Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Public Education Under Attack

The Richmond Times-Dispatch would not publish this letter I wrote. They said it was too long. Well, I figure that I know a place to publish it where being too long is never a consideration. Here it is, beloved reader.


I must take issue with your support of Republican Delegate Christopher Saxman’s creation of School Choice Virginia in your July 25 lead editorial. Although you portray school choice as a way to help poor people choose their schools, the fact is that School Choice Virginia, to the extent it is successful, will significantly weaken Virginia’s public education system by diverting tax dollars to other education providers.

Regardless of the rhetoric of Delegate Saxman, the true nature of School Choice Virginia is clear from the membership of its board of directors. According to Tyler Whitney’s article in the July 23 Times-Dispatch, the board will include representatives of “church schools, the Virginia Catholic Conference, home schoolers and the Family Foundation of Virginia.” None of these are exactly supporters of public education. Church schools and home schoolers are participating in School Choice Virginia because they want a slice of the public education money pie. They are not altruistic supporters of public education. The slice of the pie they are trying to get will be at the expense of our public schools.

The Virginia Catholic Conference “represents the public-policy interests of the Commonwealth's Catholic bishops and their two dioceses.” It engages in advocacy on issues of respect for life, social justice and education and family life. The advocacy done by the Virginia Catholic Conference is important in the continuing advancement of the Commonwealth. However, in the area of education, the Virginia Catholic Conference’s main goal is to attain public financial support for its parochial schools. Again, the public funding it seeks will reduce the amount of money available for our public schools.

As for the Virginia Family Foundation, its website indicates that its “vision is to establish a Commonwealth of strong families who are guided by faith and protected by a principled government.” The Family Foundation’s five-year plan seeks to 1- Establish Virginia as the most pro-life state in the nation. 2-Protect the institution of traditional marriage. 3-Reinforce the rights of parents to make life-altering decisions in their children’s lives. 4-Limit the undue burden placed on families by state government. 5- Reestablish Virginia as the national model for religious liberty. In the area of education, the Virginia Family Foundation favors tax credits for families “that choose non-public schools.” Attending non-public schools, presumably, will enable parents to raise their children “free from intrusive government involvement.” As in the case of the other supporters of School Choice Virginia, the tax credits that the Virginia Family Foundation seeks will inevitably result in less available funding for public schools.

In your editorial you say that school choice is good for two reasons. First (not in the order you set them out) you say that choice is needed because “different families have different needs.” Certainly that is true, but I’m not sure that “different needs” justify using public funds to support private and religious schools or home schooling. The differing needs of families can be met within our public school system.

I don’t understand the obsession with choice. When I reached school age, my parents had only one choice—enroll me in the local neighborhood school. My neighborhood public schools provided me with a top quality education. When my children reached school age, my wife and I had only one choice—enroll our children in the local neighborhood school. Our neighborhood public schools provided our children with a superior education, which not only allowed them to be admitted to the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia but also prepared them for their successful careers.

Second, you say that choice “would introduce competition where it’s needed most.” Presumably, you agree with the statement by Kevin P. Chavous, quoted in Tyler Whitney’s article, that competition “will force the [public school] system to be all it can be.” Proponents of school choice constantly argue that competition will make public schools better. However, has anybody demonstrated that competition from private or parochial schools and from home schooling actually improves public school performance? Sometimes competition does not strengthen competitors. Sometimes, especially if one of the competitors has an unfair advantage, it results in the other competitor simply dying. Diverting funds to private or parochial schools to get public schools to perform better is like the outmoded medical practice of bleeding the patient. Bleeding may or not have cured the disease, but it nearly always managed to kill the patient.

We cannot fix our education system by paying parents to choose options other than public schools for their child’s education. The key to providing a first-class education to all our children is to involve the entire community—parents as well as those without school-age children, teachers, the business and academic communities, faith-based and civic groups—in making our neighborhood public schools work. Let’s use our public dollars to support and perfect what the Virginia Constitution calls for—“a system of free public elementary and secondary schools for all children of school age throughout the Commonwealth.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Maven On The Air

Tonight I am announcing that the maven’s super, hi-tech, beautiful, spanking new, you’ve-got-to-see-it-to-believe-it campaign website is up and walking. For those of you who are curious, go see it at

However, because of the shocking nature of the website I make this disclaimer:

1- Parental discretion is advised.

