Excerpts from Dr. Bedden's 2015 State of Schools Speech

Good evening! Thank you for taking the time to join us for my first State of the Schools address. This evening I would like to share with you how we are building a better district, present some clear and unmistakable facts about Richmond Public Schools, and offer a vision for the Road to Glory through our Academic Improvement Plan. Finally, we will ask for your support.

Richmond Public Schools is one of three districts in the state often referred to as the “most challenging.” Part of the imposing challenge for Richmond Public Schools is to achieve academic success within the context of competing with poverty that affects three out of four Richmond students, and nearly double the enrollment of any other locality in Virginia of special needs students, and a steadily growing English Language Learner population that requires additional resources.

When we speak of challenges, this is something that I can relate to as a student growing up in Florida. Part of my childhood was spent growing up in the low income housing of Jordan Park in St. Petersburg, Florida. For 11 of the first 14 years of my life, I slept on a couch in the living room of our one bedroom apartment. My K-12 school experience included being part of the desegregation movement and being bused 25 miles to school from the southern part of one city to the northern part of another in Pinellas County.

Those challenges built character, and education became my ticket out of poverty. So I stand before you today with first-hand experience and full of hope that we (RPS and you) can overcome our challenges.

Within our audience, we have staff and students who have overcome challenges.

Let’s consider Nicole Russell and her team of teachers at Fairfield Court ES which had to relocate their school and her special education students in the middle of the school year last Spring.

How about Ms. Sharon Barber, our Elkhardt Middle School art teacher who no longer has a classroom and now teaches in an open/common space with no walls? Despite all of that, she remains full of pride and commitment because her students come first.

Of course, our students come to school each day and try to do their best despite the lack of clothes, food, adequate shelter and, worst of all, experiencing traumatic events such as death, drug addictions, lost siblings, or missing parents, a regular reoccurring event in their lives. 

At the time, very few people thought we could land a man on the moon in 10 years, but we did it.  If they can overcome those challenges, so can we. 

Each one of us must play a part in building the best school district possible for our children, our students!  Our challenges include poverty, neighborhood crime that spills over into our schools, language barriers and limited resources to deal with very special circumstances, like the fact that:
  • A large percentage of students ages 0-17 live in poverty, 
  • More than 3 out of 4 students qualify for free/reduced lunch, 
  • 19% or put another way, over 4000 students receiving special education services, and,
  • The growing ESL population, which has risen from 5% in the early 2000s to approximately 12% today. 
For anyone over age 25 here today, let me make it clear: things are different now. 
The future is different.  And our schools must meet the challenges of educating in the 21st Century.

Now if you look closely, you will notice that our schools are a microcosm of our city, our challenges line up perfectly with the priorities set out by the Mayor and City Council. Simply said, we have:
  • Poverty – almost 40% of our students live in poverty, and 77% qualify for free and reduce lunch 
  • Crime/Public Safety – we recently experienced 7 shootings in 10 days that impacted our schools and students directly. 
  • Health Care – every RPS school being equipped with a nurse is most likely the first health care provider many of our students have ever seen, and
  • Economic Development – our need and desire to update and upgrade our CTE program to provide the workforce needed to today, not just tomorrow 
The #1 solution for me, you and the city of Richmond really is education. A new and re- energized commitment to education provides a high return on investment because:
  • Education reduces poverty. 
  • Education helps to decrease crime. 
  • An educated population has now been shown to help to improve one’s health and reduce health care cost. 
  • Education is economic development – RPS has the workforce needed for today and tomorrow, we influence home sales, retail sales, and new development and most importantly, we help improve the overall quality of life in Richmond.
We are Building a Better District!   How?  Over the past 6-12 months we have made progress. During that time, RPS students, teachers, and staff have:
  • Increased the number of Schools Showing Improvement in SOL Pass Rates o Plus 15 in English/Reading
  • Plus 19 in Mathematics,
  • Plus 12 in Science
  • 28 schools showed increase in math SOL scores (19 with double-digit scores) 
  • 24-point increase in the SAT scores, 
  • 77 more students received CTE Seals upon graduation. 
  • 8% point increase in students matriculating to Post-Secondary Institutions 
  • 236 more students participated in Dual Enrollment Programs Administratively, we have: 
  • As requested by the Council and Board,
  • developed an Academic Improvement Plan with performance metrics based upon a research model focused on producing college and career ready students o And, we recently completed the most comprehensive facilities needs assessment in the past 15 years that details the needs for maintenance, modernization, rezoning and new schools.
  • Expanded student access to advanced academic programs - College Board’s (SAT, Pre- AP, and AP Capstone) and the International Baccalaureate programs
  • With adequate funding, we are prepared to launch the first in the area and only second in the state that we know of, Integrated Arts/College Board SpringBoard Middle School Program using digital devices,
  • RPS also, established the Office of Family and Community Engagement to increase our connection with our clients, the students and their families
 Financially, we’ve implemented an online check registry for transparency on how we are spending your dollars, while also beginning the process of student-based budgeting, and To increase “Your Voice”, we have embarked upon what we call, Leadership by Listening. Using surveys, advisory committees and community presentations to increase engagement and transparency, giving you a more active voice in RPS -- just to name a few.

