Commission finds 'inequitable admissions processes' at Richmond specialty and Governor’s schools

Posted at 7:25 AM, Sep 12, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-12 07:25:08-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- How equitable are Richmond’s specialty and Governor’s schools? According to data from surveys and a published final report by The Equity Commission on Enrollment, “as a whole, RPS specialty schools do not reflect RPS’S Enrollment, largely because of inequitable admissions processes.”

“When the commission was looking at data it was very clear that over time certain groups had been excluded from equitable access to specialty schools, in particular economically disadvantaged students, Black students, and English language learners, and that data has been consistent over time,” Commission Co-Chair Genevieve Siegel-Holly said.

At Appomattox Regional Governor’s School in Petersburg, of the 85 total RPS students, 9% are considered economically disadvantaged.

At Maggie Walker Governor’s School in Richmond, of the 205 RPS students, 8% are considered economically disadvantaged.

Data also showed disparities at Franklin Military Academy, Open High School, and Community High School.

To make specialty schools more reflective of the percentage of economically disadvantaged students in RPS, while maintaining their rigor, Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras presented three options to Richmond School Board members Monday night.

Option 1 – Three Guaranteed Seats from Each Middle School 

  • RPS already guarantees one seat for the highest-scoring applicant from each of our middle schools.  
  • Option 1 would simply increase that to three seats for the three highest-scoring applicants at each RPS middle 
    school (and three seats for the three highest-scoring private school/homeschool students)
  • Use Maggie Walker as an example, Option 1 would carve out 27 of the 60 RPS seats in each 9th-grade class (3 
    seats for each of the eight RPS middle schools and three for private/homeschool students)
  • The remaining 33 seats would then be allocated based on an applicant’s overall composite score, regardless of school. 
  • All students would need to meet the school’s application requirements. 

Option 2 – 50% of Seats for Economically Disadvantaged Students 

  • In RPS (and all Virginia schools), students from low-income families are coded as economically disadvantaged (ED) for state reporting purposes. These are students who are eligible for free/reduced meals, eligible for Medicaid, or receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). 
  • If a student is identified as experiencing homelessness or becomes identified as a migrant at any point during the school year, the student is automatically identified as economically disadvantaged. 
  • Option 2 would set aside 50% of seats for ED students. Again using Maggie Walker as an example, this would mean 30 of the 60 seats for each 9th-grade class would be reserved for the highest-scoring ED students. 
  • The remaining 30 seats would go to the highest ranking students in the overall pool – regardless of their ED status – with a cap of five seats for private school/homeschool students. 
  • All students would need to meet the school’s application requirements. 

Option 3 – Hybrid Approach 

  • Option 3 combines Option 1 and Option 2. 
  • This option would have 3 selection phases: 
    •  Phase 1: The top three scoring applicants from each of the 8 RPS middle schools and the top three scoring private/homeschool students would automatically receive an offer. This would total 27 offers. 
    •  Phase 2: The next set of offers would go to the next highest scoring ED students (regardless of school) until the total number of ED offers equal 50% of the seats (which would be 30 seats in the Maggie Walker example). NOTE: Any of the initial offers in Phase 1 that went to ED students would count towards the 50% target. 
    •  Phase 3: Any remaining seats would go to the next highest scoring applicant – regardless of RPS middle school or ED status – with a cap of 5 seats for private school/homeschool students. 
  •  All students would need to meet the school’s application requirements. 

Richmond School Board Member Jonathan Young, who called options two and three discriminatory in practice, proposed a fourth option that would increase seats at all specialty schools for another 40-plus students. He also proposed a Regional Middle School where RPS students were given more resources to prepare students for specialty schools.
Several Richmond School Board members expressed concerns about the lack of resources for middle school students, students with IEP, and English language learners.

The Richmond School Board is expected to vote on the proposals on September 18.

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