2- Do not view if you have uncontrolled hypertension.

3- Avoid at all costs if you are pregnant or may become pregnant.

4- Do not view alone.

5- Do not view if you have urinary incontinence.

6- Side effects may include headache, nausea, diarrhea, painful joints, blurry vision, and/or fatigue. In several cases insanity was reported.

View at your own risk!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Middle Class Obsession Revisited

Well, the maven was in too much of a hurry yesterday. I left out one more important reason why we need to attract more Richmond parents to enroll their children in our neighborhood schools. That reason is money.

As I said back in March,

The City of Richmond receives less state education payments per student than do our neighboring jurisdictions of Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico. The major reason for this disparity is that Richmond has so few children enrolled in its public schools compared to its population and tax base. Thus, under the state’s “composite index of local ability-to-pay,” Richmond appears to “need” less funding per student. If our school enrollment continues to drop, as projected by RPS, we will get less and less money from the state.
You Got Trouble Folks! Right Here In River City

What the state funding formula means is that despite the fact that Richmond needs to spend more per student than our neighboring school districts because we have far more special-needs students and because the 70% of our children receiving federally subsidized meals need a lot more school services than do their middle-class counterparts in the suburbs, we are actually receiving less state education funds per student than Chesterfield, Hanover or Henrico counties. The state formula rewards the school districts that have higher student enrollment even if those jurisdictions don’t really need to spend more money per student.

There are two ways that we citizens of Richmond can deal with this grossly unfair state allocation formula. First, we must urge our state senators and delegates to change the funding formula in the General Assembly so that such need factors as number of special needs students and percentage of poverty students is included in the formula. Second, we can do what is necessary to attract to Richmond Public Schools the children in our city whose parents are considering other options for their education. Simply from the standpoint of receiving adequate education funding from the state, we cannot afford to allow any more of our parents to opt out of Richmond Public Schools.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Am I Obsessed With Middle Class Parents?

My baby son—thirty years old, six foot four inches tall—is acting as my Jiminy Cricket. He told me that he thinks my concentration on attracting middle class parents to RPS as a key issue in the school board campaign goes against my commitment to social and economic justice. He thinks that I should concentrate on fixing our schools for the students who are already in attendance. He also worries that the parents of students who already attend RPS will think that I don’t care about their children.

Well, Ethan, I hear you loud and clear. However, there is method to my apparent madness. For several reasons, I know that we must convince all parents in Richmond that they are stake holders in RPS if we are to make it into the first-class school system it needs to be.

First, as I have said before (The Next Superintendent) we need to look at Richmond Public Schools as a business. “At one end we take in young minds ready to learn; at the other end we produce young men and women who are prepared to deal with their life goals, whether in college, in the business world or in the military.” As with any business, in order to succeed RPS has to have a great product and to market it to all its prospective customers. And just like Coca Cola, which will never be happy until it controls 100% of the soft drink market, we should never be satisfied until we attract all the children in Richmond to RPS.

Second, as I have also said before (An Open Letter to Doug and Jackie and Paul and Bill and . . . ), the continued hemorrhaging of our middle class parents to the suburbs to find what they perceive of as a better education for their children is not healthy for our city. Further, the continued use by parents of the RPS open enrollment policy to avoid sending their children to their neighborhood school is not healthy for the neighborhoods of Richmond. As I said in my open letter to mayoral candidates back in March,

Providing great schools for our children is not just a matter of economic and racial justice. It is vital to the overall health of the city. A city with a population composed of just the old and the young, with nobody in between, is not healthy. A city population of just the affluent and the poor, with no middle class, is likewise unhealthy. When the middle class leaves a city it takes with it a significant part of the tax base.

If we want to have a city that is vibrant and safe and a wonderful place to live, we must invest in our public schools. How can we attract people to live in Richmond if we do not have great schools? How do we attract businesses to Richmond? Do we tell them this is a great place to work but advise them that their employees should live in the counties because our schools just aren’t that good?

