District 6 School Board candidates

Shonda Matia Harris-Muhammed 



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


First let me begin by proposing this question, does the staff of Richmond Public Schools support the current Strategic Plan and if so what sections? In addition, does the community understand the lack of policy direction written in the current Strategic Plan formed by the division leadership such as how they will revisit less than equitable discipline hearings for staff and students. I am not certain that the principals and assistant principals can speak to the current Strategic Plan. It reads very well, however, what are the identified outcomes that have not shown improvement toward the benchmarks for Richmond Public Schools. Our community must view the strategic plan as a disciplined and thoughtful process that links the values, mission, and goals of Richmond Public Schools with a set of realistic, coherent strategies and tasks designed to achieve those goals. 


2. What should RPS being 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


As the next school board member for the Sixth District I will work collaboratively with my school board colleagues and division leadership using the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE’s) Recover, Redesign, and Restart guide to provide a plan that is equitable for all students and staff. The time is right now to form a committee of students, parents, teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria staff, custodial staff and secretarial staff to create and implement a plan that will restart school in pieces for students. The committee must have representation from all stakeholders of the school division to ensure equity, equality, and educational justice. One of the instructional changes RPS has implemented is all high schools (comprehensive) are on a 4 by 4 schedule. If implemented well with intention to increase the graduation rate, Dual Enrollment, and AP courses, students who are typically in those classes have opportunities to pick up a class they suffered in the next semester. A regular schedule does not allow students to do that. They must wait an entire school year to repeat a course or double up on courses. In addition, as a 29 year educator, I am all too familiar with this, RPS must address the seat hours right now by requesting a waiver for students in grades K-3 to be able to allow instructional packets to serve as completion of seat hours. Also, RPS must request a to VDOE to waive SOL testing for the fall and spring.  


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? 


RPS division leadership first, 

must end the politics with students’ academics. Make the tough decisions to stand for all children. We do that by fully rezoning the entire school division even when it is not popular to do. This benefits all children not just the elite regardless of race and gender. The school division can collaborate better with the city and stakeholders by simply providing information on a continued basis of where we are benchmark wise and continue to hold virtual community meetings. Invite partners to serve as panelist for leadership interviews. Do not shut us, the stakeholders out of the decision-making process. Add members of the public to the policy committee which I propose RPS formulates when I am elected to the school board. 


With the Education Compact, it needs a resolve! The Education Compact was formed out of politics and not using the data of Richmond Public 

Schools. The narrative has been lost for over two years of where Richmond Public Schools REALLY is with their data, teacher retention, policies, and human resource actions. The Education Compact must be formed by an application and interview process. I do not support the Education Compact in its current form. For me to fully support the Education Compact, allow students and stakeholders to interview the applicants. If individuals are truly about children, we will see that behavior in the decision making and the intentional votes cast by the leaders.  


4. How can RPS be more effective in advocating for more resources at both the local and state level? Be as specific as possible in your answer. 


Work in partnership with the following entities, VEA, REA, Colleges and Universities such as HBCU’s and the community. Plan at least 8 months in advance for bills that need to be revisited and formulate policies that directly have a positive impact on educational funding. By-the-way do not elect legislators who will not fully fund the school divisions in Virginia; period.  


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


No I do not. The current status of the rezoning does not demonstrate educational equity for Black and Brown students. Combining ethnicities is not a crime nor does it carry negative tones. However, decisions are made not to rezone because one school is going to gain “more” black students or white students that carries an undertone of segregation and prejudice. Again, the data was not used by current board members to decide of pairing or not pairing in the school division. Furthermore, I also learned that when the facts are not provided on the need to rezone, parents and students are left with information that is provided in partial truth. Three new schools E.S.H. Greene Elementary, George Mason 

Elementary and a new middle school on Hull Street Road are set to open in the fall of 2020 that will hold more students (Richmond Times Dispatch, 2019). The division leaders continued to embrace the attitude the “good ole” boy system works for some and do not recall the few. Someone must take a stance for all students and diversity. The discussion, as difficult as it is to have, has been on diversity and the fact that white students are concentrated at three elementary schools: Linwood Holton, Mary Munford and William Fox; the average elementary school in the city has just 52 white students enrolled (University of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University & Virginia Housing Alliance, 2019). That must change, what works at majority white schools must work at all schools. Lastly, if you read the 2012 rezoning report and the 2019 rezoning report, the Cropper Firm did not make many changes.  


6. Do you support policies to make resources available to school PTAs more equitable across the city? Yes, that must begin with policy changes within the PTA and Richmond Public Schools.  


