Now, that we are down to the last five days in the School Board race, this maven is thinking again about how I got here in the first place.
Why am I running?
· I am running for the children of Richmond. Although Richmond Public Schools has made considerable progress in the last four or five years, and although there are particular schools or programs that are outstanding, I am convinced that many of our children are not receiving the quality education to which they are entitled.
· I am also running because my religious upbringing taught me that if I see injustice in the world I am obligated to do something to fix it. To me the fact that the quality of education that children in Richmond receive varies significantly with the school they attend is a significant injustice. The fact that some of our children finish their education in Richmond (either by dropping out or graduating) without receiving the skills they need to make it in the world is also a significant injustice. We need to do better.
· Further, I am running because I am deeply concerned with the fact that middle class families are leaving the city to seek what they feel are better educational opportunities for their children. I am worried that if this trend is not reversed, we will end up with a very family-unfriendly city. We must stop this middle class hemorrhage.
· Finally, as a taxpayer, I am running to change the business climate at Richmond Public Schools so that waste and mismanagement of the taxpayers’ money stops.
What I will do? If elected,
· I will work with parents and school principals to make neighborhood schools work for all our children. Our neighborhood schools can be the core around which we build healthy and safe neighborhoods. Getting parents involved in our neighborhood schools will strengthen their ties to the neighborhoods and will improve the learning experience for everybody’s children.
· I will add funding to the Richmond Public School budget for four International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programs. I intend that one of these programs will be implemented in a fourth district school. I have previously explained why I think that the International Baccalaureate approach to learning will teach our children how to think, how to gather information, how to make decisions, how to understand that everything is related, how to communicate and how to relate to a world of different people from different cultures. International Baccalaureate Revisited.
· I will bring accountability to Richmond Public Schools. My twenty five years experience with the Government Accountability Office in Washington has given me the knowledge and skills necessary to uncover and eliminate unlawful and wasteful spending in government programs, including Richmond Public Schools.
· I will involve the entire Richmond community in providing a high quality education to our children. Neither a new Superintendent of Schools nor the nine members of the School Board will be able to make the changes we need to make Richmond Public Schools great. We need the involvement of our next mayor, the city council, the PTAs, the Richmond Education Association, the business community, our three universities, faith and civic groups, parents and those without children to join in this endeavor.
· I will bring new ideas to Richmond. Since my children did not grow up in Richmond, I have experienced what other successful school systems are doing. I have already suggested 1-changing curricular emphasis from teaching children only the facts they need to pass SOLs to teaching them the skills they need to compete in a global market place; 2-further rewarding our teachers and administrators by offering them an optional merit pay system that will enable them to earn larger pay increases each year; 3- creating “hybrid” or contract schools, in which school principals are given greater autonomy to achieve certain goals and have the opportunity to earn greater compensation based on how well their school performs; 4- creating an “Order of Richmond Heroes,” and offering bonuses to quality teachers who will agree to teach in our more difficult schools; 5-extending the school year or the school day to provide more learning time for our children.
Why I am the best candidate
· Unlike other candidates who talk about their “passion for education” or who run on slogans, I have demonstrated my commitment to the children of Richmond by working as a volunteer in Richmond Public Schools for almost as long as I have lived in Richmond. I have worked in Westover Hills, my neighborhood school, and in Carver School, which is located in one of the poorer neighborhoods of our city. My experience has enabled me to understand the issues that school administrators and teachers deal with on a daily basis. I have also been active in Friends of Fourth District Schools, which is working to improve all the schools in the district.
· I have established relationships with others committed to bringing great schools to Richmond. These relationships will help me build community support for making our public schools the best in Virginia.
· I am a uniter. I will work to get all the stakeholders in RPS to understand that they are all in the same boat and must work together for the good of our children. I will convince parents in all economic circumstances that they are not adversaries fighting for a limited piece of the education pie.
· I understand that politics is the art of getting things done. The word “compromise” is part of my vocabulary. I also understand that I do not have all the answers. I will work well with the other members of the school board.
· I am impatient. I am tired of continuous discussions and planning. We know what has worked in other school systems. It’s time to stop planning and start acting.
So, dear reader, that’s what it’s all about. By late Tuesday night we will know which of us the voters of the Fourth District have chosen to represent them on the Richmond School Board. We will also know who they elected to serve them in such lesser offices as president, senator, representative, mayor and councilperson.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Fellow Americans. Troubled times lay before us. Our nation will be challenged like it never has before. Can we afford to have a man in the White House who has not been tested in crisis? This is no time for on the job training. The man from Illinois is too inexperienced to be president. He has only served in the Illinois legislature and briefly in the Congress. Never has he had to face what lies before us. We cannot afford to take the risk. Therefore, on Election Day you must reject Mr. Lincoln and vote for Senator Stephen A. Douglas for President of the United States.
Now that the Patrick Henry charter school contract has been approved by the school board, volunteers are needed to make the school a reality. On Saturday, November 8, at 11:00 AM (lasting no later than 2:00 PM) a volunteer rally will be held at the school, 3411 Semmes Avenue (at the intersection of Forest Hill Avenue). If you are interested in volunteering to help get the school going, you should attend this rally. They even promise to feed you.
