Sunday, October 15, 2017

Michelle Mosby for Treasurer

On November 7th, I hope you will join me in voting Michelle Mosby for City Treasurer

What is the City Treasurer? 
The role of Treasurer is a constitutional officer, elected every 4-years, that is responsible collecting and accounting for all revenues received. 

What does that actually mean? What do they do? 
Their role in revenue collection is detailed in state code. Many local governments, not Richmond, have a webpage to explain their role (e.g. York County). From reading these pages, it seems like the main emphasis is educational. The number crunching is completed by a Director of Finance or financially trained staff. 

1990s webpage alert! 
This state webpage still exists to explain compensation for constitutional positions and I love this large print pdf on Treasurer history. Also, her opponent L. Shirley Harvey has a can't miss webpage with music! 

Why Michelle Mosby? 
This is not a vote against Nichole Armstead or L. Shirley Harvey, but a vote for Michelle Mosby. 

In the RT-D announcement, you can understand byMichelle's comments that she is knowledgeable with the system and is ready to take on those who would do harm to our city. Even if it costs her personal gain, which it did in directly challenging Morrissey.  

My personal reasons: 

High quality person. Michelle is one of the most genuine people you will meet. She is quick to give hugs and you will always know where you stand. She is willing to take on the hard fight. 

We agree and disagree. Over the past 3-years we have discussed and debated what actions to take in transforming education in Richmond. Through these discussions, I gained the highest respect for Michelle as one who sticks to her principles, but is always looking to find a way to connect. 

Learning from experience. As a business owner, Michelle has taken personal risk and failed (bankruptcy). I see this as a positive as one who has fallen down and learned to pull herself back up. 

Bridging the Richmond and RVA gap. Michelle represents southside Richmond, but she is more than just a geography. I've seen Michelle connect with all of Richmond, from families in public housing to CEOs. Michelle engenders respect and kindness for all. She and I have a similar passion for citizen education and I know that, at a minimum, she can help us get a webpage like York County. Really Richmond, York County is beating us. 

On November 7th, I hope you will join me in voting Michelle Mosby for City TreasurerYou can help Michelle by going to her website to sign up for email updates, get a yard sign, or donate. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Letter to Stop the Muslim Ban

February 5, 2017 

Dear Senator Kaine, Senator Warner, and Representative Scott,

I am writing today to urge you to direct Customs & Border Protection to end detention and return of refugees, and persons based solely on their religion and national origin to rescind President Trump’s Executive Order.

As a Virginian with a strong belief in Jeffersonian-democracy, we should live in a society where religious freedom is protected. The Executive Order is an anti-democratic, unconstitutional step that breaks the line between church and state. Our country does not require religious and/or value tests to determine whether a human life is worth saving and access to equal opportunity. Classification and identification based on national origin has been used as a pretext to exclude persons based on religion, regardless of whether the population is actually or perceived to be Muslim.  We should live in a society where people are free to be who they are, and free from judgment because of where they were born and how they pray.

This is a Muslim ban because Section 5(f) of the Executive Order clearly states “State and DHS can continue to process refugees with religious persecution claims, if they are part of a religious minority, while the suspension of the resettlement is underway as they conduct their security review.” This demonstrates that the Administration’s focus is not national security, as Christians are still allowed to enter the country during the 120 day ban. As a Christian, I find this appalling and a clear divide from how Jesus calls us to “do to others as you would have them do to you.” 

There is no empirical evidence to support that the Muslim ban will actually secure our nation. With the strong vetting process already in place for refugees, I believe the existing system will fulfill our national security needs. Also, why wasn't Saudi Arabia included in this list as they were the home of the majority of the 9-11 hijackers and Bin Laden? Historically programs with sweeping powers to exclude people based on nationality, race, ethnic origin or religion have proven to be ineffective. From the Japanese internment camps to the denial of Jewish refugees during WWII, we have seen how history will view those who use fear to abandon the American principle as a haven for those in need. 

Welcoming people escaping persecution secures our nation. Asylees and refugees are victims of human rights abuses, and the most susceptible to human rights violators and perpetrators that commit violence against women, ethnic killings, and persecution. By welcoming sales and refugees we prevent human rights abuses from happening, we protect them.

I urge you to take all and any means necessary to move Congress to direct Customs & Border Protection to end detention and return of refugees and to rescind this Executive Order. I will fully support you if you have to take a douche-style Ted Cruz rant to shut down the government to keep this from progressing further. 

Please contact me at (phone) or (email) if you would like to discuss further.


