Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Richmond Residents Speak on Rezoning Proposals at School Board Meeting

RPS School Board members listen to community members regarding the rezoning proposals.
RPS School Board members listen to community members regarding the rezoning proposals. (Photo: Alan Rodriguez Espinoza)

*VPM intern Alan Rodriguez Espinoza reported this story.

Dozens of community members at the Richmond School Board meeting Monday night shared their thoughts about a number of proposals on the table to merge several elementary schools, in an effort to increase diversity among students. Many were in support of one of the more ambitious plans to integrate several elementary schools, proposal X. 

This was the first of three final meetings meant for Richmond residents to review several final rezoning proposals that the school board will vote on Dec. 2. 

Theresa Kennedy is part of the special committee responsible for drafting these school merger, also called school pairing, proposals. She said integration is the best way of “narrowing the achievement gap” between students from different socio-economic backgrounds, which she said “in Richmond tends to fall along racial lines.”

“It’s essentially binding our outcomes together, binding our futures together all as one,” Kennedy said. “That’s why I personally support pairing because I feel like it is the one option that balances socio-economic status and race across the three schools in the north side.”

School pairing is the creation of new school zones that engulf two previously separate schools, often dividing the student body of those two schools into grade levels, then sending lower grade students from both schools to one school, and those of a higher grade level to the other school.

One of the most talked about plans, proposal X, merges Mary Munford and Carver Elementary schools; Cary and Fox Elementary; and in a three-way pairing, Obama, Holton and Ginter Park Elementary. The purpose of these plans is to take schools with disproportionate concentrations of white or black students and redistribute their student populations in order to achieve greater diversity. 

Unlike proposal X, proposal Y does not suggest any school pairings, and proposal Z only pairs Mary Mumford and Cary. Kennedy said school pairings are “the only way [to] create success.”

“We could wait for the next generation to integrate. We could wait for it to happen slowly,” she said. “Or we could change lives now and not put off the problems that we’ve been handed by previous generations.”

There are other city residents, such as Jerome Legions, who believe a better use for the money being used to rezone would be to provide underfunded schools with resources to address the rising dropout rates and decreasing graduation rates.

“It would give the kids the staffing that they need,” Legions said. “It would give the kids the facility upgrades that they need. It would give the kids desks, chairs, whiteboards, smartboards, books, curriculum enhancements.”

Legions also worries that pairing schools to increase diversity could have adverse effects on minority students. As an African American who has “gone through the process of integration,” he said he is concerned black students could face pressure to assimilate.

“When you find yourself going to schools where you can actually feel comfortable with people that you know, that look like you. Then you can have an opportunity to talk about your experiences without someone telling you that your experience is not the experience that is gonna carry you further in life,”  Legions said. 

For RPS parent Kristen Dutton, her main concern is that the rezoning proposals being presented at the meetings don’t do enough to address the overcrowding in many Southside schools. 

“A lot of these kids have unstable home environments and they need the extra attention and support from their teachers or they need trauma counselors,” Dutton said. “That’s where we need to pour the most resources.”

Dutton called on the school board to take into consideration other points made in the language of the rezoning plan, such as addressing overcrowding and providing safe and timely transportation, when voting on new school zones.

Kennedy said the capacity limitations in Southside are dire but still believes school pairing is a good move for the city’s public school system.

“Southside is gonna need a new elementary school and it’s gonna need a new high school, probably in relatively short order.” she said. “But these are not mutually exclusive. We can’t use the needs of Southside as an excuse to not actually integrate in other areas.”

During her public statement at the school board meeting, Dutton said she spoke “on behalf of the teachers,” who she believes have not been heard from enough during the rezoning process.

“Teachers are the ones that know what children need and what they need to get their jobs done,” she said. “And their voices have been all but absent in this whole process.”

The school board will host two more public meetings on Nov. 25 and Dec. 2. The proposals will be put to a vote by the school board during the December meeting, and these changes will go into effect by the fall of 2020.

VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.