well as merging Clark Springs, over the next two and half months, given there is no Acting Superintendent?
  45. Is the School Board confident it can monitor all these tasks well at the same time it plans to hire a new permanent superintendent?
  46. What is the plan for treatment of out-of-zone students whose schools will exceed capacity due to the proposed changes? Fox is projected to be at 120% capacity, without counting current private school students who may choose to move to Fox after rezoning.
  47. Is the board assuring families that all students now enrolled in a school, or admitted for next year out of-zone, will be guaranteed a slot at that school?
  48. If not, are board members willing to personally field calls from parents whose school assignment will now be changed?
  49. Do school board members believe that head of enrollment services Harry Morgan knew what he was talking about when he called changing attendance zones after the closure of open enrollment a “train wreck waiting to happen” at the May 20 meeting? If not, why not?
  50. Do school board members believe this process of rushing through school closures on a 5-4 vote without adequately considering the consequences, without planning thoroughly for the transitions involved, is a good example to the community? Is this really the best we can do in Richmond in 2013?
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