Editors Note: This is the first installment of the 3rd District RPS Board Candidate Guide. We asked all six candidates the same ten questions and will be releasing one questionnaire per day in the order they were returned. We did not edit any of the responses received for content, accuracy, spelling, grammar, or anything else. At the time of posting, we have received responses from 2 candidates: Kenya Gibson and Cindy Menz-Erb.
QUESTION 1: Tell us about yourself in 100 words or less.
Richmond is my home. I moved here eleven years ago and immediately fell in love with Northside, a community committed to making this city great. I’m an active parent at Holton, where I spent the past two years serving as Vice President of the PTA. It’s a great community!
I’m also a working mother and that makes me a staunch advocate of public education. I was raised in a generation when public schools were accountable to diversity. I attended schools in high-poverty and highly-affluent neighborhoods, with magnet programs and bussing. Those schools led me to Yale, and toward a fulfilling career in marketing.
QUESTION 2: Tell us why you are running for school board in 100 words or less.
We parents fight for our kids. For me, that means understanding the IEP process and excessive testing. It means showing up at city hall to ensure teachers are paid a fair wage. It means knowing that my kids benefit when kids across the city are being taught in a safe building.
I know education was key to my success, and that our collective strength is directly tied to great public schools. That conviction, paired with being a city parent, led me to work with other advocates and to run for office.
QUESTION 3: Why are you more qualified than the other candidates?
I’ve found my community in a grassroots circle of teachers, parents, and neighbors who do their homework. We’ve poured through budgets, dug through VDOE statistics, and spent countless evenings at school board and city council meetings. I’m thankful to have found this group of informed citizens that continues to grow.
As a PTA leader at a diverse school like Holton and as an advocate, I’ve worked to grow engagement across the spectrum. During my tenure on the PTA board, we increased PTA membership by nearly 50%. We need more engagement across the city. My hope is that whoever is elected to the school board will unite communities in the third district and beyond. The ideal candidate can navigate a complex landscape that remains divided by race. We must find ways to heal and grow together.
I have kids enrolled in RPS, so I know the stakes. I do the work, and I know how to govern.
QUESTION 4: What do you think ‘government transparency’ looks like in practice?
Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, citizens can do their own research. I submitted my first FOIA request last year. It wasn’t so easy. A simple request for budget details took months of follow up and the final result was incomplete. That’s not government transparency.
Transparency is accountability. It should require that information like my request doesn’t require a FOIA. Budget documentation should be searchable. Meetings with elected officials should be recorded with video, audio, and translation. Personnel changes should not be clouded in mystery.
There is a fine, fuzzy line between privacy that protects and that which abets political agendas and the undue power monied interests have in education. I’m a proud progressive Democrat, and I’m willing to take on anyone in power when the well-being of our young people is at stake.
QUESTION 5: What do you see as the #1 problem facing RPS? What is the solution?
Without question, the problem is poverty. Poverty is the umbrella under which all other issues fall. The challenges RPS faces are not a surprising anomaly. If you want to find schools and districts with low test scores, look for cities and neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty. This is true throughout the country.
There is no simple solution. We need policy and incentives at the federal, state, and local level to promote socioeconomic diversity in our neighborhoods and schools. We should put more emphasis on life-outcome metrics like earnings and less emphasis on multiple choice tests. As a district we should aim to become a leader in special education and multicultural learning. Our city reflects the changing demographics of our country. Let’s embrace who we are.
QUESTION 6: Are you in favor of or against charter schools? Why or why not?
In order for our nation to deliver on the promise of the American dream, we must aim for a public education system where every school is a good school.
Corporate reforms, which include the charter industry and the business of high stakes testing, are antithetical to this goal. That model replaces a democratically-elected school board, charged with overseeing a system of good schools, with a fragmented competitive landscape of winners and losers.
Without question, I want every existing school to thrive, whether it is a charter school or not. The few individual charter schools we have are not the issue. That said, I am thankful for state laws which limit the expansion of charter programs and protect us from putting private interests before our kids. I believe with organized advocacy, we can offer our kids better options that are accessible to all.
QUESTION 7: What does it mean to you to ‘support teachers’?
I talk to teachers every day, and it’s clear they want to be valued and heard. Their needs are not uniform – nor are their classrooms. Some want more curricular flexibility, others need support with student discipline. Teachers have asked for meaningful professional development, smaller class sizes, safe building environments, and basic resources for their classrooms.
While salary may not be at the top of their wish list – that matters too. The National Education Association’s recent survey highlights that Virginia teachers make $8,000 less than the national average. We can do better.
Supporting teachers means creating a culture where we can say yes. We must say yes to functional buildings and a living wage. Their working conditions are our kid’s learning conditions, so let’s be clear: what we offer our teachers, we offer our kids.
QUESTION 8: Do you support redistricting? Why or why not? If so, how would you approach it?
Cities are living things – populations ebb, flow and shift. As a city, we must be committed to executing a long-term facilities plan that reflects our growth. Redistricting plays a role in that process.
When it comes to decisions that impact where hundreds of children attend school, we must move beyond temporary emergency fixes. I applaud the work of the Facilities Task Force. This collaborative effort took a comprehensive approach in developing a long term plan. Their investigation dispelled the myth that rezoning could address budget shortfalls and building issues in one fell swoop.
This work must be handled clearly, holisticly, proactively, and with sensitivity.
QUESTION 9: What is your opinion of the Mayor’s Education Compact?
I am thankful our city is committed to collaboration. There is nothing more frustrating than reading headlines about government bodies refusing to work together. The city has a responsibility to fund our schools which requires an effective process to ensure needs are met.
Ideally, the Education Compact is a framework for partnership that extends beyond a four-year term. That said, it is important to get right. While the intention behind the compact is good, there were aspects of the initial draft that concerned teachers, parents and advocates alike. I am proud of our collective efforts that led to revisions for more teacher and parent representation, more transparency, and the addition of a children’s cabinet which brings together each city department that touches the lives of our kids.
QUESTION 10: What do you think are the most important qualities the next Superintendent of RPS must have?
When I think of the ideal superintendent, I imagine my favorite teachers and professors. They were professionals that embraced new ideas, and were gifted communicators. They were inspiring and passionate about education. They understood that schools were not just buildings where kids learned to multiply but were a space for children and young adults to learn to navigate in a diverse world. They valued me and each of my classmates as a person, nurtured our ideas, and believed in the potential of our future.
Let’s find a superintendent that knows how to teach.