BONUS: Transcript of interview with new RPS superintendent

Posted at 6:55 PM, Feb 18, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-18 18:55:25-05

Below is transcript of CBS 6 reporter Joe St. George’s interview with  Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Dana Bedden.

Question: With all the job postings, are people quitting on you?  Or are you cleaning house?

Answer:  I wouldn’t categorize it as either.  I think it’s a combination of we are, have some people that are choosing to retire, cause they’re at that point in their career.

Question: Forced retirement?

Answer: I don’t think I’ve forced anybody to retire, but that’s my perspective.  They can only speak for themselves.  I would tell you that we are clear about, trying to be clear about where we’re going, and the pace that we got to move.  So, that could influence people’s decisions.  Some maybe just by choice that they realize they want to move on and not continue on to do this heavy lifting.  Others are vacant positions that were vacant and there was a decision not to fill them so that it left room for us to build a team that would be aligned with the super intendant.  Others were going in a different direction.  So, we are able to notify people about our intentions and to pursue other options with regards to skill set matching and job description or other expectations we want to have in place.  It was a combination of all those things.  Some, again, what we do are natural, the process of this time of year.  We have the reason to believe that we should anticipate principal openings.  So we don’t want to wait until we get the announcement, someone to share with us.  Typically people make decisions late so we want to make sure we have that process well under way so that we can hit the ground running, that we are prepared to make decisions.  But, I would tell you; this effort is about trying to get the best instructional and operational leaders in our district.

Question: Are these 5 principal openings that are on your website now, are they posted for anticipation of retirement?  Or is there movement in every direction?

Answer: –A mixture.  We have a vacancy in one of our middle schools right now.  But, the conversation with HR is that, while we are advertising for that principalship, we might as well advertise for others.  And, knowing that we typically get some turnover that exists, there may be some point in time that I may have to make decisions about people later on but we want to already have that process started so we aren’t left licking and saying, “what are we going to do now?”

Question: I have been in offices where someone new has come in and decided to make changes.  What does that do to the morale of the staff?  Is the morale of Richmond Public School workers, central office workers, low?

Answer: I can’t speak to what was before I got here.  I have been here all of a month and I would tell you that my conversation has always been that we will try to identify and reward talent inside.  But, we also have to be open to bringing in new ideas, fresh ideas–a fresh lance.  I think the best of both worlds is where we have the ability to promote from within but also bring in new talent to look at things differently, to add new ideas on how to tack and solve problems that we may be facing.  I think that there is, hopefully, a clear message that, as long as you’re doing your job, you’ll be ok.  But at the same time we’re not going to be an employment agency, so, if you’re not doing your job we have responsibility to the students, the other staff members because they need to work along with someone that’s going to do their part, and our tax payers to make sure they get a return on investment and the money they are proving us.  Eighty-five percent of a budget is typically personnel costs, salaries and benefits.  It’s your biggest investment.  But, it’s also your biggest asset.  So we have to be a lot more thoughtful and creative about how to investing in our human capital.  We have to be competitive.  That’s about being market driven.  Often times, hope the general public starts to realize that we also need to make sure that, while we don’t necessarily want to have to be the top paying district, we have to be competitive or else we lose talent.  One of the things that we’ve uncovered here is that often times some of our best teachers, who we’ve offered training to, specialized training—AP, IB—guess who they get snatched up by?

Question: Chesterfield?  Henrico?

Answer: The suburbs, yeah, so we have to make sure we’re mindful of that.  That’s reason why we have to do a lot of work and improving the culture and climate.  They are going to other places where they have more resources, newer buildings and schools.  I think it has some merit to it, is that environment influences attitude.

Question: My colleague Chelsea Rarrick, I don’t know if you remember this story, it was about teacher turnover in the city of Richmond and how it was more than just resources and money in many cases.  It was about an attitude, principal-teacher relationship.  How much does that concern you?  How are you working to address the morale of your teachers so that they don’t leave and say bad things about your school district?

Answer: I’ve had a meeting with all the principles and a conversation about what leadership means.  We don’t want just managers, we want leaders.  Some of those people will embrace it and start to work on what they can do to improve the culture and climate of their building.  Others may not have the ability to do that and hopefully they’ll make the professional decision and then others will be willing and will have to help.  It’ll be a process that we work through.  But, I also know that it goes the same inside a classroom.  I’ve gotten my share of calls from parents, who’ve talked about the relationship between teachers and students.  So, I would say that we have to work on our whole culture and climate within our school district.  But, I would also say to your colleague, “Oh, I think they did a really good job.  It was a balanced report, I appreciate it, that for every one of those concerns they find I can find a great story about what’s going right.”  So, it’s that balance.  We will acknowledge and work on getting ourselves better at the things we’re not doing well in.  But then, I also would tell you that I can also share with you some of the great things.  I spent time at a school this weekend and it was awesome.  All the resources that, that school has been able to acquire for their students within the talent within their building, within their commitment and relationship with their community that’s embraced that school and the fact that guess what?  It had one person they had to replace last year, and typically they don’t get a lot of turnover in that building.  So, there are pockets of success and there are pockets of challenges.  I don’t want the public to think it’s all bad.

Question: What’s your relationship like with, perhaps the mayor or with city council, it’s certainly an interesting balance here within the city of Richmond.  Some critics of them have said, they’re talking a lot about Red Skins football and Squirrels baseball and Shockoe Bottom stadiums.  Do you think there needs to be more attention from the mayor’s office towards Richmond Public Schools?

Answer: I was at a presentation this morning and the mayor is presenting and consistently talking about the need for more resources for schools.  That was at a meeting this morning that I attended as one of the participants in the audience.  I’m here to focus on education, so I’m going to push and lobby for all the support I can get from the mayor, the council, to support education.  I also know that they have to look at the entire city.  I’m not going to sit here and second guess what they’re doing or not doing.  But, I am going to bring forward to my board and hopefully they will send forward a plan that we believe will help move us in the right direction with improving the quality of education in the city of Richmond.  In the end result is that I have a 9 member board that I have to report to and work with and I’ll follow their lead with regards to how we work with the city.  But, individually, the mayor has been supportive thus far and has conversations with me.  The city administrator has been supportive in his conversations with me, even the council people that have taken time to sit down with me and meet with me.

Question: I have a question regarding MLK.  A new principal, I believe, starts today.  What has that new principals marching orders been from this office?

Answer: –To improve the culture and climate and improve the teaching and quality of learning in that building.  We’re talking about A-B-C’s in that building, you know.  We want kids to come to schools, so we are talking about attendance.  We want there to be a positive attitude so that’s another A.  The climate thing is behavior, and that’s everybody in the building.  That’s the professionalism of the staff, that’s students and how they act and respond to expectations in the building.  We want kids to continue to get, and work towards getting credits to graduate to be productive citizens in society.  Not credits just to graduate and get a piece of paper and can’t function.  But, graduate with credits that mean something that allows them to be college or career ready.