Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Dana Bedden delivered his third State of the Schools address Tuesday night at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, promising to shepherd the school system he took over in 2014 through a transitional period and work with City Hall’s new leadership to do so.
In remarks lasting 45 minutes, Bedden outlined the incremental gains made toward the goals outlined in his Academic Improvement Plan. When he arrived, RPS had 11 fully accredited schools. Now, 17 of the 44 have full accreditation from the state. More students are taking the SATs and are enrolled in International Baccalaureate (IB) courses. More families have enrolled their children in early-childhood-education programs, too. The progress was made despite funding shortfalls in each of the last two years, Bedden said.
Then there was the “work to do,” as the superintendent put it. District-wide, scores on the math SOL have slumped. The graduation rate, too, slipped last year. Student attendance is stagnant.
“We’re not satisfied, but we’re talking about progress, ladies and gentlemen,” Bedden said.
The superintendent praised Mayor Levar Stoney for making a concerted effort to forge a partnership with the RPS administration. In his first two and a half months in office, the mayor has visited 11 schools and invited the superintendent to sit in on each of his weekly cabinet meetings.
Stoney made remarks prior to Bedden’s speech, and he reiterated his commitment to “create wins” for the school system’s children.
“No longer should we tolerate mediocrity or tolerate average,” Stoney said. “Our job is to shoot for excellence every single day. With the help of our families and our parents, we’re going to get there. We may not get there overnight, but together we will get there.”
The mayor touted his recently unveiled budget proposal, which included an additional $6.1 million for teacher salaries and classroom instruction. Stoney called it the “largest increase in education funding by any mayor in Richmond’s history.”
Richmond City Council will make the final decision on the school system’s allocation. If the mayor’s proposal passes, it will leave about $10 million worth of cuts for the Richmond School Board to make to the budget Bedden’s administration put forth (that's updated from an earlier estimate of $15 million).
For his part, Bedden lauded Stoney on the subject of school funding, a point of contention between the superintendent and former Mayor Dwight C. Jones.
“While it has been refreshing to see a mayor’s enthusiasm for reinventing and reinvesting into our students and schools, we understand that determining the actual amount that can be appropriated has been difficult and is a difficult task, and [Stoney] has done what he could do thus far,” Bedden said. “That said, we are sure and confident that he will continue to do his best with the limited resources he has available to him.”