Facilities Plan Background

Next steps for facilities action proposed by Superintendent Kranz (Nov 6th)

Next steps for facilities action proposed by Superintendent Kranz (Nov 6th)

Our primary goal is to implement a comprehensive facilities plan to lay the groundwork for a thriving education system in Richmond.

The facilities plan adopted by the previous school board, option 5 recommendation from the facilities task force, is now being considered by a completely new board (all 9 members). 

If School Board doesn’t approve emergency facility actions and send them to the Mayor before 2017 ends, we'll lose another year to address concerns at schools like Mason Elementary. 

November 6th, School Board

On November 6th, a diverse range of speakers (see recap below) headed our call and voiced support for action on school facilities. Superintendent Kranz presented an overview of the facilities plan (PDF and video) and proposed next steps, which included returning to the School Board with specific options on November 20th.  

This presentation was a positive step, but there are unanswered questions that could delay a vote before 2017 ends. Concerns were raised about the timeline, viability of Option 5 (e.g. school size), and approving a comprehensive plan without additional vetting. 

Richmond Forward, Help!

Later in this update we provide information to help address these valid concerns, but as we wait for Superintendent Kranz to release recommended options, we need your help to remind the School Board about the urgency to act in 2017.

Before the meeting on Monday, November 20th, please contact your School Board member to urge them to approve emergency facilities actions before 2017. You can contact them via email (homepage), or phone (School Board). 

If you want to go next-level, please show up to City Hall, 2nd floor Council Chambers, at 6pm on Monday (11/20) to speak during public comment. Also, we need more of voices of those directly impacted by failing school facilities, so reach out and get them into the conversation.

Alleviating critical environmental concerns at schools like Mason Elementary or severe overcrowding at schools like Greene Elementary cannot wait another year. The time to speak out is now!

November 6th Recap

The following speakers, representing RVA and Richmond, headed our call to voice support for action on school facilities at the School Board meeting:

The RTD’s Justin Mattingly highlighted quotes from speakers in this recap.

Superintendent Kranz presented an overview of facilities issues (PDF and video) and proposed next steps, which included returning to the School Board with specific options on November 20th.

Kranz said what’s holding him back from providing specific recommendations to the board was feedback on student-teacher ratio and school size. After a brief discussion, the board voted to approve the following ratio for facility planning purposes: 

Teacher-student ratio

  • 18:1 pre-K
  • 19:1 grades 1-3
  • 22:1 grades 4-12

Concerns and Information 

Concerns were raised about the timeline, viability of Option 5 (e.g. school size), and approving a comprehensive plan without additional vetting. 

These are all valid questions, and for individuals like myself who’ve been involved for years on this effort, there’s a lot of background information. The remainder of this update is devoted to concerns raised at the School Board and information on past work to provide a baseline of understanding.  

Timeline

In Kranz’s proposed next steps, approval through the ad-hoc facilities committee and community meetings were recommended.

In a best-case scenario this would be protocol for moving forward, but the reality of the situation calls for more expedient action.

Cindy Menz-Erb, chair of the ad-hoc facilities committee, recently lost re-election and will soon be replaced. Superintendent Kranz will also be replaced, and in the interim, is completing an exhausting amount of work. Also, the budget reality is that action is needed in 2017 to achieve any major funding initiatives.

Without a clear champion on the board, and with administration running thin, a more condensed version of next steps are needed to vote in 2017. This is why I, Garet Prior, recommend that the School Board set a deadline of December 4th to vote on emergency facility actions.

When asked about the viability of Option 5, Kranz said that it was “not a viable option today.” What Kranz meant by this statement was that closer to 5%, not 100%, has changed.

Option 5 emergency facilities actions (approved in 2015):

  1. Rezone Broad Rock Elementary with adjacent schools
  2. New Elkhardt Middle and rezone with adjacent schools
  3. New Greene Elementary and rezone with adjacent schools
  4. Renovate and expand Westover Hills Elementary and rezone with adjacent schools
  5. Renovate and expand Overby-Sheppard Elementary and rezone with adjacent schools

What I think we’ll see as proposed actions from Kranz on Monday night:

  1. Rezone Broad Rock Elementary with adjacent schools and renovate/expand another southside elementary (possibly Westover Hills)
  2. New Elkhardt Middle and rezone with adjacent schools
  3. New Greene Elementary and rezone with adjacent schools
  4. New Mason Elementary and rezone with adjacent schools
  5. New Wythe High and rezone with adjacent schools

Comprehensive Facilities Plan

With unanswered questions on a 10 to 15 year facilities plan, how can the School Board approve emergency facility actions without further community vetting of Option 5?