Third, I am concerned that if middle-class parents are not committed to Richmond Public Schools, the number or people advocating on behalf of our public school children will decrease further in the future. As I said here at the end of April, if the number of students attending Richmond Public Schools continues to decrease by about five hundred student each year,

it means that the number of voters in the city who consider adequate funding of the public schools to be in their own best interest is shrinking. How many of the current members of the City Council represent a district in which the quality of and funding for Richmond Public Schools is really a make-it or break-it issue? Will the winning candidate for mayor in November really need to capture the parent vote to be elected?”
School Issues: The Playing Field

Fourth, there is a practical reason. I am convinced that strong parental involvement is necessary to make our neighborhood schools work., beside ranking schools on student academic achievement, also ranks schools based on parent assessment of several factors, including parent involvement. In describing what the parent involvement ranking means, says:

Evaluate the quantity and quality of parent involvement. In a highly rated school, parents play important leadership roles on the school site council, PTA and in other organizations. A school with strong parent involvement attracts a large percentage of parents to school functions. The school offers a variety of opportunities for parent participation, such as school events, classroom projects and schoolwide committees. Parents are respectful of teachers and the principal, and the teachers and principal seek out and value input from parents.

Let’s look at the three elementary schools in district four (sorry about my obsession with district four, but that’s the place I live and understand best). The latest data published on the RPS website shows the approximate economic background of the students of our schools. At Westover Hills, about 76% of the students are receiving federally subsidized meals. At Southhampton, 67% of the students are receiving subsidized meals. At Fisher, only 27% of the students receive subsidized meals. On, the three schools are rated on parent involvement as Westover Hills, 2 out of 5; Southampton, 4 out of 5; and Fisher 5 out of 5.

These figures are not surprising. I believe that most middle-class parents have more time available to get involved in their child’s school than do most parents who are not earning as much. Let me make it very clear, I am not suggesting that less affluent parents care less about their kids than do those with greater income. I don’t believe for a second that a parent’s concern for his or her babies varies with income.

I know that if we can get middle class parents in the Westover Hills zone to commit to their neighborhood school that parent involvement will go up. The same is true for Southampton. The experiences of such north side schools as Munford, Fox and Holton make this clear. And, when parental involvement goes up the educational experience of all children at that school will improve significantly.

So this is why I spend so much effort trying to win over middle class parents. We must make them see themselves as stake holders in RPS. Once we are able to convince all the parents in the city that what happens in our public schools matters to them, I know that every child in our schools will benefit.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Neighborhood Schools: TheThree Ps

The first time I wrote to School Board Chair George Braxton I said,

In the years I have lived in Richmond, I have noticed a very strange demographic pattern. About half the people in my neighborhood are empty-nesters like my wife and me. Most of the rest of my neighbors are young couples, either without children or with pre-school-age children. When children in my neighborhood reach school age, their parents do one of three things: 1- they move out of Richmond to Chesterfield or Henrico counties; 2- they send their children to private school; or 3- they home-school their children. I think that the only children who attend public school are those whose parents cannot afford any of the other options.

Two days each week, I tutor at Westover Hills School. In both of the classes I work in, all the children are African-American. In fact, almost all of the children in the school are African-American. I have looked at the statistics on the Richmond City Public Schools website, and I find that in most of Richmond's public schools African-Americans constitute 80% or more of the student body. My experience, and those statistics, indicates to me that although more than thirty years has passed since the end of "massive resistance," Richmond still has segregated schools. This segregation is not the result of the law but of the perception by those parents who can afford other options that their children cannot receive a quality education in Richmond public schools.

What I find particularly troubling with regard to Richmond's segregated schools is that no one seems to talk about them. I hear a lot of talk about building new school buildings or how many children are passing SOLs. But nobody talks about whether children can get a quality education in segregated schools. Nobody talks about how to overcome the perception by middle class parents that keeps them from sending their children to Richmond public schools.

