Richmond teacher 'insulted' by focus on poor SOL scores: 'It's very degrading'

Posted at 5:36 PM, Aug 23, 2022

RICHMOND, Va -- All eyes will be on the Richmond School Board Tuesday night as members hold an emergency meeting to discuss what has been deemed by the board's chairwoman as "devastating" and "depressing" SOL scores.

Data from the Virginia Department of Education revealed less than 40% of all Richmond Public Schools (RPS) students passed in writing, science, history and math this past year.

The results highlighted a continued decline in pass rates for RPS from the virtual 2020-2021 school year as nearly every other district in the state saw improvements. Still, statewide averages remained below pre-pandemic outcomes.

“I know a lot of parents who are concerned about the SOL scores that came out," Linwood Holton Elementary School mom Jeannie Bowker said. “And I think it's wonderful that the school board is taking a moment before the school year starts to kind of get ducks in a row and hopefully address some of these big systematic issues.”

While the board has received criticism from Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney for calling a special meeting to address poor performance, Bowker said she appreciated some board members' sense of urgency. She said she hoped the board would discuss how possible issues with the curriculum, calendar, and staffing shortages may impact achievement.

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Jeannie Bowker

"I think it's okay to have an emergency meeting. We've lost a lot of teachers at our school that haven't come back this school year, so I'm glad that the school board is paying attention," Bowker said.

But other parents, including Fox Elementary School mom Shannon Heady, have described the meeting as a distraction, especially as RPS families prepare to start the new school year on Monday.

Heady echoed sentiments from Stoney and Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras that the SOL results were the result of COVID-19 trauma.

“We've had lots of learning loss. It's been discussed and documented," Heady said. "What parents want is for the school board and the superintendent to focus on making up that learning loss and not having arguments and infighting."

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Shannon Heady

However, School Board Chair Dr. Shonda Harris-Muhammed said the "depressing state of affairs with student data" cannot only be attributed to the pandemic. Rather, she said the results can also be boiled down to the climate and culture of the district.

Regardless of explanations for high fail rates, Heady said times of crisis call for unity and partnership, which she believed the governing team has not exemplified.

“I think there's a lot of victim blaming and pointing fingers back and forth, and we want the school board to support this administration to move forward," Heady said. "What parents and our community want is stability, and we have not gotten stability from the school board. We have gotten chaos."

RPS teacher and parent LaKeisha Williams slammed the school board for a perceived lack of attention on student success throughout the school year.

She cited a report from the independent organization Council of Great City Schools which found members spent less than 10% of total time during six meetings between January and May discussing student outcomes.

“This is the worst school board I’ve ever witnessed in school history," Williams said. "I was sitting in an auditorium to 12 o'clock at night, and we only talked about student achievement but 10 minutes. So, is it the superintendent's fault that we aren't successful? Or is it the school board's fault?"

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LaKeisha Williams

But some board members have criticized the council's analysis, emphasizing that the board had to deal with several operational emergencies during that time frame including the Fox Elementary School fire. Harris-Muhammed and Vice Chair Kenya Gibson have both recently defended the board's agenda priorities, saying the body has done a good job keeping student achievement at the focus of every conversation.

Meanwhile, Williams said there has been too much conversation surrounding SOL fail rates which is a slap in the face to teachers and students.

“I feel like it’s very degrading," Williams said. "Especially when I see an article posted and it says, 'This is what failure looks like in RPS.' That was very insulting from a teacher standpoint."

She was referring to a quote board member Jonathan Young released in response to the low SOL scores, but in his statement, he noted the failure was due to actions taken by "adults" to prolong virtual learning.

In speaking on SOL results, Harris-Muhammed has also thanked teachers for their hard work and directed accountability toward the district's governing team to including all board members and the superintendent.

“I think the school board needs to humble themselves, have a seat at the table with the community, and they need to be able to reevaluate themselves on how they approach the topics, the challenges and things that our district face," Williams said.

But Bowker applauded the board for their work.

"I think the school board is getting emails and talking with teachers, talking with parents, and hopefully they have their finger on the pulse of what we can do to remedy things. It's a difficult job. I couldn't do it, so I appreciate that they're willing to do the task," Bowker said. "It's messy, but that's democracy, and I'd rather have fighting over what is right than just quiet acceptance of a status quo."

The school board will also address "major" personnel changes in closed session and has suggested possible changes to district leadership. Mayor Stoney said if the board fired Kamras, it'd be "catastrophic."

“I don't think it would be catastrophic to the district. The district is more than one man. The district is more than one leader," Bowker said.

“If that happens, this city will explode with anger. Parents overall do not want the superintendent to go," Heady said. "He's a human being. He's made mistakes, but I think the one thing that I've appreciated about him-- he has been strategic. He has supported teachers and parents. He has listened to people, and he's really tried to move forward in a thoughtful way."

"I'm glad that I have a public platform to say this, and I will say it to anybody. I support the superintendent whether he's right or he's wrong," Williams said. "Because we have never in school history had a superintendent that supports this district, teachers, families, and moves and takes action on items the way that he does."

Members of the board said they do not intend the fire the superintendent one week before school starts.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email to send a tip.



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