Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Sounding the Alarm, Again

This maven has been talking for a long time about the failure of Richmond Public Schools to gain the confidence of middle class parents and how this failure is the major cause of the bleeding of our middle class to the counties. For example, An Open Letter to Doug and Jackie and Paul and Bill and…; You Got Trouble Folks! Right Here In River City. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I have been having some problem getting people to understand how dangerous this exit of our middle class is to the future of the city. Just this morning I was discussing this with Antione Green of the Richmond Crusade for Voters and now a member of the board of the Patrick Henry charter school. We concluded that it is the surrounding counties, rather than the City of Richmond, that are perceived as “family friendly.”

So, I was pleased as punch to read in the Washington Post yesterday about a new study done by the Brookings Institution, the 21st Century Fund and the Urban Institute entitled “Quality Schools, Healthy Neighborhoods and the Future of DC.” To look at the long copy of this study click here. For the even longer version try here .

Now, Richmond is Richmond, and D.C. is D.C., and things are a lot different in these neighboring cities. But both cities are perceived as being family unfriendly and both have a steadily declining public school enrollment. (In D.C. that decline is mainly in the non-charter segment of the public schools.) So, I am going to quote from the report’s executive summary but substitute “Richmond” for every mention of ”D.C.“ or “District of Columbia.”

By improving its public schools, expanding affordable housing, and revitalizing its neighborhoods,[Richmond] has an opportunity to sustain its growth and become a more family-friendly city. It can retain and attract more families with children and increase the share of families that send their children to public schools. It can reverse the decline in public school enrollment … by 2015.

For this to happen, the city must strategically link its education policy and investments with development of affordable housing and neighborhoods to better serve the families already living here, attract new families with children to city neighborhoods, and encourage young couples with preschool-age children to stay. Today, serious challenges stand in the way.

Strong ties between neighborhood schools and their communities can benefit both children and neighborhoods. But in DC, disparities in school quality combine with housing patterns to limit both diversity and equity. Every neighborhood should have quality schools and family-friendly housing options affordable for a range of income levels. The city should make a major effort to improve school quality where the child population is already high or growing and expand affordable, family-friendly housing in all the city’s neighborhoods. More specifically, policies

1. Target increased educational and out-of-school time investment to neighborhoods of greatest need: where lots of families already live and do not have high-quality school options.

2. Move quickly to preserve and expand affordable housing in neighborhoods that are currently undergoing gentrification as well as in historically high-priced neighborhoods that are already served by quality schools; and promote a welcoming environment for racial, ethnic, and economic diversity in all schools.

Educational options can give families access to academic programs and school settings that best meet their children’s needs. But in DC, many families do not have access to high-quality schools, and the relationships among students, families, and their public schools are weak in all but the most affluent neighborhoods. The city should have a public education system where families and students can make good school decisions and then build strong, lasting relationships with schools so that schools meet families’ and students’ needs. More specifically, policies should:

3. Ensure that the public education system supports parents and students in using options to their advantage.

4. Provide support for families and students to establish long-term commitments with schools and for schools to maintain a long-term presence in their communities.”

The effect on the city of the continued drop in enrollment in our schools and the hemorrhaging of our middle class to the suburbs is an issue that must be addressed whether this maven, or any of my able opponents, is elected to the Richmond School Board. It is an issue that must be addressed by whomever is going to be our next mayor. The underlying problems that cause this crisis are beyond the control of Richmond Public Schools and our schools alone cannot fix them. We need to unite the whole Richmond community to fix things.

So, I issue the following challenge to Dwight Jones, Bob Grey, Bill Pantele, Paul Goldman and Lawrence Williams: over the next week formulate your answer to what you will do to make Richmond family-friendly and reverse the perception that children cannot receive an adequate public school education in our fair city. Then I will meet any, some or all of you at any location at virtually any time to continue this discussion that is vital to Richmond’s future.

For the remaining weeks of this election campaign we must focus our attention on the families and children of Richmond. We must discuss all options for making Richmond more family-friendly. We must think inside and outside of the box. We have a golden opportunity, but a short window, to plan and take some action to assure that Richmond becomes the great city it can be.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Well said. I am glad to hear that you and Antione are discussing this- not that you would not anyway, but it confirms my hopes in future leadership.

I am still shocked that the City is planning to close Open High in Oregon Hill, NATIONALLY recognized over and over again as one of the best high schools in the nation. Why not spend some money to update the Grace Arents building that houses it? Add an elevator addition, get some solar panels on the roof, and make that beautiful historical building hum with learning. Replicate Open High's program in other neighborhoods instead of moving or replacing it.

Open High does it with an engaged faculty and small, flexible class sizes with emphasis on real learning and community outreach. Its pretty clear that RPS's problems can be solved if political will and good leadership puts the resources in place. Instead of wasteful downtown develoment, why can't the City leaders (both private and public) concentrate on school development, starting with making them legally updated for ADA? The status quo of RPS is shameful and criminal, in particular the state of the buildings.