I think that not much has changed since I sent that e-letter. I have discovered that there is another tool that middle class parents use to keep their children out of neighborhood schools—Richmond Public Schools’ open enrollment policy. Aside from that, it is still clear to me that the parents living in Westover Hills, my neighborhood, do not send their children to Westover Hills Elementary School, and that the parents in neighborhoods like Stratford Hills and Southampton do not send their children to Southampton Elementary School, their neighborhood school. It seems that the only fourth district neighborhood school that is being used by residents of its neighborhood is Fisher.

About two years ago, Fourth District City Councilperson, Kathy Graziano, invited residents of the Fourth District to “take back our schools.” I had real difficulty with the “take back” language, which I thought suggested that our schools had somehow been stolen from us. Nonetheless, I answered her call and became involved with what became Friends of Fourth District Schools (FoFDS). FoFDS has been quite successful in other aspects, but we still have not cracked the parent confidence problem.

So, what is it that stands between fourth district middle class parents and our neighborhood schools? I have heard—

I don’t want my child to stand out in class because she is different from the other children.

I can’t risk my child’s future on an experiment.

The other children in the class are low achievers. They will bring my child down to their level.

I’m concerned that my child will not be safe in the neighborhood school.

If my child goes to RPS he will never get into a good college.

As a father who has guided all three of his children through public schools (and later through public colleges) in Virginia, I can understand these concerns. The lives of our babies are precious and we want only what is best for them. But, I wonder how many of these concerns are based on reality. I wonder how many parents have even walked into their neighborhood school to see if their fears and concerns are valid. Most important, I wonder whether parents are looking at their neighborhood school with themselves in the equation.

In certain neighborhoods in the city parents have united to make their neighborhood school work for their children. I know, for example, that the parents in my daughter's neighborhood on the north side of Richmond have decided to make Linwood Holton work as their neighborhood school. Now, Holton has become a superior school with a diverse student population. It is working. It is working because of the partnership between the principal of Holton and the parents of the neighborhood.

Recently, at a school board meeting, I spoke with a member of the board from the north side of the river. We spoke about the Patrick Henry charter school and about public schools in general. She asked me why we "south siders" couldn't do what the parents in Munford, Fox and Holton have done. She said that all we had to do was put together a group of determined parents to go into our neighborhood school and simply inform the principal that we were enrolling our children and that we expected him or her to make the education experience work for our kids. We need to enroll several of our children, join the PTA and make sure that the school works for us.

So here is my plan for "Parents Partnering with Principals.” Parents of four year olds who will be starting school in September 2009: form a group and visit Westover Hills or Southampton and tell the principal that you intend to enroll your child in their school. Tell her that you expect that she will do what is necessary to see that your child receives a quality education in her school. I will go with you. I will support you. You parents of three years olds: start doing the same thing. You have an extra year to get things together and make things work. Parents of two year olds: ditto. Join your neighborhood school’s PTA. It is never too early.

What I really don’t understand is what we have to lose. We in Richmond pay a lot more in taxes than our neighbors in the counties, whether we are homeowners and pay tax as part of our monthly mortgage payments or are renters and the cost of the tax is passed on to us by our landlords in our rent. Our tax payments entitle us to certain services from the city, the most important of which is a top quality public education for our children. You parents have chosen to live in the City of Richmond for a reason. Does it make sense for you not to use your neighborhood school? To me it’s like paying to be a member of a swim club and never using the pool. It makes no sense.

Parents have made neighborhood schools work for them in the cases of Munford, Fox, Fisher and Holton. Are we not capable of doing the same thing? Parent, you need to get involved in Friends of Fourth District Schools and work together with other parents. Get your neighborhood association actively involved in making your neighborhood school work. We have three good elementary schools in the fourth district. We can make them even better and we can make them work for our children if we are only willing to try. It’s all a matter of the three P’s: Parents Partnering with Principals.

One more thing, and this is addressed to Richmond’s business community. You need to get more involved in Richmond’s neighborhood schools. I don’t understand how you can expect Richmond to reach its full potential as a great city if we don’t have great schools. How do you expect to attract other businesses to the city? Do you tell them that Richmond is a great place to do business but that their employees need to live in the counties if they want good schools for their children?

