Decardra Jackson - 5th District School Board Candidate

1.       Do you support the current Richmond Public Schools Strategic Plan? Why or why not?


 I support the RPS “Dreams4RPS” strategic plan. It includes the division’s five strategic priorities, and ten goals to be achieved within 5 years. The plan provides the division with a road map to improve in all facets. Most noteworthy to me achieving 100% full accreditation, increasing theRPS graduation rate, and increased teacher retention. 


2.       What should RPS be doing this upcoming year to support students and families as schools open virtually? How can RPS assure that the virtual re-opening does not lead to massive loss of learning or student dropouts? What does RPS need to do to identify and meet the needs of students most severely impacted by the crisis, including students in poverty, with English as a second language, lacking access to reliable Internet service, etc?


During this pandemicwe have witnessed the inequity of resources for many underserved communities.  Our students are not immune to these inequities. The fact that not all RPS students have the proper devices (laptops) in order to participate in virtual learning is problematic. To ensure equity, the school division must be deliberate in its effort to meet the needs of every child. The division should continue to provide hotspots for students that lack access to reliable internet service. Long-term plans for internet access should be explored such as partnering with businesses that are willing to offer free or low-cost internet access to qualifying families. Additionally, RPS must continue to use its human resources to connect with every child and address absenteeism. They should also monitor student engagement and the quality of curriculum and instruction class lesson delivery. It is critical that the division monitor students’ progress and develop plans to combat the widening educational equity gaps. The divisions should provide teachers with meaningful feedback to better support their students virtually. 


3.       How can the school system better collaborate with the City of Richmond and community organizations to meet the needs of students? How would you improve or adjust the Education Compact to support that goal?


Currently, the City of Richmond is supportive of the school system.  It's important to note that this type of relationship has not always been the case. When the City of Richmond fully funds the school systemit allows the school to implement initiatives outlined in its strategic plan which puts the system in a position to meet its goals and objectives. The city’s Education Compact is also a good framework for facilitating community involvement and investment in our schools. I would recommend strengthening the Education Compact by allowing RPS officials to delegate someauthority to officials who are able to contribute more time and attention to coordinating. This will ensure all voices have representation.


4.       How can RPS be more effective in advocating for more resources at both the local and state level? 


To advocate for more funding, RPS should continue to work collaboratively with Richmond City officials and the council.  Not enough stakeholders have a good understanding of the system’s needs.   RPS should continue to demand that the state provide more funding to the schools. RPS should petition state officials to review how state funding is allocated.


5.       Do you support changes to RPS’s zoning policies to promote more racially diverse schools, especially at the elementary school level? 


The purpose of the rezoning is to ease overcrowding and to ensure our school capacity is aligned with the community’s needs. I believe schools should be reflective of the communities they serve. As we all knowdiversity brings perspectives and ideas allowing us to learn from one another. 


6.       Do you support policies to make resources available to school PTAs more equitable across the city? In general, how should the School Board balance the goal of encouraging middle class families to enroll and remain in Richmond Public Schools with the imperative of supporting children and families with the greatest need?


I support policies to make school funding more equitable. I will push for more equitable resource allocations across the division.  My vision is that zip code and location will not be the determining factor in where parents choose to send their kids to school.  Instead, if we have schools of excellence throughout the city, there will be less of a desire for parents to send their kids across town for educational opportunities or to leave RPS altogether. I will work to guarantee all of our schools are affording students’ opportunities to be successful. I would also support equitable measures that enhance and improve school facilities, school safety, and extra-curricular prospects.


 7.       What should Richmond be doing to improve its system of early childhood education? What is the role of RPS in doing so, and what is the role of the City of Richmond and community organizations?


Early childhood education programs are needed to ensure our students are ready for Kindergarten. As my colleagues in early childhood often say, “pre-school is real school”. I echo those sentiments and to improve early childhood RPS must be aggressive in its campaign to promote and enrollqualifying families in early childhood programs. Additionally, as with any program, there should be an evaluation to determine program efficacy.  Monitoring students’ progress throughout early childhood programs providevaluable information to help better support the students, instructors, and improve the program.  


I am a proponent for Universal Preschool for all Richmond students.   Although the school board has no control over initiating Universal Preschool I will advocate for such policies to be created by our state office. 


 8.       What should RPS be doing, specifically, to assure that all students graduate with a clear pathway to training, employment, or enrollment in a two or four-year college?


RPS must allow school counselors the opportunity to work closely with students as they identify their interests. Counselors must also focus on students’ college/career plans prior to high school. RPS should connect students with local and state internships in fields that align with students’ interests.  College visits and tours provide them an opportunity to make informed decisions about which institution they want to attend. Additionally, students will benefit from having a mentor throughout their K-12 experience.   RPS should create college-bound programs within high schools and continue to partner with programs like GRASP that offer support in financing college. A combination of these initiatives will provide a pathway to training, employment, or enrollment in a two or four-year college. RPSs comprehensive high schools should have a specialty focus. Lastly, RPS students must take advantage of the wonderful programs offered at the Richmond Technical Center. Visits early in middle school will provide students with more options as they develop their college/career plans. 


9.   Should Richmond and the Commonwealth of Virginia take the occasion of the pandemic to re-think its assessment and accreditation procedures? What role should testing continue to play, if any, in a revised approach to assessment? Richmond and the Commonwealth of Virginia should continue to focus on assessment. 


Assessments should be used as a tool for teachers to identify students’ strengths, as well as identifying areas of growth. The accreditation procedure should be adjusted since students were not administered the state assessment in 2019-2020.


10.   What should the School Board be doing to improve the attraction, development, and retention of skilled teachers and skilled principals?


The School Board and RPS should examine exit interview data to grasp why skilled teachers and principals decide to leave RPS or the profession altogether. The division must continue to offer competitive salaries and incentives such as great health care and tuition reimbursement. RPS should also consider higher pay for both teachers and principals who work at hard-to-staff schools and/or hard-to-staff positions.   


11. What changes in RPS’s disciplinary procedures would you recommend, and why?


 I would ask that RPS’s disciplinary procedures focus on being more consistent across all of ourschools when assigning punishments. Discipline data should continue to be examined to ensure we are not overly suspending a subgroup of students. I would focus on implementing a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) that is grounded in nurturing the “whole child”. Supports would be available for all learners, advanced or struggling through academic, behavior, and social and emotional service. I believe division-wide training and programs should be implemented with fidelity. These programs should be research-based to meet students’ needs.  As a member of the Richmond School Board, I will advocate for programs and policies that support all learners.


 12.  Would you be willing to advocate for tax or revenue increases in order to build new schools in Richmond at a faster rate? Why or why not? If your answer is yes, what arguments would you make to City Council for such tax increase?


As a School Board member, I would explore all options that would allow RPS to build new schools in Richmond at a faster rate. I would share with the City Council evidence of deplorable school conditions. I will share argue that when we invest in our schools we are investing in our communities and city. Families are attached to neighborhoods and cities that have safe strong schools. Building new schools will improve our community and it is beneficial for the entire city.