Dawn Page (8th District)
Yes, I support the RPS Strategic Plan. It is a community driven process that was thoughtful and thorough road map for the direction of Richmond Public Schools in the intermediate future. Such a blueprint, with goals and objective metrics, defining the baseline and incremental benchmarks, is critical for guiding the Administration for the best academic interest and outcomes for our children, within the design of the governing body. Strategic planning is an ongoing, dynamic necessity. The five-year target document, Dream4RPS, took into consideration where the district started (2018/19) and where we should go for the sake of our children. Community meetings throughout the district were an integral part of this process, and ongoing input from community engagement continues. Ten tactical goals are defined and the steps to achieving those goals are well aligned. The process was long in development, and is a collaboration of experienced minds in the RPS Administration and the current and School Board. As a member of the latter, I not only promoted the process but considered it my responsibility to use best practices to help develop and refine the Dreams4RPS until it was ready for the Board’s vote.
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?
Since the school closure in March, RPS has provided over a million meals to our students. In addition, to ensure that technology would not result in further barriers, 16,000 chrome books and 6,000 hotspots were distributed to students. An additional 10,000 chrome books were ordered to provide even more students to have access to technology regardless of socioeconomic background. We have an obligation and responsibility to every RPS student to have the same quality educational experience. We rely on input from community members and experts to identify needs and inform policy making.
While the pandemic has highlighted disparities and inequities in many communities, Richmond and RPS have been diligently identifying and addressing the needs of students and their families from meals to technology support and ESL classes even before Covid-19. However, we must raise community awareness of the varied resources, and rely, somewhat on vigilance and parental and community engagement to continue to uncover the origins and manifestations of these inequities. As always, while the education of our children and community are the responsibility of RPS, it takes a partnership of all stakeholders, community engagement and adequate funding to reach our goals.
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?
The RPS Education Compact is an advisory team designed to inform and make recommendations to the Mayor, School Board and City Council with regard to RPS and the legislative bodies’ shared concerns for our students. While well defined by each team, the scope of in-depth considerations should not be limited to thinking inside a box. In fact, the value of the advisory team is that the broad, cross-sector interests and solutions provide an abundance of perspectives identifying problems and offering various potential opportunities for collaborative resolutions. The team’s recommendations are nonbinding, and should remain so, free of politics and special interests.
Similarly, the process of member selection (those from the School Board, Council and the community) should remain transparent. Eligibility for selection for membership should remain well defined but open. Meetings and minutes, likewise. Collaboration of the community and the elected officials is critical to success, but the productivity and harvest from the time invested time and energies relies on the commitment of those involved – including the reception of recommendations – toward the shared interests. As a current SB member, as well as candidate, I am supportive of this endeavor, and am open to suggestions as to how to make it more accessible and functional, including extending the number of members and the recruitment of all aspects of community.
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.
In the past twelve years, RPS has become more effective advocating for deserved funding at both the council and general assembly. Like so many of the processes of public education, this is a community effort. While the School Board holds the administration accountable for budget design and implementation, funding is not within the control of our body. Board members rely on buy-in from an informed and engaged community, cooperation of Council colleagues and the commitment of General Assembly members. Each locality’s voice gets the attention of those who hold the purse strings. The reality is, Board members must be aligned, and we must rely on constituents and good communication at all levels to constantly pursue not only the current budgetary demands, but the ground that should be made-up from years of neglect. It is an ongoing process, and vigilance and persistence seems to be the only answer, especially when revenues are limited by economic realities.
5. Do you support changes to RPS’s zoning policies to promote more racially diverse schools, especially at the elementary school level?
I have long supported improving zoning policies that promote more racially diverse RPS schools. However, a major barrier is transportation and other issues related to an urban district with less-integrated neighborhoods crisscrossed by major roads. (Prior to 2004, transportation was more accessible to all RPS students, but cost-saving measures changed that.) In order to achieve a more racially diverse system, promoting true equity, we much address these and other unbalanced resources. Currently, it seems politics and special interests have a thumb on the scale impeding the best interest of all children.
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?