And, finally, to those of you in the real estate business: Wouldn’t it be nice if you could start listing houses in Southampton and Stratford Hills and Westover Hills and Forest Hills and other fourth district communities as being within walking distance of great neighborhood schools? Wouldn’t it be nice to start showing these homes to young couples and tell them that the neighborhood is family-friendly because of the neighborhood school? Get involved, you can make it happen.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Broadening the Debate

My younger son, who is sojourning in Richmond this summer while he tries to make some career decisions, e-mailed me and said he thought my post yesterday was too negative. He thinks I might have insulted my fellow Richmonders by suggesting we are still thinking in 20th Century terms. Well, I don’t think we in River City are so easily offended. But just in case: Reader, I am deeply sorry if you think I was suggesting that we in Richmond are not as smart or sophisticated as our neighbors to the north.

The point I was trying to make is that in our thinking about Richmond Public Schools we are trapped in 20th Century terms. I think the questions raised at the Richmond Crusade for Voters forum Tuesday night indicate that. I also think that the issues that we candidates are concentrating on are the same issues that candidates have been raising for years. We have an obligation to educate ourselves and then educate the voters.

My friend Michael, the political guru I mentioned yesterday, tells me that voters cannot handle more than three issues at a time and that I have to get my message across in thirty seconds or I’ll lose their interest. I got the same kind of e-mail advice two months ago from Paul Goldman, everybody’s second choice to be our next mayor. Now, Paul and my friend Michael have been involved in politics for a long time so I guess they know of what they speak.

But they are talking about getting elected. I am talking about the children of Richmond. We cannot talk about their futures in thirty second sound bites. We need to take a long hard look at the education we are providing them. These are our babies and we are responsible for preparing them for the rest of their lives.

This doesn’t mean that I am not going to continue acting like a politician between now and November 4. I will concentrate on my three issues—making our neighborhood schools work for all children, being accountable for the taxpayers’ money, and involving the whole Richmond community as stakeholders in RPS. I will talk to each of my neighbors for only thirty seconds each. I will put up signs and maybe give out bumper stickers. I will inundate the voters of the fourth district with all kinds of campaign stuff.

However, the election is going to be over on November 4 and, whether or not the voters of the fourth district choose me to represent them on the school board, I still have to worry about the quality of education we are giving our children. We owe them a bright future and they are not going to get it unless, right now, we the citizen’s of Richmond make a commitment to do it right.

My older son is right. Our children need to be prepared to compete on a global scale. We need to give them the critical thinking skills they need to succeed. My friend Michael is right. Most of the content of what we teach our children today will be just a historic curiosity in fifteen or twenty years. So we have to teach our children how to think, how to gather information, how to make decisions, how to understand that everything is related, how to communicate (even though I cannot even imagine the technology they will use for communication) and how to relate to a world of different people from different cultures.

But, dear reader, let’s face two simple facts: 1- the federal “no-child-left-behind” law, although it will be amended, is still going to be controlling what and how we teach our children; and 2- Virginia SOLs are not going away.

The “no-child” law is one of the most disastrous of the disasters that George Bush has bestowed upon our country in the more than seven years he has been president. I am convinced it was planned by people who are opposed to public education. With its constantly escalating requirements it seems deliberately designed to make public school systems fail. We can only hope that the Congress modifies it significantly before extending it.

I have very mixed feelings about SOLs. I realize that our school systems must be held accountable for educating our children and that we need a way of measuring their success. However, the importance that SOL scores have assumed makes it more and more likely that our teachers are being pressured to teach “to the test.” And, unfortunately, I think the SOLs force us to teach our kids the wrong things.

Because they are multiple-choice tests, the SOLs require our children to learn facts. They are “what” and “where” and “when” tests; they are not “how” and “why” tests. We should be teaching our children skills, not facts, but the SOLs push us in another direction.

I spent a good time of this past year tutoring fifth graders at Carver Elementary School. Because Carver was not an accredited school in the past, there was a tremendous push to have the children pass their SOLs. Teachers were encouraged to spend most of their classroom time teaching subjects that would be tested and spending little time on things that would not be tested. The only thing that counted at Carver was SOL scores.

