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Richmond Times-Dispatch - High Stakes Newsletter | RTD's Education focused n
Friday, June 9th, 2023

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You say hello and I say goodbye

Hey team,

I write with some bittersweet news. This week is my last at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. I start next Monday as a communications specialist with Hanover County Public Schools. 

This will be an abbreviated version of the newsletter, with this space dedicated to some thoughts of mine, Kenya Hunter with a brief making the rounds and the because you made it this far section that, according to poll results, is a crowd favorite.

I came to Richmond in the summer of 2016 with no connections to this city, only a motivation to do good work in my first real newspaper internship. It didn't take long for me to fall in love with this place, the newspaper and its insanely talented staff, and the city, with its good food, hiking trails and heat. 

Over the course of those 10 weeks, I covered a lot of things. Feral cats getting neutered. A special tribute for a D-Day veteran. Tim Kaine's return to Richmond after being announced as the Democratic vice presidential nominee.

If you opened that last story, you'll see that it was co-bylined with Louis Llovio. Louis was the first real education reporter I ever met. I was so fascinated by his job. The local newspaper in the small northern New York community where I grew up didn't have a dedicated Indian River Central School District reporter. Most of you know this, but I'd go to local school board meetings for fun when I was in school and served as the token student representative on school board committees. This son of two teachers loved education policy.

So when the RTD offered to have me come back in 2017 after graduating from college and cover education, it seemed like a perfect fit. I readily accepted and truly cherished the next two and a half years. I got to know teachers, administrators, parents and students. My love for school board meetings waned a little bit (looking at you, Richmond School Board) but there was no greater feeling than writing a story that informed the Richmond community about what was happening in our schools. 

As you know, I've spent this year on our state government team, covering the historic General Assembly session, the pandemic, reckoning on race, and just about everything in between, including state education stories. It's been incredibly fulfilling.

You've likely seen me say in this newsletter before that I believe in doing the next right thing (shouts to Emily P. Freeman). Well, this is the next right thing for me to do. Personally, I'm preparing for marriage and fatherhood and refuse to let myself be burnt out by the time the two most important assignments of my life begin. Professionally, I can't wait to follow in the footsteps of my parents and work for a public school system while being given the privilege of informing parents, educators and other stakeholders.

No, this was not an easy decision. Yes, I'm sure there will be times when I miss journalism. But this opportunity was simply too good to pass up.

This newsletter has been one of the highlights of my three years at the RTD. It started as an idea in the summer of 2018, launched in Februrary 2019 (on the Monday after the weekend when Virginia politics went wild) and eclipsed 5,000 subscribers last month. Thank you for subscribing and for trusting me to deliver you the news you need to know on Virginia education. It's been an honor.

Before I sign off, I wanted to share a few, non-taco stories I've written here that I look back on fondly. Thank you for reading and for everything.

  1. From September 2017: For Richmond student, Trump's DACA decision could mean deportation.

  2. From May 2018: She graduated from Collegiate on Friday. She died on Saturday.

  3. From March 2019: 'The land that time forgot': Charles City struggles to keep pace with neighbors
  4. From April 2019: To honor dying mother, a Powhatan student graduated in her hospital room
  5. From April 2019: How Richmond's Rodney Robinson became a finalist for National Teacher of the Year
  6. Bonus, from August 2019: Dallas Dance's 2nd act: How a rising education star reconciles with jail and his mother's death 
  7. Double Bonus, from March 2018: A Richmond student's poem on gun violence

You can reach me at jmattingly@timesdispatch.com through Thursday. After that, you can find me at jmattingly306@gmail.com or 315-778-6925. Please stay in touch. Go team, as they say.

(ABOVE PHOTO BY MARK GORMUS/TIMES-DISPATCH: Andrea Dungee with her son Caeden in their work space inside their Chesterfield County home Fri. July 31, 2020.)

Making the rounds

Kenya Hunter brings you this week's brief making the rounds section:

  • Colleen Curran reports that parents who are essential workers are struggling to find tutors for the upcoming year.
  • Teachers have kids. How on Earth are they going to figure out the upcoming virtual school year? Holly Prestidge writes.
  • Wayne Epps and Zach Joachim tell us how local nonprofits are trying to fill the void of in-person instruction.
  • Virginia Military Institute won't remove its Confederate statues, Justin Mattingly reports.