Well, the maven did something stupid. I responded to a hate message about Senator Obama and now I am being overwhelmed with all kinds of nastiness in my email. The original message, mailed to a whole bunch of addressees, used a letter from a Christian missionary in Africa that spoke of years of violent oppression against them in that African country. The conclusion was that electing Obama would result in similar oppression here in the U.S. of A. As I often do when I get indignant, I fired off a reply and clicked on “reply all.” That was a big mistake. Now I am getting hate mail from everybody on the list.
What did the maven say that brought on such indignation from the haters? I said,
I have no need for this hate and fear campaigning. If I had any doubt about who I was voting for, you have cleared it up. I'm voting against hate and voting for Obama.
The scriptural citation was in response to all the cites that filled the hate message. (For those of you not familiar, I was referring to “love your neighbor as yourself.”)
I am sorry, but I have real trouble with anyone who uses religion to stir up hate. I feel the same way about Christian, Muslim, Jewish or any other religious hate that relies on some scriptural text to justify its position. I was raised to believe that God loves all people and that God expects us to love each other.
Why this very selective reading of scripture? Why do the haters ignore all the messages of love in the holy books of all religions? Do these people really think that God wants us to hate each other? To this maven, using God’s name to stir up hate against other humans is nothing but a profanation of that name. We have enough problems in this world without the purveyors of hate trying to stir up people’s passions to do evil. The hate has got to stop!
One of Republican Jim Gilmore’s TV ads accuses Mark Warner of lying. The ad says “he promised not to raise taxes but he raised taxes” or something like that. Well, this maven has read the Constitution and laws of Virginia and I know that in this Commonwealth the governor has no power to raise taxes. Only the General Assembly can do that. I guess Mr. Gilmore and his campaign publicists figure that the voters of Virginia are too stupid to know the difference.
I saw one of mayoral candidate Robert Grey’s TV commercials. Mr. Grey pledges that he will increase the amount of school funding that is spent in the classroom to 75% of the whole. Of course, under the laws of Virginia it is the school board that is given exclusive authority to run the schools and it is the superintendent of schools and the school board that have the exclusive authority to prepare the annual Richmond Public School budget. I guess Mr. Grey and his campaign publicists figure that the voters of Richmond are too stupid to understand.
Mayoral candidate Bill Pantele’s mail out ad claims that he has reduced the real estate tax burden while on the City Council. Of course Mr. Pantele doesn’t acknowledge that the City Council is a corporate body of nine members, so he could not single handedly have reduced anything. He also expects that voters in Richmond might not notice that in fact their real estate taxes have gone up every year that he has been on the council. Mr. Pantele’s TV ad claims that he “hired” extra police for the city and “saved $25 million” by ordering an audit of Richmond Public Schools. It is amazing to me that a single councilman, with no executive functions, could have accomplished so much. I guess Mr. Pantele and his campaign publicists think that voters of Richmond are too stupid to know the real facts.
Reader, the only way we can demonstrate to these candidates that they cannot make these outlandish claims and get away with it is to vote against them next Tuesday. Before you cast your X on Election Day, check to see whether they appeal to your intelligence or toss you distortions expecting you to be too stupid to know any better.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Thursday night, the Richmond City Democratic Committee endorsed this maven for the school board seat in the city’s fourth district. This brings me full circle to my early days of being a Democratic precinct captain in Brooklyn, USA. I don’t know if I hold the record for the political career with the longest interruption, but who cares. I would sure prefer running as a Democrat than as a candidate without a party. And, I’m proud to be running with all the rest of Virginia’s Democrats. Let’s get out there next Tuesday and put this country and city back on the right track.
Thursday was the day from hell for this school board candidate. I went to meet the voters at an Oktoberfest at a local retirement residence, then went to a PTA meeting at one of our elementary schools, and ended up at the final candidates’ debate of the campaign. Also scheduled on Thursday was a public meeting at one of Richmond’s high schools to deal with a violence problem and the meeting of the Richmond City Democratic Committee. I really wanted to be at both of those events but just couldn’t make them.
For me, the most eye-opening event was the PTA meeting at J. B. Fisher Elementary School. Fisher is one of the elite elementary schools in the City of Richmond. It is in a middle-class neighborhood that is somewhat isolated from the rest of the city and is one of those open enrollment schools that parents elsewhere in the city try to get their kids into. Well, what opened my eyes was that there were about forty parents attending that meeting. No, dear reader, that is not a typo. There really were about forty parents at that PTA meeting. Now, I often go to PTA meetings at Westover Hills Elementary School, my neighborhood school. Usually, about seven or eight parents show up for those meetings. And, earlier in the week, we candidates were at a PTSA meeting at Huguenot High School. Again, there were less than ten parents at that meeting.
The forty parents at the Fisher PTA meeting prove what I have been saying here for a long time. Middle class parents generally are more involved in their children’s schools. That is why I am so determined to reverse the exodus of middle class families from River City. We need those parents in Richmond’s schools working to make those schools better.
At the debate, my opponent Adria Graham Scott made a remark that suddenly made everything clear to me. Adria is the one that has been getting all the endorsements, has all the professional campaign help and also the big campaign bucks. I don’t remember exactly what the question was, but Adria came out with, “We are lucky in the Fourth District because our parents support our public schools.” Well, my pen dug a big question mark and then an exclamation point into my pad.
Adria, where have you been all these years? Is it possible that J. B. Fisher is the only school in the city you have been in? Is the Fisher neighborhood the only neighborhood you have been in? Because, I know that in most neighborhoods in the Fourth District the parents do not support our neighborhood public schools. In fact as I have said again and again right here, my middle-class neighbors are leaving the city in droves because they don’t support our neighborhood schools. Haven’t you noticed that Adria?