In previous years I tutored fourth graders at Westover Hills for the Virginia history SOL. It was all about what happened, when did it happen, and where did it happen. These fourth graders were just filled up with facts. If they ever appear on Jeopardy and the subject is Virginia history, they should do well.

Unfortunately, history is not just a series of facts. History is a continuous process of development, in which everything is connected. If we teach our kids that tobacco was the basis of Virginia’s early economy, they may remember that for a test. But, we never teach them “why” tobacco became so important. We never impress upon them that things happen because of choices that people make. They need to know not only that Virginia is where slavery began in this country, but that slavery was introduced as a deliberate economic decision. They need to know that had another choice been made the terrible institution of slavery could have been avoided. They need to know that decisions made at the time of our nation’s founding led eventually to the Civil War ninety years later. They need to know that the decision to rely on canals for transportation in the 18th Century led to Virginia not being a railroad center and to the decline of Virginia’s economy in later years.

We need to teach our children the skills they will need to function fifteen or twenty years from now. They don’t need to know facts. If we teach them how, they will be able to find the facts they need to know electronically or, if they still exist, in books. At the rate knowledge is expanding we can never teach our children all the “facts” they need to know. We need to teach them to think.

That is why I am so committed to bringing the International Baccalaureate primary years program to RPS. Except in the diploma program during the last two years of high school, IB is not an honors program. It is a method of teaching. It is based on teaching children critical thinking skills and showing them how everything in the world is interconnected. Sure, they will learn the facts they need to pass the SOLs, but they will learn them in a way that will enable them to use them in a meaningful way.

Last summer, the maveness took me along to tour Chicago while she attended an IB convention. During the course of several days I met many IB teachers. They were all dedicated, enthusiastic and had high morale. I can’t imagine that any of them were not anxious to go to school every day, even in May.

At one dinner I sat with part of the faculty of an elementary school in Albany, Georgia. The school’s demographics were similar to schools in Richmond: African American 84%, White 7%, Hispanic 8%. Sixty six percent of its students were receiving subsidized meals. I learned from these teachers that this school, which has the rather impressive name of International Studies Elementary Magnet School (ISEMS), had been a failing school. Its students scored very low on Georgia’s version of the SOLs. After becoming an IB primary years school, the performance by ISEMS students improved considerably (Remember that IB is not an honors program; every student in ISEMS is an IB student). ISEMS is now rated an 8 out of 10 by (By comparison, the only elementary schools in Richmond rated 8 or better by are Fairfield Court and Munford at 10, JEB Stuart at 9, and Broad Rock, George Mason and Fox at 8).

Will IB work at Richmond elementary schools? I think so. But we will never know unless we try. Are there other approaches to teaching and learning that we might try in Richmond? Treasured reader, what do you think?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Welcome to Richmond . . .

I was at my first candidate forum last night. (It would make no sense to call it a debate because there was very little debating going on). It was a very strange format, since all the candidates on the ballot (write-ins were not invited) from all nine city districts were sitting side by side. We were given two minutes each for an opening and closing statement and two minutes (later shortened to one minute) to answer specific questions. It went 20 opening statements, 20 answers to three questions and then 20 closing statements. I don’t know how anybody in the audience kept track of all that rhetoric and even figured out who is running against whom.

I know your curiosity must be at a fever pitch, so I will tell you the three questions we were asked. First was “have you ever worked for Richmond Public Schools and spent time in the classroom, and are you in this board race for personal gain?” Second was “what is the most important problem facing Richmond Public Schools?” Third was the question that is my personal least favorite “Do you favor charter schools?” All of us candidates, on each question, were consistently pro-change, pro-child and pro-accountability. It was all very pleasant; the only candidates raising their voices seemed to be the ones running against incumbents.

Now, let’s step back a few days. I had asked a bunch of my friends and family to help me polish up my campaign message. My son, Josh, who lives and works in the DC area and edits publications in the international bio tech industry, advised me,

This is a key point – those kids will be competing for jobs against peers from Richmond, Virginia, the East Coast, the U.S., China, India, etc. That’s the 21st Century. So they better step it up. (On an aside, once you win, you should really try to foster communication, among kids/teachers with kids/teachers in other countries to work on joint research projects remotely via the Internet. Those connections could be more valuable than anything else the school could provide).

