On the shoulders of giants

Year 1, what a run

Thanks to a wide range of support (read below), we accomplished an amazing amount of work and dipped our toes into various ponds in trying to pass and fund a comprehensive facilities plan for Richmond public schools.

By the end of 2016, we realized the need for a structure of community organizing balanced by the legs of coordination, mobilization, and solution-based analysis.

Thoughts and plans for 2017 are coming soon, but we wanted to start by giving thanks to the impressive number of people we joined with to move Richmond forward.

The room is packed for a highly-successful Mayorathon (September 29, 2016) Photo: Sportsbackers

The start

When Elkhardt Middle School was closed in February 2015 due to dangerously high-levels of mold, it only took an email to Area 10 Faith Community to get the ball rolling. In helping with communication and logistics, over 40 volunteers responded and CBS6 news provided coverage to raise awareness.

When the 300-page school facilities plan was completed by the Facilities Task Force and community meetings were being held, it was graphic designer, Gabriel Vernon, who developed this Facilities One-Pager to help explain.

Policy and funding action team

When we put out the call for those with policy and budget skills, and many answered. A sincere thank you to the following people for their input:

  • Community members Rupa and Vik Murthy, Don Cowles, Ben Campbell, Eva Colen, Laura Lafayette, Bob Argabright, Bryce Lyle, Jeff Sadler, Elizabeth Greenfield, Ansley Perkins, Maria Tackett, Chris Lombardi, Diane Marshall, Jen Ramachandran, and Keri Treadway
  • City Council members Jon Baliles, Parker Agelasto, Ellen Robertson, Reva Trammell, and Michelle Mosby
  • School Board members Kim Grey, Kristen Larson, and Don Coleman
  • School administrators Dr. Bedden, Ralph Westbay, David Myers, and Tommy Kranz

What did they accomplish? Let’s check it out.

Development and circulation of this one-pager explanation of ORD2016-092 which directs funds from property resale to schools. This ordinance passed City Council 8-0 and will be a big payoff for schools if the Arthur Ashe center is ever sold in the Boulevard redevelopment. The action in this ordinance is a best practice for tying education to economic development policy.

Moderate-quality educational drawing used to describe ORD2016-092 (March 28, 2016)

During to the school funding battle this spring, the Richmond Forward team developed a funding solution, Budget Position 2016: Closing the School Funding Gap, to provide for public officials. The research and collaboration behind this document was not only highly educational for the Richmond Forward team, but also provided language for discussion for all those ready to protest at City Hall.  The process was extremely informative for all as those ready to protest were included in the budget discussed and learned much about the process.

This summer, educational one-pagers were developed to help explain Jon Baliles’ school funding ordinances 137 and 140. Although these didn’t pass (actually they’re still in Finance Committee), what was learned from City staff’s analysis led to the next iteration for a school funding solution, The Roanoke 40. Many thanks to coverage from the Times-Dispatch and WCVE for helping to spread the word. Action in 2017 awaits.  

Since the start, we knew that funding-alone wouldn’t solve all the issues facing the infrastructure of Richmond public schools, so the team developed this facilities package of reforms. Many thanks to Mark Hickman and Devon Cushman for allowing us to present this to the Chamber’s Government Affairs Committee.

The BIG election led to the creation of a Captain Planet-style team for Mayorathon.  The James River AssociationRVA Rapid TransitSports BackersStorefront for Community Design and Richmond Magazine comprised this all-star team. Heralded by multiple mayoral candidates as the most professionally run election debate, this conversation is definitely a must watch TV. What became a signature moment for the election was the team of rivals question, which asked: “What other candidate would you name to your administration?” 

Emily Griffey with Voices was the lead for Is It Good 4 Kids RVA? She led a coalition that included us to create this election guide and Facebook page.

Mickael Broth and Richmond City High School students (March 11, 2016) Photo: BK Photography

Parents, teachers, and students

The historic outpouring of support for Richmond schools at this year’s budget hearing was largely driven by Support Our Schools agitators - which is a compliment - Chris Lombardi, Diane Marshall, Jen Ramachandran, and Keri Treadway. In looking back at the event pictures, I’m reminded of Mysia Perry’s call for community organizing and protecting to enact change. One cannot disconnect this moment from the high turn-over in Richmond’s fall elections.

