School Board Meeting – November 8, 2021

[3.01 Public information] – community members address the board or submit their views in writing 

  • The first speaker was Amy Macintosh who is an English teacher at George Wythe high school. She expressed concerns about the learning environment at George Wythe:
    • “Not enough adults in the building and too many of the students are spending their days walking the halls, screaming, stomping, banging on [her] classroom door, and get into fights, travel inside the halls, and outside school grounds.”
    • “These students are choosing… [to] not only reject education but interfere with the education of others”
    • “We need positive and restorative practices in place… to help students make better decisions.”
  • The second speaker was Dr. Michael Tompson who spoke about health, safety, and wellness of staff:
    • “If [teachers] are exposed to COVID-19, whether that exposure occurs in the classroom, or outside of the classroom, they should not have to deal with the difficulties that come with ensuring that they get paid.”
  • The third speaker was Ms. Jennifer Vanarmine who is a teacher at Maymont preschool. She urged the board to support collective bargaining and expressed concern on teacher planning and teaching times due to required testing.
    • In regards to testing, she stated, “[Teachers are] required to upload a total of approximately 3,420 items [of testing data]” which takes up a large amount of time. 
    • As a proposed solution she proposed, “Preschool students need to go back to a 6 hour day. If we bring them in at 8:30 instead of 7:30 it would be a game changer for everyone…”
  • The fourth speaker was Candace Lucas who was speaking on behalf of “advocates for justice”. She asked where the dyslexia advisor was?
    • She commented on the previous dyslexia advisor stating, “It was documented that Ms.Landry is the dyslexia advisor and Ms.Landry testified under oath that she had never worked with children with dyslexia.”
    • “Literacy is liberation, and how the fact that Richmond City Public schools is not teaching literacy with explicitness, with directness, that is unjust, and that is oppression.”
    • Security was called on Ms.Lucas after an exchange with the board’s chair.
  • The fifth speaker was Anne Forester who is a RPS teacher. 
    • She raised concerns over 12 teacher resignations at her school this year which resulted from the rezoning of two schools into one. 
    • Additionally, she commented that there is no support for new staff at her school because mentors are overwhelmed with their work and so they do not support new staff. 
    • “Any of the following changes would have a positive effect on staff and student moral”
      • Shortening the days by 1 hour
      • Creating wednesday half days for students like we had during the virtual school year
      • Asynchronous days for students from time to time so that staff can catch up on things
      • Compensating staff that missed planning to cover classes where there are no subs with either money or reallocating that time somehow
    • “To alleviate the childcare issues that I know any of these schedule changes would create, RPS could use funding from the American Rescue plan and other pandemic related funding from the federal government to extend and build upon our existing extended day programs for students”
  • Laura Anderson White is an RPS teacher who was not present. Her written statement to the board includes an inquiry into what the board plans to do in regards to teachers not being compensated for missed planning periods due to shortage of substitute teachers and cafeteria monitors. She also stated that teachers are working extra in the mornings and afternoons without compensation due to bus driver shortages. 
    • She offered ways for the district to address this:
      • Shorten the school day by 1 hour
      • Move to a 4 day school week and allow one day of teacher planning
      • Add a personal day (not sick day) to [teacher] banks per week
      • Monetarily compensate [teachers] for the extra time
  • M. Victoria Carll is another RPS teacher who was not present. Her written statement to the board raised concerns about the year round calendar and its potential issues. 
    • Teachers have had to change the pacing of their instruction and certain classes are not meant to be taught on the four by four schedule that was previously implemented. 
    • She stated that “We can’t just keep relying on teachers to completely upend how they do things while giving zero support to them.”
    • “So I am asking to wait yet another year at least before adopting yet another calendar. Let us heal and at the very least have the district give professional development on pacing and support on how to reinvent the year BEFORE implementation of another calendar.” 

[7.01 Dreams 4RPS updates] – the board received an update on Goal 3: Academics (Virginia Growth Assessment)

  • Results from the Virginia Growth Assessment (VGA) were presented to the board. 
  • Virginia Growth Assessment Data Presentation.pdf
    • The Virginia Department of Education launched the VGA this fall to provide baseline data in reading and mathematics as students returned to school after the disruptions caused by the pandemic.
    • For this fall only, the VGA focused on previous grade level content to assist in the identification of unfinished learning from 2020-21.
    • The VGA data presented reconfirmed what was learned from the SOLs last spring: overall, our students were deeply impacted by the pandemic and have a great deal of unfinished learning, which will take several years to address
  • This was the first year this assessment was given
    • This assessment was developed in less than 6 months
  • Data was discussed and strategies used to increase Math and Reading proficiency in schools were questioned

[5.01 Personnel Activities]

