Every student deserves a quality education. I graduated from the public school system and understand first-hand the value schools have in a person’s life. Teachers, administrators, counselors, staff and coaches played a major role in my success, even after I left the classroom. Student success is contingent on what we – leaders, educators, parents, caregivers and neighbors – contribute to our public education system.
When I served on the Children’s Cabinet during my time as policy director for the Office of Lt. Governor of Virginia, I expanded access to pre-K education, creating a strong pipeline for college, career and life readiness. The opportunities I was provided in school are the same I want every student to receive. I know this only happens by working collaboratively with the School Board, City Council, and local stakeholder organizations invested in our students and their families; especially during these challenging times.
I will prioritize advocating at the state level to receive our equitable share of funding and I will not agree to any deals that would put education funding at risk in the future. I will also re-evaluate our current school funding plans and fast-track any ideas that get teachers and students back in the classroom safely.
Inequities in learning have widened during the pandemic, where even more of Richmond’s students are also experiencing hunger, housing instability, lack of internet connectivity and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). These challenges add more hurdles to learning and require a community-wide approach to address the needs of children. Richmond’s school communities should do more to implement a trauma-informed approach to help the overall wellbeing of our children and their families. This includes creating a place of refuge and providing additional support outside the classroom. I’m also paying attention to our growing Latino population, which accounts for nearly20 percent of the Richmond Public School system, primarily in the Southside. It’s important that we strengthen relationships with this community, invest in resources that help English Language Learners and ensure all of the city’s programming is accessible for Spanish-speaking families. Great public schools require full funding for programs, resources and personnel for students to learn, create, innovate and thrive. Teachers and personnel also need fair employment practices, resources, a living wage and the professional development they need to be at their best. Richmond loses too many talented educators to the counties because we aren’t doing enough to retain them. Our students deserve the best education possible and we have to do everything we can to make it a reality.
Invest early: Research shows that 80 percent of brain growth happens by the age of three. Children who are economically disadvantaged often lack access to Pre-K, creating a learning gap before entering the classroom in grade school. Those who start behind their peers are more likely to stay behind.The aims of the Basics RVA program are vital to our community and I will support it as appropriate as mayor. The city needs to recognize how crucial early childhood education is and should have a point person who’s in charge of city-provided services for children ages 0-3.
Lead the fight to fully fund Richmond Public Schools: Richmond residents already pay a fair amount into the school system, but the state hasn’t been doing its part for over a decade. I will fight for RPS and its staff within the General Assembly and use the network I have built to do it. Additionally, the state government is not meeting its constitutionally-mandated commitment to a free public education and must implement meaningful, common-sense tax reforms to remedy that problem. As mayor, I will continue to be an advocate for public education at the General Assembly to ensure that more funds are provided by the state. I will also work to establish strategic, community-driven partnerships with corporations that operate in the City to ensure they are investing in our schools as part of the benefit of operating in Richmond.
Ensure that teachers are supported: This is especially important for teachers of color. Reading through their stories shared on Black @ RPS is heart wrenching and what they share is not acceptable. They need to be free to voice their concerns and share feedback without the fear of blowback. I will prioritize collecting data regarding teacher retention rates that includes race, ethnicity, and other demographic data. I would partner with the Superintendent and Richmond Public Schools to review findings of exit surveys to identify opportunities to create the best work environment for teachers.
Support collective bargaining rights for Richmond Public Schools staff: As a proud union member myself, I will support collective bargaining rights for educators and all school staff. Students benefit from smaller class sizes, more robust staffing, and teachers who make long term careers at one school; these are all facilitated with collective bargaining rights. Additionally, many RPS employees are also RPS parents and Richmond residents; what’s good for them is good for our schools and for our city.
Strengthen trauma-informed care and interrupt the school to prison pipeline: Because of years of advocacy, we now have clearer evidence that suspensions and expulsions disproportionately impact Black and brown students. We need more adults in our schools who can work with disruptive students so that our teachers can focus on maintaining a conducive learning environment. I would work with the School Board and RPS to replace school resource officers with social workers, more nurses, and other qualified mental health professionals who can support our students’ health and wellbeing. I support expanding programs between the schools, Richmond Behavioral Health Authority, and City Hall to meet students' needs.
Utilizing schools so they benefit all: Even before COVID-19, our schools were empty during the summer. Once we get the public health emergency under control, I believe we should use these accessible public spaces to the benefit of more community members. This can act as an incentive to keep schools up-to-code with all the necessary amenities. For example, schools could be used as community centers during the summer, with local groups and businesses paying a rental fee for use.
Fighting for language justice in our schools: Richmond has a large Latinx population. Our children deserve equitable access to materials and curricula that other students receive language should not serve as a barrier to that. Richmond must be welcoming to all and it starts in our schools and investments in all of our residents. In addition to ensuring that all students have equitable access to materials and curriculum, I will fight to recruit more trained Spanish-speaking interpreters to support parents and caregivers.
Make the education compact work for all: The education compact requires a city government that is collaborative and communicative. As mayor, I will lead the way to make this happen. There needs to be consistent open lines of communication between City Hall, City Council, RPS stakeholders and community members for a more inclusive process. Richmond taxpayers deserve to know that their money is being well-spent and it starts with competent communication with the end goal of ensuring the needs of our kids and educators are met.
Paid for and Authorized by Friends of Alexsis Rodgers Copyright 2020