Dear Dr. Bedden,
As you approach the first anniversary of your hire as Richmond Public School (RPS) Superintendent, I must thank you for your hard work and that of your staff.
By now, I am sure you have realized that you have not only "stepped up," but also "stepped into" what can be most kindly described as a "hot mess." It is a sad fact of human nature that folks love to talk about the need for change and accountability, but once it starts happening, they get afraid and invariably some start screaming like weenies roasting over an open fire. Sometimes these people even make up stories and sling mud in order to cover up their fears and insecurities.
You, and the top-notch staff you have assembled, deserve high praise. Despite the many frustrations and distractions of the past year, you have remained focused and managed to bring some much-needed change to our city schools.
With the help of a majority of the members of School Board, "Team Bedden," and former interim Superintendent Jonathan Lewis, you have cleaned house and brought increased professionalism, transparency and accountability to our school system. You have listened to parents, teachers and community members and invited all to be a part of fixing our badly broken school system.
Despite the progress, there remains much to be done. No realistic person can honestly expect that our schools will be made right in just one year. But you, your staff and a majority of your board have truly made significant and substantive progress.
For the first time in the 32 years I have lived in Richmond, I hear my friends, neighbors and citizens throughout the city expressing real hope that with your leadership and our community support, our public schools can (at last) be made right.
A few of the noteworthy accomplishments of your freshman year include:
• aligning and updating the curriculum plan with Virginia Department of Education guidelines when it was discovered that the prior superintendent and her staff inexplicably never bothered to update the academic plan;
• placing the RPS check registry online for all to see exactly where the money is going;
• tackling the facilities issue;
• adopting a zero-based budget;
• working with Richmond's growing Hispanic community not only to improve academic performance, but to address issues of bullying in our schools;
• working with people in the disabilities community to improve educational outcomes for ALL children;
• bringing a new hiring method for administrators that involves a panel process as opposed to simply hiring someone to placate someone's cousin, uncle, brother or sister (CUBS) request;
• insisting that the budget include money for musical instruments, band uniforms and arts equipment.
In conclusion, allow me to share with you a true story about a classic campaign dirty trick that happened during my first election campaign. I do so hoping that you, "Team Bedden" and a majority of the School Board members won't -- but just might have occasion to appreciate it.
I can see now that it was a tried and true classic. My opponent and a couple of his friends started making telephone calls to various African-American leaders who had endorsed my campaign. They left messages on answering machines all around town that falsely accused me of being a racist, a redneck and someone who did not care for black children.
One of my campaign supporters played the message back for me on a quiet Sunday morning in her kitchen and urged me to take out an advertisement refuting the baseless accusations. Being new to the grime and grit of Richmond politics, I was unsure of what I needed to do. Consequently, I sought the advice of Oliver W. Hill, my good friend, mentor and Civil Rights lawyer and legend who helped win the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case.
Mr. Hill said that I should feel flattered that my opponent and his friends were spreading these wild accusations and slinging mud at me. When I asked why I should feel "flattered" as opposed to angry and frustrated, he explained it was proof that my "opponent had realized he could not defeat me with the truth, therefore he was making up lies."
So, I say to you what Mr. Hill said to me: "Keep your eyes on the prize and never, ever lower yourself to address their concerns." I did exactly as he instructed. And with his endorsements each time I ran, the support of voters in the 3rd-District and citizens throughout the city, I was elected three times and served from 2002 to 2008.
Thank you once again for your hard work and best wishes to you and your family this holiday season.
Carol A.O. Wolf