Jenny Aghomo - 5th District School Board candidate

https://www.jenny4schoolboard.com/

 

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

 

The Strategic Plan was composed of over 170 Community meetings and I attended quite a few of them. I also had the opportunity to discuss the Strategic Plan many times while being a part of Mr. Kamras’s Parent Advisory Committee. The Plan is designed to hold our students to higher academic standards, engage parents and community, and help to provide teachers with the tools they need to succeed in the classroom. Going forward, it will be up to us as parents and guardians to keep RPS’s administration accountable as we continue to see the rest of the Strategic Plan accomplished..

 

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?

 

Anytime you have a situation that no one has ever been through there’s going to be a certain amount of fear that goes with it. With that being said, there’s no better time than now for parents to be advocating for your child. This especially goes for parents with special needs children. Because we are not going to know the effects that COVID has had on our students, it will be important that school administrators, counselors, and teachers work together so that no child will fall through the cracks. When it’s time to go back to school using remediation will help students catch up. This is where community and schools come together, volunteers can help with reading and math. It will have to be an all hands on deck attitude if we are to get our children the help they need.

 

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 previous City and RPS Administration would constantly argue and place blame on one another. It was very evident during the budget season that there was a lot of animosity between the School Board and City Council. I believe that’s why the Education Compact was created. Bringing both governing bodies together in a non-threatening way and being able to talk about what is needed. The Education Compact can be used as a way to collaborate between; Community Organizations, School Board, and Council. If we are really about our students, we will do whatever it takes to get them the resources they need and deserve.

 

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

 

As a District, we need to start earlier in the year if we are going to make any kind of effect on our state delegates. Matthew Stanley, RPS’s lobbyist, does a good job representing our district. It would be great to have a committee that could assist Stanley and get RPS families involved in the whole process. We also have to keep the pressure on our City Council as well. As parents, let’s continue to visit Council meetings during the school year and let them know we are watching.

 

 

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

 

Here’s the thing, the changes that were ultimately voted on did nothing in terms of promoting racial diversity. Of course, there are other factors involved if RPS wants to make schools more equitable. For starters, changes need to be made when it comes to the open enrollment process. When we first came to Richmond, I had to enroll my girls right away because school was starting in a few days. I had one going into 5th grade and one starting Kindergarten. We lived a few blocks from Cary, so it seemed like a no-brainer. I’ll be honest I had no idea what to expect except for what I read and it was not favorable, but we went ahead with it anyway. My daughters are bi-racial but I’m Hispanic (though I mostly look white) when we came on the first day I could count on one hand how many white families were at Cary. Did people stare? Sure. Were parents nice? Yes. Did it take a while for people to trust me? Of course! Was it the best decision I could’ve ever made for my girls? Absolutely! I am so happy that I didn’t listen to all the naysayers. I’m never going to tell a family where to send their kid to school but you will never know unless you try for yourself. You might just be missing out on some great experiences.

 

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 would support policies to make PTA’s more equitable. I know the value PTA can bring to not only the students but to the school as a whole. It’s your best tool for getting parents and teachers involved. There are indeed some PTA’s that have an exorbitant amount of money while others are lucky if they have a few hundred. Right there you already know the kind of parent involvement that is at those schools. Though the School Board cannot demand schools to have a PTA, they can encourage the school’s administration to be looking at ways to keep families happy and engaged

 

 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?

 

RPS has done a good job in the last couple of years in trying to boost it’s Early Childhood Education Program. I see RPS’s role as making it as easy as possible for Richmond families the City should be offering preschool families free immunizations and health checkups as well as bringing in Community Organizations to help families in need. The number one goal is to one day have every family with a preschooler enrolled in an Early Childhood Program, this will set the child up for a successful academic career. On a personal note, my daughter loved Maymont Preschool! I loved the professional staff and the confidence it gave her to start Kindergarten.

 

 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?

 

Even in Elementary schools, we should be talking about college and career readiness. By cultivating that mindset through middle school and taking students to the surrounding colleges we have here in the city, we are showing students the different paths you can take after you graduate. By the time a student is a senior, they usually have a fairly good idea of whether they want to go to Community College, Trade School, or attend a traditional College. Whatever that choice is, as a community our job is to keep supporting and encouraging our young people to be the best version of themselves. Everyone needs encouragement and to be reminded that there is someone who cares.

 

 

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. 

 

With thousands of student absences being reported, the state-required standards will be skewed along with the requirements for school accreditation. It wouldn’t be fair to any school district but especially RPS, given the children we serve. Lastly, I would like to see the state forgo 2020-21 SOL’s which of course is directly linked to the accreditation process. With or without a pandemic I would like to see changes at the state level regarding SOL testing. There’s too much pressure being put on teachers and students and it’s not fair to either

 

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

 

To retain skilled teachers, RPS needs to stay competitive with teacher salary and benefits, as well as offer stipends to teachers who would like to further their education. I’m also a huge proponent of incentive based pay for teachers especially for our hard to staff schools. If we want to have skilled principals I think we should start hiring from within the school district. Principals would already know what the district’s expectations are. I’ve seen it. When looking for talent, Human Resources must seek black male teachers as well. Yes, it might take some extra effort, but it’s very important that all students feel as though they are represented in the classroom.

 

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

 

The biggest change I would make to RPS’s disciplinary procedures would be the policies behind suspensions. Studies show that out-of-school suspensions hurt student achievement and that’s for any infraction, including a non-violent like class disorder or general disruption. Suspensions can further cause the achievement gap to widen as well. A couple of thoughts, if teachers ignore disruptive behavior it will only get worse and if administrators fail to support the teachers they could easily lose control of the situation. Consistently following through on an action plan is one of the best ways to truly foster discipline in schools. Still, surveys show that parent support suspension because it is perceived as those students away from their peers. Administrators may also favor suspension because it edges problem students out of school: but the real truth is repeated student offenders are three times more likely to drop out of school. When students are consistently suspended there are normally underlying issues that need to be resolved. As a district, I would like to see us take more of a mental health approach and be proactive in helping our students that need it the most.

 

 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?

 

Our City is not like the counties when it comes to tax revenue and because of that, we must find alternative ways to have a continual line of funding that is specifically for building new schools. In 2018 the meals tax was voted on by the city council as a way to bring in extra revenue that ultimately built 2 new schools. I spoke in favor of the meals tax because our students deserve new schools. If as a district we continue to let our schools deteriorate what does that say about our city? Our communities? I would tell the city council that we can’t expect academic excellence and then not give our students the resources to thrive. It doesn’t work that way. I’ve attended enough council meetings to know that there is money somewhere in their budget for schools. It’s just a matter of priority, and not just for the city but the country as well