Now, I have been stressing in this campaign that I am the only candidate who understands Richmond Public School’s problems from the inside because I have been working as a volunteer in those schools for more than three years. But, I didn’t realize how much I know and how little Adria Graham Scott and John Lloyd and Jonathan Mallard really know about our schools. (At least Jonathan does realize that our middle class parents do not support our public schools.)
Adria, you need to wake up to the truth. Because, if your endorsements and your campaign staff and your money win you this election you are going to be in for a rude awakening. Since you only know Fisher, you are going to be surprised that most of the schools in the city are not nearly as good. You need to know that Southampton and Westover Hills elementary schools have 67% and 76% respectively of their children on free and reduced lunches, while Thompson Middle School has about 80% receiving subsidized meals. And you need to know that these schools have such high concentrations of free and reduced lunch children because their parents cannot afford to use private schools, home educate their kids or move out of the city. And, if you end up on the school board, you will not only be representing the kids from Fisher Elementary but also the kids from George Washington Carver Elementary, where I volunteer each week. Carver has a free and reduced lunch population of over 95%. Adria, if you’ve never been with these children, you cannot possibly understand the problems they have to overcome to succeed in school. And, Adria, you’re going to have to learn about the injustices that are widespread in Richmond Public Schools, because if you are elected you are going to be dealing with those problems every day for the next four years.
Well, tomorrow will be only the eighth day left before the election and I have to be out campaigning. I’ll be back with more revelations about our political system soon.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
It has been many months since the maven has issued a chutzpah award. It is often difficult to find someone whose statements or positions are so outrageous and so full of gall that they merit the word chutzpah. But, the time has come for another award. Today the maven’s chutzpah award goes to (drum roll) Senator John McCain of Arizona.
So, you may ask, what has Senator McCain done to merit this highly prestigious award? Precious reader, John McCain has made himself the first presidential nominee in our nation’s history to run against the incumbent president of his own party. After trying to gain the Republican presidential nomination for at least ten years, when he finally achieved that prize John McCain suddenly became the Anti-Republican.
A Republican? Me? Oh no, I’m not a Republican. I’m a Maverick. I know the country is going down the tubes, but don’t blame me. I’m a Maverick, not a Republican. The economy sucks? Not my fault, I’m a Maverick, not a Republican. The world is facing a climate crisis worse than humans have ever known. But, that’s not my fault. I know that Bush and Cheney and the Republicans were fiddling while the earth’s temperature continued to rise. But that has nothing to do with me. I’m not a Republican, I’m a Maverick. While in control of the White House my party’s president added nearly five trillion dollars to the national debt. But I disagreed with that all along. I’m a Maverick.
Oh, I voted in agreement with President Bush 90% of the time. But, you gotta understand. After the way W whupped me in the 2000 race, I knew that to get the nomination next time I would have to appear to be even more Republican than Mr. Bush. But, when I voted to support President Bush, my fingers were crossed behind my back. I didn’t mean those votes. After all, I’m a Maverick, not a Republican.
But, you may ask, is McCain really the only candidate to run against his party’s incumbent president? What about John Adams in 1800? Didn’t he run against his own party? Sorry, reader, that was different. In 1800, it was Alexander Hamilton and his ultra-Federalists who campaigned against their party’s incumbent president, Adams. It wasn’t Adams running against his party. Well, what about Millard Filmore running in the 1856 election? Ex-president Filmore did run in the 1856 election, but not against the incumbent of his own party. In fact, the incumbent president, Franklin Pierce was not running for reelection. Okay, maven, what about Teddy Roosevelt in 1912? Now you’re getting close, reader. Teddy Roosevelt did seek to wrest the Republican nomination from his former protégé William Howard Taft. And when he couldn’t get the Republican nomination, TR did run for president as the nominee of the Progressive Party. But, he was not a Republican running against the incumbent president of his own party. No, John McCain is quite unique.
Even though he has been a Republican for his entire political career, this year John McCain has abandoned his own party. Even though he has been in the Senate for more than twenty years, John McCain wants us to believe that he never voted for anything that his party wanted; that he was always a Maverick. And for that Senator McCain deserves the maven’s chutzpah award. Congratulations, Senator.
I was behind a pickup truck as I turned from Huguenot Road onto Buford Road last week. The truck stopped at a traffic light and I pulled up behind it. On the back window was a large sign that read “Be Afraid” at the top. Then there was a drawing of Barack Obama in an angry pose. Below that were even bigger letters reading “Be Very Afraid.” I was impressed by the deep level of hate expressed by whoever designed and marketed that sign.
Last night the maveness called my attention to an anti-Obama ad she saw on the tube. Tonight I saw the same ad. The ad was sponsored by the ultra-conservative group, Let Freedom Ring. It was entitled “Never Find Out” and it basically painted the disaster to the world that would ensue if Barack Obama is elected president. It’s filled with some pretty outrageous and unsubstantiated claims. Or course, it is not the purpose of Let Freedom Ring to tell the truth. Rather, its purpose is obviously to scare people out of voting for Senator Obama. This, remember is the same Let Freedom Ring that thinks that George W is the greatest president ever, wants to undo Roe v. Wade, favors going back to the original intent of the Constitution, wants to limit the power of the judiciary, encourages the family as the basic building block of society (so long as the family centers on a heterosexual couple), and wants to restore prayer to our schools. Considering its agenda it is not surprising that Let Freedom Ring is afraid of Barack Obama.