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?


Simply put, address the policy. Create true feeder academic programs that have a laser focus in the elementary schools that will matriculate into any middle school. RPS is doing it backwards they are trying to fix the middle schools without a focus on the elementary instructional program. Research has demonstrated it is not the middle schools that provide a breakdown, it is the lack of effective transitions from the elementary school to the middle school that formulates increase anxiety for students and families. Let us focus on that first. 


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? 


Change the policy to allow funding to address the needs of early childhood education. Create Pre-K programs in every high school which allows a CTE career readiness pathway for students who desire to CTE credentialling. Also, students who are with child can embrace the possibility of learning while earning and growing while sowing seeds into their child while in school. Meet them where they are first and then gradually move them toward success. First, address the funding within the policy and the budget. ALL things begin with policy in a dependent school division.  


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? 


Focus on the 5-C’s: critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creative thinking, and citizenship. In addition, provide additional funding to CTE pathway programs and remove JROTC as a CTE pathway but rather allow JROTC to focus and concentrate on citizenship and serving our country. Changes must be made first (listen to me), within the General Assembly then work backwards. It all begins with policy.  


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? 


Local assessments created by a committee of K-12 teachers in their field approved by the VDOE through a rigorous application and interview process that begins 24 months in advance for all content areas. The role of testing should focus on the encouraging schools on every level to assess through project base learning while preparing instruction towards the Standards of Learning Assessment is student’s success. As your school board representative for ALL students, I will ensure that the College and Career Ready, profile of a Virginia Graduate, and the 5C’s; critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creative thinking, and citizenship are not only addressed but demonstrated through reporting by the Superintendent and the leadership team. A students’ success is not defined just by grades but also by a growth mindset. A school board representative must articulate that atonement to the division leaders allowing them to demonstrate the vision across the board. When that happens, ALL students are successful!


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


A racially and ethnically diverse teaching force is important for several reasons. Let us refer to the research. First, in this interconnected, (that appears to be disconnected) world, our children need a diverse teaching force to prepare them to be global citizens. Second, teachers of color are positioned to serve as role models and cultural brokers for children of color, who account for 

50.2 percent of all U.S. public school students (NCES, 2015). Despite this diverse student population, Latino, Black, Asian, and Native American teachers comprise only 17.3% of all teachers (Ingersoll, Merrill & Stuckey, 2014). Third, several large-scale studies point to increased learning as measured by a standardized exam for students when they have a teacher of the same race (EgaliteKisida, & Winters, 2015). If the pipeline of teachers of color to the classroom is to increase, teacher preparation programs must play an active role in their preparation. Currently, alternative certification programs, such as Teach for America is one of the largest suppliers of teachers of color for several public schools in the United States (AACTE, 2013). How did Teach for America overshadow university teacher preparation programs? The answer is simple, they focus on BIPOS teachers. During my tenure as a school board representative I will work within the governance parameters to rewrite the policy that plagues the negativity and many errors functioned by the Richmond Public Schools human resources department to address the following: 


a. RPS must invest in teacher diversity and BIPOS teacher recruitment 
b. Support BIPOS teachers with differentiated professional development 
c. Protect the BIPOS teachers with addressing the inadequate procedures in the human resources department by addressing the Human Resources audit conducted in 2015 
d. Richmond Public Schools is missing a mentoring program for the BIPOS teachers. Use exact surveys from teachers to determine the areas of need. It is my understanding from speaking with several former RPS teachers, the human resource department does not conduct exit surveys for every teachers and administrator who departs the system. This is unacceptable 
11. What changes in RPS’s disciplinary procedures would you recommend, and why? 


RPS must for a policy committee to address the lack of educational justice and educational equity in the school division. Let us begin there and many angles will be shaped congruently regarding discipline and not trapezoid students and staff into failure. The human resources committee must have oversight to ensure our staff are treated with respect, dignity, and with equity. As I continue to say, the narrative of RPS not addressing the needs of the students and staff has been lost during COVID-19. As the next school board representative for the Sixth District, I will continue to speak to that narrative.  


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 increases?


I would if City Council would raise the taxes on cigarettes and alcohol.  






Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (2020).  




Deruy, E. (2016). The burden of being a Black teacher. The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/11/the-challenge-ofteaching-while-black/506672/. 


National Center for Educational Statistics (2020). https://nces.ed.gov/.  


Virginia Department of Education (2019). Standards of Learning Assessments  by disaggregateddata.