(ABOVE PHOTO BY ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/TIMES-DISPATCH: Christy Bare stands with her 12-year-old son Reid Bare and 13-year-old daughter Abigail Bare outside their home Wednesday, July 29, 2020.)

George Will column: Foreign policy and the inability to trust

”Not Waving but Drowning” — poem by Stevie Smith (1902-1971)


There are at least 104,149 U.S. military personnel who will not be leaving Europe. They rest in military graves, testimony to the cultural affinities and strategic vulnerabilities that produced the NATO transatlantic alliance, now 71 years old.

Intelligent, informed, public-spirited people can support the policy, announced this past week, of removing by September about one-third of the 34,500 U.S. troops stationed in Germany. Forces there will be capped at 25,000. Some might be moved elsewhere, perhaps to Poland.

The difficulty of assessing this policy illustrates the toll taken by the inability to trust — it is now unreasonable to trust — the character, judgment and veracity of the president or his employees who interpret him to the public. The default assumption must be that this new policy primarily expresses presidential pique, which always is plentiful.

Granted, it is reasonable to pressure Germany, which spends 1.38% of GDP on defense, to reach NATO’s target of 2% before, as Germany plans, in 2031. But also it is reasonable to note the following:

Angela Merkel, who has 30 years of experience in politics, including 15 years as Germany’s chancellor, and who has a doctorate in quantum chemistry, has bad chemistry with the first U.S. president with no prior government experience, civilian or military, and the first to designate himself a genius.

Although the redeployment reportedly has been contemplated for a while, The New York Times reports that “a person briefed on the planning said that it had not been vetted by the National Security Council’s traditional policy deliberation process.”

It was announced, perhaps impulsively, after Merkel’s refusal to attend the G-7 meeting that President Donald Trump wanted held in Washington at the end of this month. (Trump’s suggestion to permanently enlarge the G-7 by adding Russia was stymied by Britain and Canada, who impertinently reminded him that they have something to say about this.)

The redeployment gratifies Vladimir Putin who, since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, has been slowly and not very stealthily dismembering Europe’s geographically largest nation, Ukraine. Putin, the other world figure who is a cauldron of resentments, has a special grievance against NATO for its role in the Soviet Union’s demise, which he considers “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”

He surely has enjoyed Trump’s denigration of NATO and would relish the alliance’s disintegration. This could be accomplished by proving that Article 5 of the NATO treaty has become a nullity: “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them ... shall be considered an attack against them all.” Neither Putin, nor the Baltic states, nor NATO’s members can assume that Article 5 is among the few obligations that Trump takes seriously.

Germany had not been officially notified of the redeployment when The Wall Street Journal reported it. Trump probably believes that manners are for weaklings, but they do lubricate life’s frictions.

Frictions with Europe matter. The Obama administration’s “pivot” toward Asia, announced in 2011, prior to President Barack Obama’s nine-day trip to the continent, was wiser than the fanfare surrounding it. The European Union is the world’s second-largest economy (the U.S. economy is first), with a per capita income ($35,616) 3.6 times China’s. Europe’s evolving relations with China will be a challenge for Obama’s former vice president beginning next Jan. 20.

Meanwhile, the gerund of a verb the British use describes Trump’s frequent stance toward allies. Whinging is defined as complaining “persistently and in a peevish or irritating way.” Europe, having been pivoted away from, might deserve some politeness.

Congressional Democrats complain that funds appropriated for military logistics in Europe have been diverted to pay for Trump’s border wall. If only the Constitution had given Congress the power of the purse.

Trump is terrified of appearing weak. Polls indicate an increasing probability that he will slink away a loser. He makes some national security decisions from petulance. And he is fascinated with the military as a presidential toy for his amusement, self-expression and political posturing (e.g., the testosterone spill in Lafayette Square). So, this might be pertinent:

In the Nixon administration’s final days, when the president was distraught and erratic, Defense Secretary James Schlesinger instructed the most senior leaders of the armed services not to obey presidential orders without first consulting him or Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. One hopes that the Trump administration’s responsible officials, however few they are, remember this episode in the final seven months of a president who is not waving.


Justin Mattingly

Your host, Justin Mattingly, covers Virginia politics and policy for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He likes baseball (go Cardinals), a good book (especially biographies) and one stop light small towns. Drop him a line at jmattingly@timesdispatch.com.