Now, the maven has seen lots of election campaigns. (No, I am not old enough to remember the dirtiest of all elections—the 1800 contest between the Federalists and the Jeffersonians). And maybe my memory plays tricks with me. However, I get the feeling it is getting unusually nasty out there. I mean I remember the “mushroom cloud” ad that the Dems ran in 1964 to scare people out of voting for Barry Goldwater. It was pretty devastating. But, this year there seems to be a concerted effort by those on the right, including the Republican National Committee (whose ads are clearly the best in terms of effectiveness) and the McCain-Palin campaign, to personally attack Senator Obama and portray him as outside the spectrum of political acceptability. The supporters of McCain-Palin don’t have any real issues to talk about, so they are trying real hard to scare everybody. Their message—“electing Obama is unthinkable.”
Is there any way that we the voters can affect the level at which our political campaigns are run? How do we get candidates for public office to concentrate on the issues rather than character attacks? Well, campaigns run these fear and loathing ads because they think they work. The only way we can raise the level of the public debates in this country is to demonstrate to the candidates that we will not be fooled by their slime campaigns. We need to send a message to the Republican National Committee and to the McCain-Palin campaign, and of course to Let Freedom Ring on Election Day by voting for Barack Obama for president. And, if you happen to be one of those people who is exit-polled, tell them that you refuse to vote for a hate-monger or a candidate supported by hate-mongers.
Citizens of Virginia! On November 4 the choice is yours. Will you vote based on fear and loathing? Or will you look at the issues and vote for the man most qualified to be president? I urge you to vote for Obama because he is the real instrument of change. Voting for McCain is asking for four more years of Republic misrule.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Just to let you know, I have been running a pretty bare bones campaign for the school board. Not being a long-time resident of Richmond, it has been pretty hard for me to find people who want to contribute to my campaign. So, at the beginning of the summer I purchased only 125 campaign signs (at about four bucks each). I figured I would put them only on major thoroughfares where they would get the most visibility. No need to blanket the whole district I thought.
After the manufacturer sent signs with the wrong color scheme (I guess they didn't realize that red, white and black were only patriotic colors in Nazi Germany) and then finally replaced them, I started planting my signs at strategic locations in the district. But, a not-so-funny thing started happening. As quickly as I put my signs out, they started disappearing. For those of you who live in Richmond, this might ring a little bell in your memory. Wasn’t it just two years ago, in a school-board race, in the very same Fourth District in which I am running, that there was a big sign war? Didn’t a supporter of one candidate take down all the signs of the other candidate? Didn’t the candidate losing signs set up a sting and catch the unsub red handed stealing his signs? (This is apparently not a crime in Richmond because of a strangely worded sign ordinance.)
Now I knew who was probably taking my signs. But, what was I to do about it? After the loss of about 40 signs I decided I was not winning this sign war. So, I adopted the Charleton Heston approach. I decided to stand along the major routes in my district holding up my sign and waving to the crowd. That S.O.B. will have to pry my sign from my “cold dead fingers” if he’s gonna steal one again. So, Monday evening it was the south end of the Nickel Bridge (on which the toll was just raised to $.35). On Tuesday, I stood along Forest Hill Avenue. Wednesday I was at the south end of the Huguenot Bridge (no toll at all). Thursday I took off to attend a PTA meeting and a candidates’ debate. Tonight I tried the Forest Hill exit off the Powhite Parkway.
So, what’s it like standing on the side of the road, holding up a campaign sign and trying to look friendly. At first, I felt kind of foolish. Then, when a few people started honking at me it felt better (although I am not quite sure that the honks were in support or because they thought I was an escapee from an asylum). From the practical side, I can see and be seen by a lot more potential voters than walking from house to house or up and down stairs to knock on doors. Of course, I don’t know whether or not they will actually remember me at the polls next Tuesday.
Mostly it’s lonely. I try to make eye-contact with drivers or passengers as they go by. But that gets harder as the sun goes down and it starts getting darker. I know they can still see me (or at least my sign) with their headlights on, but it’s not the same. All I see coming toward me are cars that are dark on the inside. I feel more and more alone out on the side of the road even though lots of cars are rolling by. Finally, when I’m not sure I can be seen any more I take my sign and go home.
I’ll do it again Monday and every evening rush hour between now and the election. The lonely candidate at the side of the road.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Two years ago, in one of my first posts as the James River Maven, I said:
Lies, Fear and Smear
The Democrats want to lose in Iraq. The Democrats want to raise taxes. The Democrats want to destroy marriage. The Democrats are in favor of pornography. If the Democrats win control of the Congress, al Qaeda will attack us here at home. If the Democrats win control of Congress, the economy will collapse. The Democrats owe no allegiance to the people of America. Every Democratic candidate is under the control of those left-wing Liberals Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer and John Kerry. A Democratic victory will mean the end of American civilization. I’ve got a list of 250 communists in the Democratic Party. Oops, forget the last one; I forgot what year it is.
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” So said Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister of Nazi Germany. Murray Chotner used the big lie technique to bring us Richard Nixon. Karl Rowe used it to bring us George W. Bush. And now President George and his Republican buddies are using the big lie technique in a desperate attempt to hold on to power for the next two years.