Hey, my Numero Uno son, what does this have to do with “are you in it for personal gain,” “what’s the biggest problem,” and “do you love charter schools”? Josh, you are talking about an issue that isn’t even a remote blip on the radar down in River City.

A friend, who is a Democratic pol up in Fairfax County and recently managed a successful campaign for county-wide office, came back with this advice,

Here's my thought: I have a grandchild. I'm concerned about her future. Education makes a difference. Our children will learn about science and math in elementary school. By the time they graduate from high school, the science they learned before will be outdated. New discoveries will replace old ideas. The pace of change is at lightning speed. Our schools must teach our children how to learn and inspire their curiosity and imagination. That's what will enable them to survive in the world just around the corner. Do our public schools do that now? Not on your life. I care about my granddaughter. You care about your grandchildren and your children. Getting by won't prepare our kids for the 21st century. I will fight to make our public schools relevant and effective for 21st century learning. They aren't now. Our kids deserve better. I'll work tirelessly for the kids, not for me.

Michael, you like Josh are raising a very significant issue. But you are missing the point—this is Richmond, USA. Here we are concerned with whether our schools are accredited. Here we are concerned about whether parents have enough school choices for their kids. Here we are concerned about high school graduation rates. Here we are concerned about whether our school administration is handling our tax dollars properly. We haven’t even begun to think about whether the SOL-based education that we give our children will prepare them for the 21st Century issues they will face as adults.

If I ran a campaign based on the issues you suggest, I fear that people around here would look at me dazed and confused. It would take me weeks just to figure out a way to explain it to them. Here we are down in Richmond, barely 125 miles from you guys, and we simply don’t have the same school issues. Our issues are all issues that other places have dealt with long ago.

But, it’s like the old joke:
A plane lands at Richmond International (we have an AirCanada flight now, so we truly are international). As the plane is taxiing to the terminal, the flight attendant announces—
“Welcome to Richmond. Be sure to set your watches back twenty five years.”

Monday, July 14, 2008

Does Anybody See What I See?

My political advisers tell me I write too much. Now, I ask all of you who have been reading me for years, have you even known this maven to use excess verbiage?

In any event, they tell me I can’t use any of my beautiful prose in my campaign literature. But, I created it. I can’t simply relegate it to the recycle bin. So I will entrust it to you my loyal readers.

My Vision for Richmond Public Schools

I see Richmond Public Schools providing a first-class education to all the children of our city regardless of ethnicity or economic situation.

I see the parents of Richmond choosing their neighborhood school as the first choice for their child’s education

I see all the people of Richmond joining together to make sure our children are adequately prepared for the Twenty-First Century.

Now, you may say I’m a dreamer and that this vision of Richmond Public Schools can never come to pass. But, as a great national leader once said, “If you will it, it is no dream!”

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Maven Out of Race

In a move that shook Virginia politics to its very core, the James River Maven, AKA Bert Berlin, has withdrawn his name from consideration as the Virginia running mate for presumptive Democratic nominee Barak Obama. In a secret letter, the maven informed Obama that “under no circumstances” would he accept the Donkey Party’s VP nomination.

The maven’s withdrawal makes it increasingly difficult for Senator Obama to implement his Virginia strategy. Prior to the maven, former governor Mark Warner and Senator Jim Webb had withdrawn from the VP race. Sources for Governor Tim Kaine have indicated that he expects and intends to complete his term, making it unlikely that he would accept the Virginia nomination either. This leaves the field of qualified Virginians willing to serve as Obama’s running mate virtually empty.

On the bright side, presumptive Republican nominee John McCain is still looking for a Virginia running mate. Local speculation indicates that Representative Eric Cantor is high on McCain’s “Virginia Veep” list. Elephant Party regulars, concerned with Cantor’s lack of name recognition, are working behind the scenes to convince former governor and senator George Allen to consider accepting the nomination. If Allen cannot be swayed, Virginia Republicans may pressure former governor Jim Gilmore to accept the nomination. Gilmore, who is already his party’s nominee in this year’s race for the United States Senate, apparently is up to the task. At a recent party Gilmore was overheard saying, “I’m no more qualified to be Vice President than I am to be senator. Why not run for both?”