We have Mickael Broth, Art180, and BK Photography, to thank for providing the resources and space for a student expression workshop on March 11, 2016. The young artists were a collection of AMAZING students that represented each high school in Richmond.  

For the RPS Parents: Take the Mic! night, we have Peter Paul Development Center (Gwen Corley Creighton) and the Micah Initiative (Qasarah Spencer) to thank for hosting and promoting the event. We had an informative conversation with RPS parents about issues in this tumultuous spring and the process through which they can make political change. 

Historic protest on City Hall (April 11, 2016) Photo: KT Eut's Facebook post 

The media

A major part of any movement is the ability to communicate and be heard. RVA News and their crack team of writers receives our utmost respect. From center man Ross Catrow with Good Morning, RVA (subscribe today!), to Teresa Cole’s Education FAQ series, to Valerie Catrow’s interview, and RVA News Live! No longer having RVA News as a full time resource is a major loss for our city, but others such as RVA DirtThe Cheats Movement, and RVA HUB have begun to fill the void. Everyone should go right now to subscribe to Good Morning, RVA. Really, do it.

Style Weekly’s recognition for Richmond Forward began last December with Leah Small’s interview for Style’s Scrum Blog and this 1140AM interview. These interviews occurred at a pivotal point for Richmond Forward when we were just getting up and running. In October, Style Weekly further highlighted our efforts with this Top 40 Under 40 award.

Writers Katy Burnell Evans and Ned Oliver at the Richmond Times-Dispatch have reached out to us with their work on the election and school funding. It’s also nice to see a publication that includes space for counter opinions to be voiced. 

Libby Germer and George Wythe High School students on stage at RVANews Live 007 (June 1, 2016) Photo: Garet Prior

The team

Last, but definitely not least, is our Richmond Forward team.

Ansley Perkins was one of the first to respond to our call for political involvement and started to coordinate meetings with City Council members to discuss school funding without asking. She’s been a constant resource in attending meetings and reporting what occurred. The real benefit with Ansley is that her background is not entrenched with educational policy or public budgets, thus she provides a constant check to nerd-speak in our publications. Being able to see Ansley’s passion drive her to learn more and become involved has mobilized us to learn more and become more involved, which is the essential goal of Richmond Forward. This win is equal as all the actions listed above.

Gabriel Vernon is the graphic design wizard. He conjures his magic to turn blockish text documents and sketches I email him late at night, into stellar comprehensible tools for communication and understanding. Gabriel is the enabler for Richmond Forward’s commitment to transparency; without him, our graphic presentations would not hold water in this fast-past social media world of one-glance information. The facilities one-pager is hands down the best thing we’ve produced. He’s been there since day 1 and there’s much more to come. 

Kelly Hall is the organizational guru. As a fellow masters graduate from VCU’s urban planning school, she brings the technical skills of understating city systems and organizational development. As a ridiculous smart, detail-oriented, funny, and passionate individual, she provides the perfect complement of resources to my big vision and long-worded self.

Maria Tackett is a research pencil-burner. With a statistics degree from UVA, she has a keen eye for number crunching and balancing budgets. Get ready in 2017 as the best practices we always hear about (e.g. Baltimore, Cincinnati, Nashville, etc.) will be put to the test as Maria examines what’s really going on and tips to move us forward.

I’m Garet Prior and I do this because I have no choice. I'm driven by childhood experience on the east-side of Cleveland and inspired by words like those from Dr. King and Jesus below. Removing the weight of failing school facilities will catapult our city's finances to heights unseen and release our high number of at-opportunity students to achieve the goals to which they strive. 

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” – Matthew 25:40

Also, the challenge is a lot of fun. Get ready for 2017! 

Receiving the Top 40 award in style (September 26, 2016) Photo: Scott Elmquist