Whether it’s the political ad trumpeting the lie or the stump speech stirring up fear, the one thing the Republicans don’t want the voters to look at is their record over the past six years. The campaign strategy is simple: make the Democrats look so evil that the voters will reelect us even if we have done a terrible job. We have to make the people afraid to vote for a Democrat.
This lie-fear-smear strategy appeals to the most basic of human emotions. It is based on a desire to get people to vote from their gut rather than from their mind. It is based on an elitist mentality that says that the American people aren’t smart enough to deal with issues. It’s based on a suspicion that if the electorate actually voted on the issues, they might vote against our side. Therefore, lie to them, terrify them, cover your opponent with slime. But at all costs, don’t let the voters think.
Citizens of Virginia! Isn’t it about time that we told the purveyors of lie, fear and smear that we don’t fall for this outrageous campaign tactic? Go to the polls next week and show them that we Virginians can vote with our minds, not with our instincts. Show them that we are not too stupid to understand issues. Show them that despite their smokescreens we can see that “the Emperor is naked.” Six years of Republican mismanagement is enough. Vote Democratic.
This year it’s McCain and Palin, instead of Bush and Cheney, but our good buddies in the GOP are still using lies, fear and smear as the basis of their attempt to extend their control over the White House for four more years. If they succeed this year by diverting the voter’s attention from their ruinous reign it could prove disastrous for our country and the world.
So, citizens of Virginia, I must again exhort you to vote with your mind, not with your instincts. Vote for Obama-Biden. Vote for Warner. Vote for Scott or Hartke for Congress. It’s time to really get the red out.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
On Thursday night, the Richmond Democratic Committee is scheduled to endorse candidates for the otherwise non-partisan city elections on November 4. I am hoping that, unlike the other groups that have endorsed candidates in the fourth district school board race, the Democratic Committee will base its decision on who will do the best job for the children of Richmond. Below is the questionnaire from the committee that I submitted.
1. What is your political affiliation?
__X_ Democrat ___Independent ___Republican
2. Why are you seeking the endorsement of the Richmond City Democratic Committee?
I have been a Democrat all my life. (The legend being spread that my parents hung a picture of FDR over my crib may or may not be true.) I grew my political teeth working as a Young Democrat for the Monroe Democratic Club in Brooklyn, New York. I always had the fantasy of running for office, but family responsibility led me to take a job with the Federal Government where political activity is illegal. Now that I have finally become a candidate, it would make things complete if I were running with Democratic endorsement. It would make all those mornings after crying about Humphrey, McGovern, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, Don Beyer and Mary Sue Terry a little easier to deal with.
3. What do you see as the greatest strength and greatest weakness of Richmond Public Schools?
The biggest success stories in Richmond’s public schools occur within the schools themselves. In the last three years I have seen dedicated, excellent teachers and administrators, working with volunteers from the community, make learning work for children from the a wide range of economic backgrounds. My success stories are the individual students who come to school every day and are thriving in Richmond Public Schools.
The biggest failure of Richmond Public Schools is its continuing inability to convince middle-class parents that their children can receive a quality public education in the City of Richmond. In the Fourth District, where I live, when most middle class children reach school age their parents do one of four things: 1- If they can afford it, they enroll their child in private school; 2- If they can afford it, they choose to home-school their child; 3- If they know the rules of the game, they use Richmond Public Schools’ open enrollment policy to put their kid into one of Richmond’s elite public schools; or 4- They move out of the city. Based on the demographics of my neighborhood, I would say that option 4 is the most popular.
This lack of confidence by middle-class parents is bad both for the school system and for the city. Over the last several years the enrollment in Richmond Public Schools has dropped by an average of 500 students per year. The Superintendent’s proposed budget for 2009 showed this trend continuing into the future. The result has been that we have a student body that is of a lower economic status than the city population as a whole. Further, because most of our middle class parents with young children now live in Chesterfield or Hanover or Henrico, the demographics of the city are becoming distorted. If this middle class bleeding continues the population of the City of Richmond will become divided between only the rich and the poor and only between the young and the old. (For more details see my blog, James River Maven, http://jamesrivermaven.blogspot.com/2008/07/am-i-obsessed-with-middle-class-parents.html)
4. How can the Mayor, City Council, and School Board work together to improve our schools?
Under state law, responsibility for running the schools is vested exclusively in the school board and the superintendent it hires. The mayor has no formal role. The role of the City Council is to make sure that the school system is adequately funded.
The mayor should function as a cheerleader for and as a marketer of Richmond Public Schools. The mayor should use his political leadership to rally the citizens of Richmond to support a world-class school system for our city. He should offer all his aid and support to the school board and the superintendent. And, if the superintendent or the board are not adequately fulfilling their jobs, he should call them in, with no reporters present, to give them a “pep-talk.”
The Council needs to provide the funding that RPS actually needs, not imposing a ceiling in advance as it has in the recent past. Also, since many of the problems facing Richmond children academically result from problems they face outside of school, the Council must make sure that the City provides adequate services to families so that all our children start school prepared to learn.
The kind of cooperation needed to make sure that RPS works for all children in the city, regardless of their ethnicity or economic situation, requires a mayor, council members and board members who are more interested in getting things done than in satisfying their egos. Next year, it is crucial that all the parties stop playing politics and get on with the task of building new schools and renovating our older schools so that our children can learn in the best environment we can provide for them.