While strong, effective PTAs can supplement resources on individual campuses, it is clear that disparities in resources contribute to the achievement gap. The mission statement of RPS, including alliance with “A Pledge by America’s Great City Schools” has a foundation of equity. Urban schools in particular, have many needs that the public education system can address, committed with any creative and collaborative means. As an example, facilities alone need to be adequate and compensatory. Building new schools, with a priority to replace George Wythe HS and expanding elementary schools on the Southside would provide a tangible start. Community involvement in the planning and building process is essential. There is no additional cost to planning wisely, and listening to community voices. This is the grassroots where engagement begins. Across socioeconomic status and regardless of whether families have school-aged children, each taxpayer and every resident is invested in successful graduates and a healthy, equitable public school system. Variously focused campuses, specialty high schools and open enrollment provide unique opportunities, and information and assistance regarding enrollment must be readily available.
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?
The public school system, by federal and state mandate, provides services through various agencies and programs, to all children virtually from birth. RPS is no exception, and is committed to do so via various agencies and programs (such as Head Start, Virginia Preschool Initiative and Early Childhood Special Education. Expanding the delivery of services to ensure each child is classroom ready at traditional “school age” requires funding, and is incorporated in RPS budget. As enlightened, policy changes in depth and scope, arise to ensure access to general education. Assessment, placement and services are need- and thus policy-driven. Unfortunately, funding requires budgetary planning and often aggressive prioritizing with the help of community voices to local, state and federal legislators.
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?
Richmond Public Schools will prepare our students to become successful, contributing members of society through innovative and compassionate learning communities.” A high school diploma should bestow an authentic workplace and/or college preparedness on the graduate. On-time graduation is only a component of success; the high school experience and the building blocks to get there are the methods and means RPS provides. We prepare our students all along the way with the skills to problem solve in a future that cannot be fully described in the here and now. School Board policies that address the spectrum of needs and individual challenges to that end oversee the RPS administration and learning environments. Community input, parent engagement and the knowledge of best practices are critical in an ever changing landscape. Partnerships, such as the initiative between J Sergeant Reynolds Community Colleges and Richmond Technical Vocational Center as well as regional cooperatives of CodeRVA and the Governor’s Schools must be developed and maintained for broad offerings.
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?
The impact of the pandemic and sometimes less than congruous virtual learning certainly challenges the implementation of the assessment and accreditation procedures. This implementation is largely a state mandate and operation. Leadership at the federal and state level as well as data driven best practices will form the basis of necessary and reasonable revisions.
10. What should the School Board be doing to improve the attraction, development, and retention of skilled teachers and skilled principals?
Teaching and the administrative ranks which support our classroom teachers is a true calling, and elevation of salaries to compensate the roles educators play in preparing our young people is a fundamental need across the board, throughout the United States RPS must remain competitive in thislight, but, more so, we need to provide our faculty the resources and environment that they need in order to perform their duties. It goes without saying that adequate funding for both salaries and benefits, facilities and resources will go far to retain these essential professionals. Opportunities for professional development and advancement are also part of the picture. Consistency in employment policies, integrity in the workplace and requisite support staff are relied upon. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as reauthorized in No Child Left Behind, provide training guidelines and funding for teacher and principal recruitment and retention. The RPS administration must be dedicated to optimizing those tools, in an ongoing basis.
11. What changes in RPS’s disciplinary procedures would you recommend, and why?
We must ensure RPS’s disciplinary policies are fair and equitable, based on social justice and best practices. Underlying behavioral, mental, and social issues some students bring with them contribute to a non-conducive learning environment for all. I see the impact every day of not addressing these intrinsic issues early; the outcome being the schools to prison pipeline. If not addressed by recommended interventions, our children become statistics in the juvenile justice system, and subsequently get ensnared in a revolving door of jails, and prisons. As policymakers, we must employ measures to assess both needs and interventions for underlying issues, supporting the whole child. Evidence based practices/solutions are paramount to providing our children with the necessary wrap-around support of services which may become critical to a positive learning environment for high risk urban school students.
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?
Both city and state have failed to adequately fund public education, particularly locally, for years. In the most recent budget, RPS received $18 M (Operational Budget) & $19 M (CIP - Capital Improvement Project Building Maintenance), but that does not make up for decades of neglect. We have to continue to work collaboratively to advocate for funding to address these needs. It is one role of School Board members to educate the public in community forums as to ongoing budgetary requirements to achievegrowth and improvement. Promoting engagement of community leaders and members of the council will help enlighten everyone as to the dire needs of our students. There are only so many sources of revenue; clarity and consensuses of priorities will rule the day. Surely our children’s education is the priority. We may indeed need to increase taxes today to provide the soundest foundation for the future.