Five Ways to Strengthen Richmond’s Education Compact

The past six months have brought an abundance of change to Richmond Public Schools. Even among involved parents and public education advocates, it’s difficult to stay informed. On top of typical issues like budgeting, accreditation, and ongoing building maintenance we are about to embark on the epic task of selecting a new superintendent and define a formal structure for legislative collaboration. And unlike the task forces and subcommittees we’ve seen before, the Education Compact will create a framework that lives beyond this four-year term.

If you’ve lived in Richmond for even a month and read a headline or two, it’s evident that collaboration is so important for our city. For those of us who have lived here awhile, we’ve seen great promises that didn’t bring that much needed unity. The Education Compact has the opportunity to be different. Here are some suggestions on how to get us there.

Bring teachers to the table

When it comes to Richmond Public Schools, there is no group more informed than the nearly two thousand professionals that work with our students everyday. Teachers are our experts. And it is important that we include a diverse mix of educators from throughout the city in these discussions because the perspective they bring is not uniform. There is a range of philosophies on issues like the value of homework, discipline, and the use of technology in the classroom. These voices must be heard. And their shared experience of putting tactics to work should be leveraged as we move ahead.

Put school integration at the forefront

It can not be disputed that the challenges we face today are the legacy of racially driven school and housing policies made over many decades. For Richmond, educational justice is integrally tied to racial justice. Testing and technology can not save us. Integrated schools can. Schools that reflect the diversity of our city lift us all. Getting us there can not happen overnight — and requires a city-wide commitment. As the compact team considers plans and policy, let’s commit to asking if each idea will move us closer to the promise that Brown vs. Board of Education made over sixty years ago.

Boost democracy through community engagement and transparency

As a city, our most difficult conversations only occur in silos. Topics like discipline, zoning and specialty schools become public arguments at the end of the story rather than opportunities for listening at the beginning. The sad result is that possible solutions fail right out of the gate. This is why we must reach beyond appointed stakeholders. So in addition to formal legislative meetings, let’s create a space for larger community discussion.

And to encourage more engagement in quarterly and monthly meetings — bring on the transparency. Let’s commit to having no closed door meetings and scheduling all sessions when teachers and community members are likely able to attend. And let’s ensure that every meeting is filmed, transcribed, translated and posted publicly for those who can not.

Empower our future superintendent

If I had a magic wand, I’d opt to begin collaboration now, have those difficult conversations with the community, and finalize the formal process once we have a new superintendent in place. I’m optimistic in the belief that our new school leader will bring much to the table as it pertains to the strategies and structure of the compact.

Regardless of timing though, let’s ensure that the framework we put in place empowers the person we select. Any prospective superintendent that is up to the task of leading a district like ours will want a key role in this collaboration. Public education advocates often discuss the merits of allowing teachers and principals the ability to design their classroom and schools. Increased state and federal demands make this harder and harder to do. As a city, let’s onboard our new superintendent with trust and much opportunity for leadership.

Promote ideation and commit to full funding

As a marketer, I love a good team brainstorm. Done right, the Education Compact can be just that — an opportunity to bring new concepts to the table. Brainstorming isn’t easy though. The challenge with group ideation, is often bold ideas aren’t given the space for consideration because the logistics seem too large to overcome and funding feels impossible.

So while it may be true that our current budget will not allow new programs or buildings right away — let’s not take those ideas off the table. In high-poverty school districts like ours — both strategies and money matters. Let’s begin with the ideas we all believe in, and then find the will and means to make them a reality.