5. What qualifications do you want to see in School Board Chair and Superintendent of Schools?
The chair must be a leader and a uniter. We cannot afford another school board term in which factions on the board are fighting each other to the detriment of our children. We also need nine school board members who understand that they are not always “right” and that governing often means compromise. (I intend to end the Fourth District “monopoly” on board chairs. I will not seek the chair.)
I set forth the qualifications necessary in a superintendent on my blog, James River Maven, last spring. I said:
Our next superintendent must be a leader. The superintendent needs the ability to get the myriad employees of RPS to follow her agenda. She has to be the motivator that gets everyone to work at their full potential. Leadership ability should be demonstrated by success in some leadership position either in academics, business or the military.
Our next superintendent must understand organizations. RPS is often accused of having too much bureaucracy. The superintendent needs to be able to analyze the RPS organization and eliminate those positions that are unnecessary in giving our children an excellent education.
Our next superintendent must be committed to accountability. The attitude of employees in any institution is set at the top. The superintendent must not only be honest himself, but also convey to everybody who works for RPS that their job is a public trust. He must make it clear that he will not tolerate any employee who uses taxpayer money improperly.
Our next superintendent must understand the Richmond problem. A significant number of parents in the City of Richmond have indicated their lack of confidence in RPS by leaving the city to find a better educational opportunity for their children elsewhere. The superintendent must be able to deal with this problem first by making RPS a superior school system and second by convincing parents that their children will thrive here.
Our next superintendent must understand our school population. Seventy percent of RPS students come from families with economic difficulties. The superintendent must understand the challenges that these children face in obtaining their education and must have a plan for how to help them reach their full potential.
Our next superintendent must have a vision for RPS. She must be able to articulate her vision of where she expects RPS to be going in the next two years, the next five years and the next ten years. She must be able to convince the taxpayers that their investment in RPS will pay off in class after class of productive young citizens. She must show us the route to greatness.
Our next superintendent must be a unifier. Making RPS into a world-class educational system requires the participation of teachers, parents, civic and faith groups and the business and academic communities. The superintendent must be able to unite these various stakeholders in a common purpose—the education of our children. He must also be able to work productively with the school board, the city council and our next mayor.
6. What is your number one priority to improve Richmond Public Schools?
Our number one priority must be to stop the abandonment of RPS by our middle class families. This will require us to revitalize our neighborhood schools and to reverse an unfortunate attitude that has arisen with the school choice movement. Traditionally education of our children was an undertaking of the entire community. The community raised the funds, built a school, hired teachers and participated in making sure their children were receiving a high quality education. The community and the school reinforced each other. In my part of town, for example, the Westover Hills neighborhood and the Westover Hills School grew together. Under school choice, however, education has become just another commodity that families “shop” for. If parents are unhappy with their neighborhood school they look elsewhere for their child’s education. In my neighborhood that means that most of them move out of the city.
My goal is to reverse this trend by convincing parents that they have the power to take ownership of their neighborhood school and make sure it works for their children. Just as parents in the Munford, Fox, Fisher, and Holton zones have done, I will work with the parents of the fourth district to reclaim their neighborhood schools as their own. I would also help any other member of the school board to use these tactics in their districts. We can revitalize the city by building stronger communities around our neighborhood schools.
7. What do you propose to do to decrease violence in Richmond Public Schools?
Violence in the schools is not solely an RPS issue. Usually the tendency to violence originates in our neighborhoods and migrates into the schools. Therefore, we need to have a multifaceted approach to solving the problem. First, we need to assure that the RPS “Standards of Conduct” are strictly enforced. We should not tolerate teachers, school administrators or central office administrators who think that enforcement of these standards is optional. Second, we must engage in violence reduction programs in which RPS, Richmond Police Department, other city agencies, private groups like Communities in Schools and outside contractors work cooperatively. We should use as a model the agreement that was entered into this summer by RPS, Richmond Police Department and the Center for Neighborhood Enterprises to establish a Violence-Free Zone Safe School Initiative at George Wythe High School. The Memorandum of Understanding setting up this program can be examined as an attachment to the School Board’s August 4, 2008 agenda. http://www.richmond.k12.va.us/schoolboardnew/index.htm
8. What do you propose to improve the services that the Richmond Public Schools provides to children with special needs?
The first thing we must do is to make all of our school buildings ADA compliant. Too many years have gone by since the court order was issued mandating that RPS do this. Unfortunately, political bickering among the mayor, council and school board has resulted in this objective not being fulfilled. We can no longer delay. Second, we must make sure that RPS is fully compliant with all federal and state requirements in providing services to special needs children. We also have to adopt the attitude that special needs children are entitled to as high a quality education as the other children in our city.
9. What do you propose to increase student achievement in the Richmond Public Schools?
--We must place higher demands on our administrators, teachers and students. As shown in the TD article today on Richmond Community and Open high schools and the Franklin Military Academy, treating the SOLs as minimums rather than as the prime goal of our schools leads to a higher level of student achievement. We must change our curricular emphasis from teaching only the facts required by the SOLs to teaching our children the skills they need to function in our Twenty First Century world. 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. 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, and how to relate to a world of different people from different cultures. To accomplish this change we need to provide training to our teachers to equip them to teach with the changed emphasis.
