I recently witnessed the sublime satisfaction of an "everyday miracle" followed immediately by the tell-tale signs of a leaky roof, replete with stained ceiling tiles and the ubiquitous cafeteria style trashcan collecting rain water in the main office at Linwood Holton Elementary School.
But, first, the "everyday miracle." The family of a child with a disability entering kindergarten at Holton Elementary asked me to be a support person when the child's "Individualized Education Plan" was updated. I assured the parents that Holton's principal, David Hudson, is not only an excellent principal, but one with special training in exceptional education. He is also the sort of principal we need more of in RPS, a dedicated professsional educator who places the needs of the children first and foremost.
Still, the parents were nervous and wanted me there. I am happy to report that not only did Hudson and members of his staff exemplify the very best of what Richmond Public Schools can offer children and families, but we were joined in the I.E.P. meeting by Harley Tomey, RPS director of Exceptional Education, and members of his staff, all of whom reflected the same professionalism and caring attitude that makes Hudson so good at what he does. By the end of two meetings, everyone left the room knowing they had made a difference in a young child's life.
What a pity it is that all children who need the benefit of Tomey's advocacy and expertise cannot get it. No parent should have to go through the anxiety and frustration these parents did prior to calling and asking for my help as both a disability advocate and a six-year veteran of the Richmond School Board. When will central administration become more proactive and supportive of our principals? When will they consistently provide pertinent information in a timely fashion? That said, I am thankful that everyone listened to their better angels and managed to make things right for this child and her family.
It hardly seems possible that 12 short years ago, my husband and I walked our youngest son, Dale -- a nervous and excited first-grader -- into the brand-new A. Linwood Holton Elementary School at 1600 W. Laburnum Ave. Dale, now a senior at Maggie L. Walker Governor's School for Government and International Studies, has happy memories of his years at Holton and of the teachers who made such a difference in his life.
He also remembers that the roof at his brand-new school leaked. A lot. From Day One. Here's where the story gets really depressing. Sure enough, when I walked into Holton last week, I was greeted not only with hugs and smiles of teachers I love and respect, but also with the sight of the stained ceiling tiles and cafeteria trashcan collecting the water in the main office area.
I stood there staring at the stained overhead tiles and the trashcan wondering why and how in the world this school system can take 12 years to get the roof fixed. Twelve years and not quite right yet.
Still, I didn't allow the leaking roof to dampen the joy I felt upon seeing Mrs. Cheryl Hughes, a speech and hearing specialist, who always understood Dale even when others didn't and by Ms. Sherry Gardner, now a math specialist, but most importantly, Dale's second-grade teacher. Ms. Gardner is the teacher Dale credits with "letting" him "learn to love learning" at school and she is the one I credit with helping me become a better parent by trusting her to teach my child. We all marvelled over how fast the years have flown by and how "little" Dale is now taller than we are and trying to decide where he wants to go to college.
As a parent at Holton and as a member of the School Board for six years, I worked with Holton parents, fought hard behind closed doors and spoke out in open meetings about the necessity of getting the roof fixed. It seemed like such a simple thing, considering that the roof leaked from the very beginning. Who wouldn't want to protect our children, our tax dollars and the structural integrity of not only Holton, but that of Miles Jones and Blackwell Elementaries, the other two brand-new schools -- all of which leaked in nearly the same spots?
I filed a Freedom of Information Act request today to receive a copy of the settlement agreement between RPS and various entities that had a role in the construction and/or design of the schools and to find out how much the school system has paid out to various high-priced lawyers to get the roofs on the three schools made water-tight. Once I receive the information, I will report the entire soggy story as a cautionary tale to the current board and RPS parents who are currently planning to build more schools in the next two years.