Or course, it just might be that neither presumptive nominee will be able to implement his Virginia Vice President strategy. That would leave Virginians to face the terrible truth that the Commonwealth is no longer the breeding ground for vice presidents. Rather than being the key battleground state in this fall’s election, Virginia, with its thirteen electoral votes, might be relegated in importance to the middle tier of states, ahead of Massachusetts and behind Georgia. Oh what a blow to the Old Dominion ego!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Boy, Was I Wrong

Thanks to Dan for catching me in a significant mistake. In my previous post I suggested that school board members make $1000 per week. That should have been per month. Hell, if Richmond actually paid its school board reps $50,000 per year, I would be ranting and raving about money misspent. I suspect there would also be lots more candidates.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Fear and Loathing, 2008

(With great appreciation to the late Hunter S. Thompson and his book “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.”)

Reader, the conversion from blogger to politician is not easy. There are some important things to learn. Just this week I learned the important lesson that if you don’t want your posterior kicked real hard you’ve got to keep it covered.

This all started a few weeks back. It was that weekend in early June when the thermometer hit triple digits. The maveness and I were gathering signatures for my petitions at the farmers market at Forest Hill Park. At ten o’clock it was already over 90 degrees, the sun was beating down unbearably and this maven made the careless mistake of leaving home without it (a bottle of water, that is). I was hot; I was dizzy; I was grumpy (even grumpier than usual). A woman asked me for my opinion on charter schools.

Well, beloved reader, you know that I endorsed the Patrick Henry charter school on these very pages. What you might not know is that on that dastardly hot Saturday in the park, I knew that the Richmond school board had already approved the charter application of the Patrick Henry Initiative. I figured that the charter school issue was a fait accompli and I really wanted to talk about the 1200 or so elementary school students in the Fourth District of Richmond who would not benefit from the Patrick Henry School. So, I gave the woman a rather weak politician-like answer.

The next thing I know, a friend emailed me to say I had to address a posting on our local news blog, Hills and Heights. I went and read the thing. The woman in the park, who I now learned was named Common Sense Mom, challenged me to explain my views on charter schools and explain why I would oppose charter schools in general yet support the Patrick Henry charter. Now, if I had been acting as a politician rather than as the lawyer I was trained to be, I would have ducked this thing with some glib language and all would have been well. But no! I fired off a multi-paragraph treatise on charter schools and public schools in Richmond. (If you are interested, you can see my foolish prose on Hills and Heights as comment number 23). Well, Common Sense Mom and her friends Jennifer C. and S. Martin started kicking hard at my unprotected bottom. It has taken me almost a week to put out that fire.

So, I am learning.

Communicating as a politician is very difficult. As you know, trusted reader, I usually write a subject to death. If it takes me four typed pages to express myself, so be it. You can’t do that as a politician. You’ve got to condense everything down to about thirty seconds of writing. Believe me, for this maven to say anything in thirty seconds is darn near impossible. But the experts say that you can’t keep a voter’s attention for more than thirty seconds so you have to get your message across short and sweet. So, there’ll be no more analyzing issues for the maven. From now on it’s shoot from the hip.

If you haven’t been keeping track there are now five people running for the fourth district seat on the school board. It had been six, but two weren’t able to submit 125 valid signatures and their names were not put on the ballot. Yesterday, another candidate emerged. I assume that because his name is not on the ballot he will have to stage a write-in campaign.

Reader, this is insanity! Why would anyone invest their time, effort and money to get elected to a position that pays about one thousand dollars per week? I figure that if I am elected and spend about twenty five hours per week doing the job, I will be working at an hourly rate less than any job I’ve had since I was a junior in college.

But, nobody ever accused this maven of acting intelligently. Throughout this campaign, I’ve got to continually remind myself that I am doing this for the children.

I expect that I’ll be writing more soon to test out some new ideas. Reader, thank you for being tolerant of my spending so little of my time communicating with you.