We are seeing evidence of progress through our recent survey of staff, parents and the community. About 70% of our parents who responded believe the quality of education at their child’s school is good or excellent. 

We have to get better, but I believe we are headed in the right direction and it’s better than the public impression that you often read about or watch on the TV. We are building a better district.

Building a Better District automatically means we will be Building a Better Business Climate. Businesses and families go where there are good schools. Economic development, property values and consumer spending all go up around quality schools. Poverty is the result of poor education. 

Prosperity is the result of quality education. But schools can’t do it alone. We need support from the entire Richmond community....businesses, families, elected officials and non- profit organizations.

Our Partnership Office and the recently established Office of Family and Community Engagement are working to build that relationship, making it easier to partner with RPS. We are reaching out to our stakeholders and creating advisory boards representing teachers, parents, businesses and students who report directly to the Office of the Superintendent.

Finally, Building a Better District means building more family and business involvement. Next year, we’ll be asking the business community to join us in reinventing our career and technical education programs designed around pathways.

We’ll be asking our parents to “Be There” for their child through a highly targeted media campaign designed to inspire families to become more involved in their children’s education. We’ll show you simple ways to become engaged during the ordinary moments in life, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary.

We’ve had a lot of meetings and seen a lot of numbers tossed around during this budget season. Sometimes, I can understand why it’s hard to know what to believe, and what it all really means. So, this evening, I want to share a few simple, clear and unmistakable facts:
  • FACT: Same dollars, less staff and 300 more students than the pre-recession era
  • FACT: State per pupil spending is $800 less than the pre-recession era
  • FACT: Our biggest increases have been in health insurance, state mandates
  • FACT: Percent of budget going to education has declined 
  • FACT: We have a large number of at-risk students in Richmond 
  • FACT: Teaching at-risk and special education students cost more 
  • FACT: Older facilities in need of modernization or replacement cost more to maintain 
  • More importantly, the $24 million estimate of needs was not just about doing business as usual, it was about Building a Better District with new and improved initiatives while still meeting the current needs of 24,000 students and over 3500 employees working to reach the moon, On The Road To Glory.   But despite all that, we have made sure that .77 cents of every dollar goes to instruction.
  • With your support, we expect to be measured and held accountable for improved performance. Based upon the Core Practice Framework - College and Career Readiness for All Students developed by ACT, we have developed 8 performance metrics/targets to be reported on annually which are: 
  • Accreditation – increasing the number of schools meeting the State accreditation standards 
  • Annual Measurable Objectives – our divisions progress in meeting the federal government requirement
  • Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO) – 10 % reduction each year in student fail rate on SOL tests in reading and math 
  • Early Childhood Literacy — increasing the % of students meeting the benchmark standards on Spring PALS (Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening to 85% by 202018 school year.
  • Advanced Programs Participation — having a 10% increase in the number of students participating in:
  • Dual Enrollment  PSAT/SAT/AP 
  • Advancement to College or Military – having a 10% increase in the number of students advancing to college or the military,
  • On-Time Graduation Rate — having an 85% graduation rate by 2017-2018 
  • Attendance — reaching and maintaining a 94% average attendance rate 
  • Career and Technical Education — 10% increase by 2017-2018 in the number of students 
  • receiving the Board of Education’s Career and Technical Education Seal upon graduation. 
  • These are the 8 metrics, performance targets we will be using to measure and communicate our progress to you.   
  • With those performance metrics, I believe and hope you would agree that we are very aligned with the city’s goals and need to: 
  • Decrease poverty
  • Improve public safety by decreasing crime
  • Increase individual heath care while also reducing health care cost, and of course
  • Increasing economic development – workforce development, business development, homes ales, etc.
  • Data and research provides evidence that we are one of, if not the #1 solution. 
  • In summary, our Road to Glory requires three major components: Strong leadership with community support. Adequate resources with appropriate accountability and a clear plan with measurable objectives 
  • The Road to Glory requires our community to be unified, not divided. It requires us to look at the road ahead, not the wake left behind. Our students don’t live in the past; why should we? The Road to Glory requires a unified vision from our elected officials and leaders, and the fuel to get there. I think we have the plans in place, but do we have the will?

  • The Road to Glory will lift our students out of poverty and blends our diversity into a rich melting pot of tolerance, acceptance, teamwork, fortitude, grace and Glory. We are the architects of this road map, we are the ones responsible for lifting our community into a new era of cooperation so ALL students graduate, ALL students find their pathway to success, and ALL  students grow into a life of contributing adults so ALL of us can be that much better off. Let’s lead. Let’s unify. Let’s find that Road to Glory. page7image21016