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Report Highlights Benefits Of School Integration Through Rezoning, Policy Changes

Mary Munford Elementary is one of several Richmond schools involved in school pairing proposals.
Mary Munford Elementary is one of several Richmond schools involved in school pairing proposals. (Photo: Crixell Matthews)

While housing segregation in Richmond has been on the decline since 2010, segregation of the city’s elementary schools has been on the incline. According to 2016 data, only three elementary schools enrolled about 70% of the entire district’s white elementary-age students.

In their report “A Window of Opportunity, Creating More Integrated Schools in a Segregated System,” Richmond-area researchers and professors including Genevieve Siegel-Hawley and Tom Shields argue that Richmond Public Schools should work to address the segregation of schools through rezoning, and other changes.

“People are living closer to each other by race and by income but that's not necessarily then translating into diverse schools,” Shields, University of Richmond associate professor and associate dean in the school of professional and continuing studies, said. “Why don’t we – everyone – take a step back for a moment and first look at what the data says.”  

The report details some history of previous desegregation efforts in Richmond, and the numerous research-based benefits of diverse schools, including: decreased prejudice, lower rates of bullying and more creative solutions in the workplace. VCU associate professor and author Siegel-Hawley says the benefits are most impactful when integration starts early, because that’s when prejudice starts.

“Diverse classrooms and schools give kids the opportunity to step into each other's shoes and examine issues and problems from a different perspective,” Siegel-Hawley said. “And that is really the definition of critical thinking.”

While the report doesn’t include specific research on the concept of school pairing, Siegel-Hawley said it’s simply a means to achieve diversity. The report points to other cities like Charlotte, Chicago, Oakland, Sausalito and Charleston that have recently implemented pairing, however.

Kim Bridges, assistant professor with VCU’s school of education, studied Charlotte’s rezoning efforts that led up to school pairing there. She said conversations there were similar to current conversations in Richmond.

“On the front end, there were a number of similarities with what’s going on in Richmond right now in terms of strong opinions across the board, both strong voices on the integration front as well as strong voices opposing those ideas and really supporting the concept of neighborhood schools,” Bridges said.

According to the group’s report, at least 100 districts nationwide have put in place policies to achieve socioeconomic school integration over the last few years. 40 of them reported shifting school zone boundaries as their primary strategy.  

“We’ve been trying separate but equal for a long time and we have never seen that work to scale,” Siegel-Hawley said. “There's a difference between desegregation, which is just bringing the kids into the same building together, and integration, which is students, families, and faculty leaders coming together and finding common ground and seeing one another.”

Tune into Richmond’s Learning Curve Wednesday morning at 7:44 AM and 4:44 PM to hear more about Charlotte, North Carolina’s recent efforts to implement school pairing.

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Megan Pauly reports on early childhood and higher education news in Virginia
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