  • The board was made aware that 29 employees resigned.
    • “Majority were due to the recent COVID-19 [vaccine] mandate”

[6.01 Operational update on COVID, transportation, food, and staffing]

  • Operational Updates for 11-8-21 Board Meeting.pdf
  • The board was reminded that, “Vaccinated individuals do not need to quarantine if exposed [to COVID-19]”
  • Currently there is a 92% compliance of vaccine mandate
  • “As part of the progressive discipline process, employees who did not meet the requirements of the vaccine mandate as of Friday, October 15, have received letters notifying them that they will lose one day of pay this pay period. As a result, we have seen an increase in our vaccination rate as well as a number of resignations”
    • As a consequence of the mandate, teachers in critical areas such as reading and math have left the district
  • There was a motion introduced: 
    • “RPS shall neither reduce pay nor terminate any teachers or staff for failing to submit their COVID vaccination status if said teachers or staff agree to weekly COVID testing provided by RPS. Any teacher or staff person that were subject to reduction in pay should be reimbursed in full.”
  • Superintendent Kamaras commented, “The motion that this body approved, I believe, nearly unanimously indicated that Failure to comply with the mandate would result in progressive discipline and ultimately loss of employment and a mandate isn’t a mandate if there are no consequences for not meeting the mandate. As much as I am pained by withholding pay and ultimately ending somebody’s employment, I believe this body made that decision because we felt it was so critical that the staff in our buildings working with our children were fully vaccinated. Certainly if the board feels otherwise at this point, that is of course the board’s prerogative, I continue to maintain that doing everything we can to ensure all of our staff are vaccinated is a moral obligation that we have to our children”
  • Motion Passed

[6.05 Update on school security] 

  • School Security Presentation for 11-8-21 Board Meeting.pdf
  • Mr.Tobar, head of security, is called to the next meeting.
  • Ms.Gibson mentioned, “Most fights start with a text.” and so introduced a motion:
    • “RPS shall establish a working group composed of students, parents, teachers, and staff to review digital use by students during the school day including but not limited to personal cell phones and RPS chromebooks. The working group will benchmark against other districts and identify recommendations related to academic progress, student safety and overall welfare. These recommendations will be presented to the board for consideration by April 1, 2022. Additionally, RPS administration will provide data on student digital activity by January 31, 2022. This data will include student computer use overall during the school day, time spent on websites not inclusive of RPS curriculum, time spent on youtube, and time spent on google hangouts.”
      • Motion passed

[6.02 Update on 2022-2023 Calendar development]

  • Goals for the new calendar were presented
  • 2022-23 Calendar Presentation for 11-8-21 Board Meeting.pdf
    • Increase instructional time/reduce “Summer Slide”
    • Increase social-emotional learning time
    • Provide predictable, sustainable breaks
    • Maintain inclusivity
    • Avoid half-days
    • Ensure operational feasibility
    • Engagement
  • One point made on the calendar was that, “Year round school” does not mean school 365 days a year”
  • On November 15, 2021 three calendar drafts will be introduced for consideration

[6.03 Update on George Wythe High School construction process]

  • Wythe Construction Update for 11-8-21 Board Meeting.pdf
  • Director of school construction position has not yet been filled.
  • Motion introduced: “RPS shall sign immediately 2 million dollars in monies from the unassigned balance in RPS capital recruitment funds. Said money should be used for architectural design services for George wythe high school, a career and technical high school and woodville elementary school. Any dollars of the 2 million dollars spent on design should be reimbursed upon receipt of an anticipated 10 million dollars as previously allocated for school design construction”
    • Motion Passed
    • One Legal concern was raised on whether the board is able to move those funds
    • Another concern was that the 10 million dollars are not yet guaranteed.
    • Additionally, the funds were already allocated when the budget was previously approved.
    • Superintendent Kamaras commented that there is a list of items on capital list for this year that will not happen if these funds are reallocated:
      • Blackwell Elementary School’s new generator
      • Brown Middle School’s fire alarm system replacement
      • Carver Elementary School’s new addition to their roof replacement and upgraded classroom lighting switches
      • Community High School’s fire alarm panel devices
      • Henderson Middle School’s new generator
      • Holton Elementary School’s new generator
      • Miles Jones Elementary School’s new generator
      • Swansboro Elementary School’s roof replacement and various warranty extensions

[6.04 Recommendation to conduct a River City Middle School rezoning]

  • River City Rezoning Context/Process.pdf
  • River City Middle School has capacity for 1,500 students but student age populations are growing at a faster rate than the school is able to accomodate.
  • Data collected indicates the need to rezone several hundred students to Thomas C. Boushall Middle School and Lucille M. Brown Middle School. 
  • The overall goal is to reduce the overcrowding in the River City zone.

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