Monday night’s School Board and City Council leadership announcements indicated that a change is in the wind—or not, depending on how you want to look at it.
The School Board side of things
- Chair: Donald Coleman (7th District)
- Vice-Chair: Kristen Larson (4th District)
Both Larson and Coleman are incumbents, I know. But the very fact that they were re-elected (unanimously) is a change in itself–a very unusual move towards continuity. In statements to the Times-Dispatch, other board members kept invoking that word, “continuity”–a continuum of word usage, you could say.
And as Superintendent Dana Bedden (a relative newcomer himself) announced his new Academic Improvement Plan, with a partial focus on giving teachers more training and time to plan. In that sense, and with the Board’s penchant for heated disagreements, it may very well be a good thing to keep its leadership in place and see these changes through.
“I see this year as the year where it really starts to trickle down and impact more people at the school level, including the teachers, who are the most important employees at our schools,” said Kristen Larson in an interview with RVANews on Wednesday, referencing the couple of years the Board has been trying to make major change. “It’s about giving the teachers an extra minute so that they can develop themselves and share best practices. There hasn’t been anything in place to really foster that sense of growing leadership.”
I asked both Larson and Donald Coleman how they saw communications between the Board and the Mayor’s office moving forward. Things haven’t been so smooth lately.
Coleman responded via email that they simply have to get smoother.
“The School Board continues to work strategically to invite and encourage greater collaboration with the Mayor’s office and City Council. Presently communications between the three entities has increased substantially, yet the need for even more engagement for long-range planning will be a process we continue to work towards. The School Board’s Facilities Taskforce (which has had representation from the Mayor’s office and City Council) will be making a final report which will require a collaborative approach in order for the recommendations to be carried out.
The Superintendent recently presented his Academic Improvement Plan. We will be proactive in making sure the Mayor’s office and City Council are given a presentation of key details of this plan, as it very comprehensive and critical to the future success of RPS. A “Better Richmond” is directly connected to a successful school system, thus continued progress where all three entities are working together is the way we must move forward to greater success for all.”
Speaking separately, Larson’s thoughts aligned. “I’m really optimistic…I think with the nature of the structure of our government, there’s always going to be a tug-of-war. The School Board has to depend on City Council and the Mayor to give us the funds we need, but Dr. Bedden has really tried to keep them in the loop on the big issues.”
Being under the public’s microscope has ultimately had a positive influence on the Board and RPS as a whole, even though tensions have been high. To Larson, there’s a message of hope in there. “You have to start the conversation somewhere. The public appreciates honesty, and I think we’ve been missing that for the schools for awhile… People love Richmond, they want to stay here, and they want to invest in our city and invest in our schools. And as far as the leaders of our schools, we need to fight for them when we can, while also honoring our public and what we’re hearing from them.”
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The City Council side of things
- President: The Honorable Michelle R. Mosby (9th District)
- Vice President: The Honorable Chris Hilbert (3rd District)
Big changes here, with Mosby skipping a couple of traditional rungs on the ladder, atop which she sits as the first African-American woman to be Council president. Mosby calls for an end to the bickering so that real change can be made before city elections in 2016. Economic growth, housing opportunities, updating infrastructure–Mosby and Hilbert have a lot to do. And what about the dang stadium? Mosby has usually seen the Mayor’s side, whereas her predecessor, Charles R. Samuels, did not.
Both corresponded via email with me, promising to emphasize a spirit of collaboration.
“We are all in this together. We will win some and we will learn some in 2015, but we will do it united,” said Mosby who also said she expects to “lead by example and keep both an open door and an open mind for all ideas and discussions, large and small.”
Hilbert believes the entire Council is in agreement that moving forward is the name of the game, and that there’s no more time to be wasted in arguments. “Time has a way of focusing attention on what is important, which includes collaboration when possible with the administration.”
His priority lies in a “back to basics approach to city government…Safe streets, improving our schools and funding the infrastructure (streets, sidewalks, parks, etc.).” And regarding his colleague’s appointment, as well as his own, he had some good things to say:
“I believe that the appointment of Ms. Mosby as the first African-American woman to lead our city council is important in that it breaks down another ‘glass ceiling’ in our city. “It makes a statement that leadership will be based upon a meritocracy and not something that is limited by race or gender. I have a great deal of respect for Ms. Mosby and it speaks very highly of her in that she is still in her first term on Council. My appointment as Vice President says that we still value experience on Council. Both President Mosby and I have stated that we value communication and collaboration with the Mayor and his administration. That should not be been seen as “going along to get along,” but making open and honest communication the foundation of our relationship.”
This time next year, we’ll be able to test these statements against history. For now, we will wait. And watch. (And read tweets and whatnot).