--To further reward our educational professionals, I propose that we consider offering RPS administrators and teachers a pay system in which pay increases are based on performance rather than on college degrees and longevity. Let me be clear, I do not propose that compensation be based on student SOL scores. 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 the system so that teachers in schools with concentrated poverty can compete fairly with teachers in schools that are primarily middle class.
This would be a voluntary system for teachers and administrators 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 would not be guaranteed but would be significantly higher than on the longevity scale.
I invite the Richmond Education Association to participate with the School Board in designing this new compensation system. A voluntary system like this was recently implemented in Prince Georges County, Maryland, with the cooperation of its teachers union.
--To assure that children in all neighborhoods in the city receive the same high quality education, I propose the creation of an “Order of Richmond Heroes” composed of high quality teachers who agree to teach in our more difficult schools. We would offer a cash bonus to those teachers who agree to move to these 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.
--To provide school principals with greater incentives, I propose that we experiment with making some of our schools into hybrid schools, being somewhere between regular public schools and charter schools. I envision schools in which principals enter into contracts with RPS to achieve a certain level of improvement over a fixed time period and are given increased independence to achieve that goal. The compensation of participating principals would be based on how well the students in their schools perform.
It may be that the nine members of the School Board will decide not to implement these suggestions. However, we at least need to discuss them. The futures of our children are far too precious to consider any proposal to be “off the table.”
Thursday, October 16, 2008
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.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
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.
Monday, October 06, 2008
Let’s get this straight. I am upset that I did not get the endorsement of the REA, or the Crusade for Voters or the Coalition for a Greater Richmond. If they had endorsed me, I would be a lot closer to winning this election. And don’t forget that those endorsements came with money or campaign help, which I can sorely use. So, it’s not a matter of sour grapes when I say that I would much rather have the endorsements I have than the ones I have lost. Because, dear reader, my endorsements are from people who know me and have worked with me and have watched me during my years of involvement in Richmond Public Schools. None of my endorsements come from guessing the preferred answer to a questionnaire or smiling the right way at an interview. I got all my endorsements the old fashioned way.
George Braxton. It is not a secret that when George decided not to run for reelection to the School Board he asked me to run for his seat. George and I have been cooperating on behalf of the children of Richmond as long as I have lived in Richmond. I have provided him support when he was right and criticism when he was wrong. He knows my ideas and my dedication, so it really is meaningful to me when George says:
Bert is the only candidate ready and able to take over the board seat in January. He demonstrates a keen understanding of education policy and his volunteer activities have let him see Richmond Public Schools from the inside.
Erin Bishop. I met Erin Bishop when I joined Friends of Fourth District Schools. Along with other members of the FoFDS Board of Directors, we have worked hard to support the schools and children of the Fourth District. Erin has said about me:
I have worked with Bert Berlin on school issues for the past three years. He is not a politician--he is truly committed to improving our schools. I like his ideas, and I admire his dedication. We would be lucky to have his service to our School Board!
I’d rather have Erin on my side than the whole REA.
Rev. Benjamin Campbell. Ben Campbell is one of the spiritual leaders of the Richmond area. Three years ago he started Metro Richmond at Prayer. He is the co-chair of the Micah Initiative. He is a trustee of the Richmond Public School Foundation and was chosen to be on the search committee for the new Superintendent. Ben and I have known each other since I became a Micah volunteer. In Ben’s words:
Bert Berlin is a thoughtful and determined man, a good listener, a serious volunteer, who is willing to put himself out for the children and public schools of Richmond. He’s the kind of person we all need on the School Board.
Tom Klein: Tom Klein is my connection to the business community. He is currently Chair of the Richmond Business Council of the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce and heads its education committee. Tom and I have known each other since I moved to Richmond and when he learned I was running for the School Board, he asked to join my “team.” Tom says:
I support Bert Berlin because he is the best equipped to advocate for the changes needed to make the Richmond Public Schools the destination of choice for all school age children. Bert has been supporting the schools well before it was known that there was an open School Board seat.
Mieko Manual Timmons: Mieko is one of the city-wide coordinators for the Micah Initiative. She has also served on the Richmond Council of PTAs. Mieko and I, along with Mary Hetzel, worked together to form a new Micah Initiative project at Carver Elementary School with volunteers from my congregation. Mieko says,
I enthusiastically support Bert Berlin for the 4th District School Board Representative because he has demonstrated passion and commitment for our children in Richmond Public Schools for years, as a volunteer and strong advocate. He has worked well with school officials, parents, and students. He has gained their trust through hard work and consistency. With a vote of confidence from the School Board Chairman, that confirms for me that he must be the right person for the job. I also commend him for his dedication to public service.
Tichi Pinkney-Epps: Tichi is the past president of the Richmond Council of PTAs. I met her last year at a breakfast sponsored by Hope in the Cities. Since then, we have been cooperating on making Richmond Public Schools a much better school system. Whether or not I win the election, I expect to continue working with Tichi to mobilize the Richmond community to provide a great education for the children of Richmond. Tichi says:
I have had the opportunity to engage with Bert on many issues regarding public education in the City of Richmond. I believe he will be an asset because of his open-mind and profound ability to see the issues from all sides without deference to personal bias and special interest.
So, I ask you loyal reader, who would you rather have endorsing your candidacy? The REA, the Crusade and the Coalition, or George and Erin and Ben and Tom and Mieko and Tichi? For me this is a no brainer. Who needs the money and the campaign support when I have friends like these?
