Editors Note: This is the third 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. This candidate’s response was received after responses from Kenya Gibson and Cynthia Menz-Erb were posted. At the time of this posting, we have not received questionnaires from other candidates.
QUESTION 1: Tell us about yourself in 100 words or less.
I am a father, business owner, music educator, community organizer and a proud graduate of John Marshall High School. I was raised by my grandparents, and they taught me the importance of community involvement and being a leader. I grew up in the church (Trinity Baptist, Richmond, Virginia) if the doors were open, I was there. I dedicated 12 years to Scouting (Eagle Scout), and was a musician there for over 15 years. I’ve lived in the 3rd District for over 20 years and my early success as a youth leader has followed me throughout my adult life.
QUESTION 2: Tell us why you are running for school board in 100 words or less.
My heart goes out to our kids, I’ve witnessed inequality for black students in education and I’m truly frustrated. The status quo is decades of neglect as we as a community can no longer afford to look the other way, our communities are suffering. The 3rd District has been divided for years and I want what’s best for all our children and that’s us coming together as one, to continue the fight while embracing the innovation necessary to equip all students for college and careers. These are vital to ensuring the success of our schools and strength of our communities.
QUESTION 3: Why are you more qualified than the other candidates?
I empathize with our students, teachers and parents because I was born and raised here. Being a student and then volunteering with RPS for over 13 years, I’ve seen a lot happen when politics dictate what goes on in our schools and it’s just not right. I know that we can do so much more because I am that passionate, transparent, empathetic and true representation that we need. I understand that preparing our children to return our tax/ time investment to our community is important, even if they choose not to attend college, they can still be successful with the proper educational track.
This isn’t new to me, I visit our schools frequently and I’m in the communities and not just at election time. I’ve been advocating for our students for years as a resident. Now, is the time for me to be on a different platform to create a climate that’s welcoming, safe and conducive to teaching and learning. Understanding that we must offer Not just equal but equitable solutions that ensures educational excellence and a school district that we can all be proud of. I am that voice of reason and will be able to bridge those gaps between the educational haves and have-nots. It’s not going to be an easy task but I’m committed to fighting for what’s right and for the best interest of ALL our children regardless of race, status or zip code.
QUESTION 4: What do you think ‘government transparency’ looks like in practice?
It’s all about accessibility, accountability and engagement As an elected official, I do believe that it’s imperative to not only keep an open line of communication but be willing to have the conversations and stay engaged with the public. If the public wants to access information, it should be readily available and at no cost. The government is responsible for serving its constituents and how they conduct business should be no secret, especially when dealing with taxpayers’ dollars. It adds clarity to a system so that officials can be held accountable. To be a well-respected body of government and to be trusted, transparency is key.
QUESTION 5: What do you see as the #1 problem facing RPS? What is the solution?
I believe that our school facilities should be our #1 concern. Due to years of neglect we’ve come to a critical state and immediate action is required. When you look at our facilities and take into consideration the environment for student learning, adequate space for activities, technology to meet the learning needs of our students, safety an athletic facilities. We’re not only failing our students but our educators and communities as well.
It’s time that we start to talk less and act on what we all know to be true. Our school facilities need immediate attention because of our 47 schools, only 8 have them has been built since 1968. This should be enough for our administration to understand the needs It’s time to look at how current funds can be reallocated to Capital Improvement and not wasted. Our funds have been used to purchase bandages versus addressing the underlying issues and preventing the district from continuing to hemorrhage money. Funds are being wasted on unnecessary staffing positions, and programs that aren’t being used with fidelity or just aren’t even a fit for our students. The need to cut the wasteful spending is important and best placed where it helps with improving our infrastructure. We must stand up, be vocal and show our support for The School Infrastructure Modernization Act that’s been introduced. The facilities plan just needs to be updated and then it’s time to make some tough decisions. It’s going to take all of us working together for our schools to be something our families, children and staff can be proud of.
QUESTION 6: Are you in favor of or against charter schools? Why or why not?
I’m not in favor of charter schools currently under the State of Virginia forming our charters. My concern is Why? do we need a charter school to focus on the arts and science and not a public-school? I believe in improving and expanding our specialty schools within our school district. When we have these school options available that perform well, there wouldn’t be a need for charter schools.
Analyzing how we form specialty schools versus what’s working in other systems with the same demographics of Richmond is important. I believe that our children should have more options and be enrolled based on their interest in a school’s theme, not based upon where they live. Our ability to offer a specialized focus in the curriculum or distinctive type of environment or instruction would be exceptional. We would be able to serve children from across the city and be designed to maintain a socioeconomic balance of our student body.
QUESTION 7: What does it mean to you to ‘support teachers’?
We have some exceptional educators in Richmond that go above and beyond. I believe that for us to fully support them, we must change how we do things. The time is now that we start to listen more closely to what teachers are asking for. We need to take away the responsibilities of what they are not getting paid to do and give them the opportunity to just teach.
It’s imperative that we figure out how to provide our educators with the necessary tools, resources and support services to ensure success in the classroom. We must have competent leadership that appreciates and acknowledges the work of their educators, respects their educators, supports the educators and allows them opportunities for career growth. It’s time that we give them the support, time, and, most importantly, a voice.
QUESTION 8: Do you support redistricting? Why or why not? If so, how would you approach it?
I support redistricting only when it supports a “well-thought-out” plan that balances school populations by socioeconomic status. While it’s important that our schools are easily accessible for parents with limited transportation, to give an opportunity to be present and supportive in their children’s education. It’s also important that we do a much better job at balancing our schools’ economic diversity. What matters most is providing a high-quality education, and that every student has equal access to this education.
What’s important going forward is that we take into consideration the financial savings, community input, low enrollment, safety, teaching conditions, and academic performance. This must be done, but it also must be done right this time.
QUESTION 9: What is your opinion of the Mayor’s Education Compact?
Thankfully, our current administration understands the importance of education and has taken a proactive approach to address it with the Education Compact. I appreciate the fact that the compact not only identifies the importance of our children’s education but also how a holistic approach is important. This living document creates a cooperative effort amongst our elected officials that hasn’t happened in the past.
Having ongoing conversations and not just at budget time brings about awareness. When everyone comes to the table with a full understanding of the needs, better results are to follow. This also gives community stakeholders a chance to come together and outlines the standards of thinking as we form the best plan for our children’s education.
QUESTION 10: What do you think are the most important qualities the next Superintendent of RPS must have?
I believe that it’s time we start to look at what our next superintendent should be, a bit differently. While we all appreciate the necessity of basic educational credentials and experience, but that’s what we’ve always had at RPS, and it hasn’t worked. We need someone who can look at a budget and make tough decisions in fiscal prioritizing. It’s crucial that they know the business side of making education work, while understanding that the academic needs of our children come first.
Our superintendent must have a clear understanding of not just the needs of structurally sound facilities that are safe but also the importance of school culture. They must have effective leadership, in our schools to lead and work with our teachers to serve the needs of ALL students. This leader must understand Richmond’s diverse political forces and must be willing to make tough decisions and make those forces all work to be part of the solution.
A Hybrid Superintendent is what I’m looking for, I know it’s possible and we don’t have to look far.