VPI consolidation: One parent responds

A Richmond Public School parent (and RVANews contributor) shares a letter he sent to his School Board representative regarding the proposed Virginia Preschool Initiative Consolidation. Read over his thoughts and please offer yours.

Editor’s note: The following letter was sent by Erik Bonkovsky, a Richmond Public School parent and occasional RVANews contributor, to his Richmond School Board representative, Kim Gray of the 2nd District. We are reprinting it with his permission. The Richmond School Board will be voting on the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) consolidation this evening. You can learn more about the VPI consolidation proposal over at Fan of the Fan.

Dear Mrs. Gray:

I’m writing to express my support of the Superintendent’s proposal to create a regional preschool center at the Maymont Elementary School. I urge you (and the other school board members) to vote in favor of this proposal and to do all you can to support its implementation for Fall 2010.

As a parent of current Kindergarten student at Fox Elementary and another child who has been accepted into the VPI program at Fox I may be a surprising supporter of this plan. It does propose a change from what my family anticipated a few months ago. It will create added logistics for us this fall. However, the advantages this proposal offers to my children and (more importantly) to all of Richmond’s preschool children outweigh any challenges.

My support for this proposal stems from my understanding of the VPI program itself, as it fits within the broader preschool strategy of RPS. VPI exists for at risk preschoolers who would not succeed in kindergarten without early intervention. The proposed regional center will allow the city to offer effective intervention for more students through a dedicated preschool environment. Preschool education, after all, should be focused on preparing children to thrive educationally. Providing a strong preschool foundation will only serve to strengthen the elementary schools into which they feed. A positive initial experience with Richmond Public Schools (through the preschool center) will also increase parental buy-in and participation as kids advance in elementary schools, a critical ingredient for school success and for each child’s development.

Locating the program at Maymont Elementary makes sense. Given difficult budget circumstances and schools currently operating under capacity, closing schools or reallocating physical resources is prudent, though often unpopular. Plus, proximity to resources like Maymont Foundation and Byrd Park provides unique educational opportunities and capitalizes on a Richmond strength.

What’s more, teachers are in favor of this plan, including a twelve-year VPI veteran whom I spoke to personally. The teachers’ support comes, in part, from their recognition that the regional center will foster a synergy among all of the preschool teachers that is not possible under the current program design. I’m also encouraged by the expert accountability and quantitatively-based instruction this program will offer through partnership with VCU’s early literacy program.

The regional preschool center will also provide a greater diversity of students, teachers, and resources to the VPI program. Every child’s experience will be richer because of this broader exposure. Every child’s experience will be richer because of the availability of on-site electives (music, art, Spanish, etc.). Every child’s experience will be richer because preschoolers will be grouped more appropriately by age level, rather than competing in the hallways with fifth-graders twice their size.

A vocal contingent of parents has opposed this proposal from before it was even announced. I have been discouraged by the suspicion of conspiracy and incompetence voiced against school administrators. I have been discouraged by the impatience and gracelessness parents have shown administrators. I’m eager to see administrators—working with competence and accountability—to work with parents to improve the preschool education of all of Richmond’s children.

By now we all can admit that the way this proposal was announced and initially communicated was flawed. But since then the administration has made strong efforts to communicate with parents and to solicit (and incorporate into the proposal) parental feedback. Already (in just a few weeks’ time) the proposal has been amended to address parental concerns. Those tweaks, along with increasing parent and teacher participation in the days to come will yield a more dynamic preschool center. Moving forward I urge the school board to insist on forming a transition team composed of a diverse group of stakeholders (administrators, teachers, parents, community liaisons) who can ensure efficient and excellent preparation for the regional preschool program.

The future of healthy and successful schools in Richmond (and one could argue, the future of the a healthy and successful Richmond) depends on increased regionalism and a departure from the parochialism that has marked our city’s past. This plan for a regional preschool center is a step in the right direction. The implementation of this plan for Fall 2010 will require hard work and a strong transition team, but it is feasible and ought to be pursued.

Vote in favor of this proposal on June 7th.


Erik Bonkovsky

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Erik Bonkovsky

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