This is a good question and I agree that further discussion is needed for years 5 to 15, but as noted in the timeline, action is needed soon or another year will be wasted.

In the interim, the School Board can rely on past community engagement efforts. During the facilities task force study, input was gathered from 15 community meetings and an online survey with over 1,800 participants. Although these meetings are a few years old, acting on community input will validate past engagement efforts. Also, the Option 5 recommendation was unanimously approved by the previous School Board and has been seen as a preferred action plan by City Council and the Mayor (people who control funding).

For the 5 to 15 year plan, next summer will be the perfect opportunity to coordinate future school needs with the city-wide master plan update. During these community engagement meetings, we can better coordinate how investment in housing, transportation, recreation, the environment, and social services, can best support a thriving education system.

Viability of Option 5

Superintendent Kranz is a world-class professional in facilities management and planning, but he’s not the only source of information. There we over 30 community volunteers involved on the facilities task force that can help!

School Size

Valid questions have been raised about the impact of school size design in the facilities plan. 

School size design (enrollment be capped at 80% of design build)

  • Elementary 1,000
  • Middle 1,500
  • High 2,000

These school sizes would be a departure from the majority of buildings in RPS whose smaller size was developed to compliment a neighborhood model, or built during times of segregation to separate schools for black and white students.   

During the facilities task force we reviewed the VDOE Guidelines for School Facilities, Richmond Division-Wide Educational Specifications, and specifications for the Jones-era built schools (Oak Grove Elementary, Broad Rock Elementary, MLK Middle, and Huguenot High).

A main reason larger schools was that they met minimum levels for building profitability. Meaning, if schools were built to this capacity, additional money to subsidize infrastructure costs wouldn’t be needed and more money could be sent into the classroom.

Profitability wasn't the sole determining factor and student achievement was the greater consideration. Research by the Maryland Department of Education, which echoes much of the other research on this topic, found that school size has mixed results on student achievement. Here’s a summary of larger school size pros/cons:

Pros

  • Financial savings to operating and capital budgets
  • Allows for greater variety in programming (larger numbers for specialty classes)
  • Allows for greater room to conduct smaller group/specialized classes with additional space
  • Possibility for greater student integration, racially and income, due to larger zoning area for students, as opposed to segregated neighborhoods
  • High-quality principal gets to lead a larger number of kids/staff  

Cons

  • Neighborhood model of schools is diminished/destroyed
  • Individual students may "feel lost" with larger number of students in facility
  • Low-quality principal gets to lead a larger number of kids/staff

To mitigate impact of larger schools, the following recommendations should inform new school construction:

  1. School within a school design to create close knit relationships between student groups and teachers. Read this research article for more information.
  2. Community schools commitment to locate a service provider, on school grounds, who works with the principal to coordinate partnerships. These could include specialized workforce partnerships at the high school level, or neighborhood-level services at an elementary or middle school. Read this article for more information or go to the National Center for Community Schools.
  3. Diversity, economic and racially, should be valued when making rezoning decisions. Read this article from Genevieve Siegel-Hawley on Richmond school integration for more information.

In addition to the numbers on enrollment and capacity, the facilities task force used a methodology similar to Virginia Beach that incorporated a range of factors:

Analysis of school location and neighborhood revitlaization 

Analysis of school location and neighborhood revitlaization 

As you read, there's a lot of information and thought that went into the facilities plan. This is not to say that all questions have been answered. There are discussions that remain and additional vetting is needed. 

What is also true is the immediate need to alleviate critical environmental concerns at schools like Mason Elementary or severe overcrowding at schools like Greene Elementary. These students shouldn't go another year while we wait. 

Please join me in contacting the School Board to press for action on emergency facility concerns before 2017 ends. You can contact them via email (homepage), or phone (School Board).