This maven is becoming the Rodney Dangerfield of Richmond. I simply cannot get any respect. (R-E-S-P-E-C-T, for you Aretha fans.) As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the Richmond Education Association, our local teacher’s union, did not endorse me for election to the School Board. That is after I spent several hours filling out their questionnaire and was interviewed by a panel of three teachers who, quite frankly, had no idea what I was talking about when I said that Richmond’s biggest problem was our disappearing middle class. So, who did the REA pick as their choice for the fourth district school board seat? Adrea Graham Scott—at least twenty years younger than me, female, African American, well-spoken, and just plain nice.
Then, there is the Richmond Crusade for Voters. I participated in the Crusade’s candidate forum. The maveness and I joined the Crusade. The maveness and I attended the Crusade’s annual banquet (at a cost of $100). We had a great time and met a whole bunch of good people. So, I figured when the Crusade called me in for an interview this was my big chance. Another interview, another panel who really didn’t understand the point I was making. So, who did the Crusade endorse for the fourth district seat? Adrea Graham Scott—at least twenty years younger than me, female, African American, well-spoken, and just plain nice. Another “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” for the Maven.
Maven, I’m beginning to detect a pattern here.
Wait devoted reader. Don’t jump to conclusions.
Then, I received a call from the Coalition for a Greater Richmond. These are the good government guys. These are the guys who are searching for new leadership for the Metro Richmond area. They wanted to interview me. So, eagerly I went off to talk to them. Guess what, dear reader. For the first time in this process I felt that this panel actually understood my concerns about Richmond’s middle class bleeding off to the suburbs to find better schools for their kids. I explained my plans to deal with this problem. I went home from the interview feeling really good. Then, just last Friday came a letter from the Coalition. I held it in my hands like a high school senior anxious to find out if my favorite college had accepted me. I peeled open the letter slowly, like Charley peeling open a Wanka Bar looking for the golden ticket. I read the letter. The Coalition endorsed. . . Adrea Graham Scott—at least twenty years younger than me, female, African American, well-spoken, and just plain nice.
Now, trusted reader, I am ready to admit that there seems to be a pattern here. This maven is in a batting slump. I am 0 for 3. No hits, no runs, who knows how many errors.
So, let’s analyze this. If I were a group endorsing a candidate for the Richmond School Board, who would I choose? Would I choose a curmudgeonly grandfather who has actually worked in the schools for the past three years, who understands from the inside what problems the schools face, who has been studying and writing about Richmond Public Schools, who has concrete proposals for making the schools better (especially here in the Fourth District), who has relationships with many of the VIPs in Richmond (mayoral candidates, city council members, school board members), and who knows how to get things done? Or would I choose somebody who is at least twenty years younger than me, female, African American, well-spoken, and just plain nice, but who does not have my experience, and runs a campaign based on slogans rather than plans (“I’m passionate about parental choice” “Great Schools Build Great Communities”)? So, who would I choose? What does Adria Graham Scott have that this maven doesn’t have?
Well, for one thing, she is a woman and I am a man. Can there be some form of gender discrimination going on here? Well, I hope not. Of course, Adria is African American and I am Caucasian. I would hate to think that in the year 2008 any group in Richmond would base its endorsement on the color of a candidate’s skin, so I will not accept that this is a matter of race. Adria is well spoken, but so am I. Adria is just plain nice and I often let my anger get the best of me. Well, maybe it is the nice versus nasty that wins her the endorsements.
Wait, Maven, what about the she’s “at least twenty years younger than me?” Let’s face it, Maven, she’s young and you’re old.
Stop right there, reader. This maven does not feel old! For weeks I’ve been walking around the Fourth District, up and down lots of stairs, talking to my neighbors. In the words of James Brown, “I feel good!” I am motivated. I feel like I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. It’s almost like I’m on a mission. So don’t tell me I’m old!
Maven, how old are you?
Eureka! That’s it, dear reader. I figured it out. It’s not gender, it’s not skin-color, and it’s not even my temper. No, it’s all about the future. Let’s face it; I am sixty-four years old. At the end of my school board term, I’ll be sixty-eight. I expect that if I feel I am accomplishing something I’ll run for another term on the School Board. But that will be it. I have no expectation, and neither does anybody else, that I’ll ever run for City Council, or the General Assembly, or mayor, or even the Congress. I have no future.
But Adria is all future. When Kathy Graziano is ready to retire, I can see Adria running for City Council. If there is a vacancy in the House of Delegates or the State Senate, I can see Adria running for those seats. I would not be in the least bit surprised if one day Adria became mayor of our fair city. And, from what I have learned about her during this campaign, I would be proud to support her in any of those endeavors.
But, devoted reader, the trouble is not the future. The trouble is now. Frankly, with regard to Richmond Public Schools, Adria does the talk but not the walk. Richmond Public Schools is not where her experience lies. Before George Braxton announced his retirement, Adria was certainly a good parent, but the general educational welfare of the children of Richmond was hardly on her radar. In short, this is not Adria's time.
So, now I understand. The REA and the Crusade and the Coalition did not endorse Adria Graham Scott as the best candidate for the School Board in 2008. Rather, they endorsed her for her potentially shiny future. They all want to jump on the band wagon and to be able to say “we endorsed her back then.”
Hey, out there, I’ve had a great time writing this. I finally understand what Paul McCartney meant when he wrote these words back in 1967:
"Will you still need me, will you still feed me, When I'm sixty-four?"