Thursday, October 16, 2008

From Outside The Box

It is becoming more and more apparent to this maven that 2009-10 will be a lean year for Richmond Public Schools. Our beloved Commonwealth is suffering from a severe shortage of revenues and I expect that our city too will be facing shortfalls. So RPS is going to have to get along on less money than it needs. I still am hoping to find money to bring the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program to Richmond. And I expect to apply my knowledge of government accountability to eliminate more wasteful spending. But, it’s time to start thinking outside of the proverbial box for other solutions to RPS’s problems. So, in no particular order:

Performance Pay: I propose that we move RPS employees, including administrators and teachers, from a system in which pay increases are based on college degrees and longevity to one based on performance. Let me be clear, I do not propose that compensation be based on student SOL scores. As I have said several times here and in the questionnaire from the Richmond Education Association, there are far too many factors other than teacher performance that affect how well students do on SOLs. We need to develop a system in which we can measure how much progress students are making in a particular year (by comparing where they are in September to where they are in June). We also need to handicap that system so that teachers in schools with concentrated poverty can compete fairly with teachers in schools that are primarily middle class.

We need to start with a voluntary system for teachers already working for RPS. Teachers would be given the option of staying in a compensation system based on longevity and degrees or moving to the merit system in which pay raises are not guaranteed but can be significantly higher than on the longevity scale.

I expect that the Richmond Education Association will participate with the School Board in designing this new compensation system.

Hybrid Schools: I propose that we experiment with making some of our schools into hybrid schools, being somewhere between regular public schools and charter schools. I envisage schools in which principals enter into contracts with RPS to achieve a certain level of improvement over a fixed time period and are given a certain amount of increased independence to achieve that goal. The compensation of principals participating in the program would be based on how well their schools perform.

Richmond Heroes: I propose the creation of an “Order of Richmond Heroes” composed of high quality teachers who choose to teach in our more difficult schools. We could offer a cash bonus to those teachers who agree to move to those schools and stay there for at least three years. Only teachers who have demonstrated high levels of performance, either in RPS or other school systems, would be eligible to apply.

Great Schools Richmond: We need to form an umbrella group, composed of representatives from the PTAs, the teacher’s union, the business community, our three universities, faith and civic groups, and other citizens interested in our children, to mobilize the Richmond community to make RPS a great school system. The group would both serve as an advocate for our schools and would monitor the schools to assure a high level of performance.

Rescue One: We need to recruit individuals, families, faith communities and businesses in the Richmond Metropolitan Area to “adopt” one child attending Richmond Public Schools and assure that child’s academic success. There are far too many children in Richmond who start school handicapped by the effects of multigenerational poverty. All of us in the Richmond “village” are responsible for assuring that those children get the skills they need to make their life dreams a reality.

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