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Richmond School Board considers turnaround options for failing schools

Richmond School Board considers turnaround options for failing schools

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Richmond school leaders on Monday night heard from four potential partners to help improve the academic performance at long-struggling city schools.

During a work session in City Hall, the board received presentations from Cambridge, Pearson, Innovative Education Programs and Catapult Learning.

The companies were making pitches at the invitation of school administrators to work in individual schools.

“I think with the depth of the problem in some of our schools, this is a real priority,” said 3rd District School Board member Jeff M. Bourne.

Several weeks ago, Bourne urged fellow board members to dedicate the entire meeting to the topic. No one objected.

Superintendent Dana T. Bedden, other central office administrators and school principals have worked since early October to identify possible partners that could make lasting changes.

The process was part of state-mandated oversight related to schools that have slipped into a special category.

Richmond has 12 of Virginia’s 36 Title 1 Priority Schools, or those in the bottom 5 percent statewide in academic performance.

Under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education that waived the No Child Left Behind standards, Virginia agreed to tough measures for improving failing schools, including the use of outside vendors to implement new programs in failing schools.

Bedden opened the meeting by promising that the presentations would be consistent, then sat back and allowed the vendors to deliver lengthy overviews of what they hoped to accomplish.

The talks centered on general themes for improving Binford, Elkhardt, Henderson and Martin Luther King Jr. middle schools, John Marshall High School and the Richmond Alternative School, among others.

Board members asked the presenters about everything from teacher training to implementing existing programs to making sure students stay engaged.

The school principals also had an opportunity to speak.

Henderson Principal DeBerry Goodwin was asked why he wants to work with Pearson, which pitched a 40-hour-a-week model.

“They’re not coming in throwing out everything,” said Goodwin, who is in his first year at the school. “They’re looking at what works.”

MLK Principal Rickie Hopkins said he chose Individual Education Programs because “I liked the idea that they were coming in brand new. They’re focusing on academics, which we all know is important, but there are culture changes that need to take place, too.”

In Richmond, the schools on this year’s state list include Blackwell, G.H. Reid, Ginter Park, Oak Grove and Woodville elementary schools; Binford, Elkhardt, Thompson, Henderson and Martin Luther King Jr. middle schools; John Marshall High School; and the Richmond Alternative School, a grade 6-12 school for students with discipline issues.

The partners, if approved by the School Board, could be in place by as early as January when students return from the holiday break.


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