Garet Prior 

Richmond, Virginia 23225 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Community Schools RPS

The price for Richmond’s children to attend schools that aren’t falling in and oozing sludge, have dangerously high levels of mold, or failing HVAC systems will be $500-$600 million dollars and take 15 years.
In working on the school facilities task force for the past year, I’ll take an educated guess that RPS will easily spend more than $500 million on facilities within the next 15 years, with or without a plan for reform.
In the near future there will be more forced schools closings due to structural or environmental failures. Large sums of money will be spent on short-term, band-aid efforts to continue the lifespan of outdated, inefficient mechanical equipment or outdoor classrooms to address overpopulation.
The fact is if the status quo – reaction – remains, money will not be used for new assets that will accrue capital and cost savings over time. The albatross that is failing facility cost will continue to drain necessary classroom resources, thus forcing the board to make damaging cuts to classroom education, as was seen in the leveling cuts this spring.
It’s a simple concept: if you don’t plan to manage your money, your money will manage you.
The path forward
This isn’t an impossible mountain to climb. In 2000, Cincinnati Public Schools faced a similar situation, the difference being the final price tag was $1 billion. After a year-long facilities master plan, stewarded by administration and vetted by the community, the system adopted a plan for reform and used a combination of state funds and a local bond referendum to secure the necessary funding for a 10-year plan.
In talking with Darlene Kamine who helped lead the reform effort, the key element that led to community buy-in (to pass the bond referendum) was the adoption of a community school model.
Darlene Kamine (NPR Marketplace, 2012)
What are community schools?
Community schools are asset-based, meaning that local resources and attributes drive programming, not outside voices or resources. A public-private partnership is established where the private organization has a physical location on-site and is managed by a resource coordinator. Essential to this model is creating an active school by offering after-school, weekend, and summer programming. Services not only address academic concerns, but must take into account the full physical, mental and emotional health of school children and their families.
Partnerships are developed with a range of private partners from universities (Orlando and Philadelphia), business/philanthropic organizations (Chicago and Cincinnati), or healthcare providers (NYC and Tulsa). In Orlando, University of Central Florida (UCF) signs a 20-year MOU with the lead agency partnership for the school. Check out Coalition for Community Schools, a terrific resource for all community school questions.
According to Lucas Weinsten at NYC’s National Center for Community Schools (NCCS), to achieve this dynamic model the key hurdles are establishing stable leadership, sustainable funding, and mutual respect through transparency and data sharing. That shouldn’t be a problem in Richmond, right?
The Cincinnati Model
To build the community schools recommended in the Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) 2002-2014 Facilities Master Plan, the next 2 years were spent gaining public buy-in through listening and answering questions in community forms, establishing guiding principles and MOUs for partners, and conducting an assessment of school sites.
In 2003, funding was secured with the passage of a local bond referendum with money allocated from the state to implement a decade-long plan.
To lead implementation, CPS subcontracted Darlene Kamine to lead their Community Learning Center Initiative. This involved four 2.5 year planning cycles for 10-12 schools at a time. Deliverables for each cycle included:
  • Survey the existing assets and community
  • Establish a school-level vision for partnerships with goals to guide programming
  • Identify a school partner and develop a sustainable model for management
At the end of the cycle, CPS architects and contractors would contact Ms. Kamine to learn of the desired school vision to inform design and construction of facility improvements.
In 2014, this process completed and was received as a success! Ms. Kamine continued her work and founded the Community Learning Center Institute to further community school partnerships. Also, CPS is now in the process of making all their schools, community schools.
Evans Community School, a partnership between Children's Home Society of Florida, UCF, and Orange County Public Schools (UCF, 2012) 
CPS took time to conduct a truly engaged planning process, which involved not just listening or presenting information, but educating and using input to influence outcomes.
This is social capacity building at its best. By developing local networks of engaged people, infrastructure dollars are furthered by private partnerships and maintained to a higher quality as a sense of ownership is developed for the people living in the community.
The School Board and City Council agreed upon a set of goals and committed to a long-term funding plan to gain community trust.
To develop trust, whether with a parent or large financial backer, expectation for deliverables is paramount. Knowing that improvements will be delivered on schedule will allow for businesses to factor cost into longer-term partnerships, and parents to understand tough decisions about school consolidation and resource allocation.
Allowing a private entity to facilitate the planning process and establish partnerships for community schools shielded this process from becoming too political.
The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) was an original funding source for the engagement and initial planning of community schools. CDF’s role allowed school coordinators to be viewed as neutral players, thus removed from local politics. During the decade-long facilities implementation, Ms. Kamine was sub-contracted, thus never directly a CPS employee.
What needs to happen in Richmond now (and the next 14 months)!
1. The School Board and City Council adopt a comprehensive plan for facilities improvement that is vetted by the community.
An engaged community input process needs to begin so that the facilities task force report can be transparently discussed. Be on the lookout for upcoming dates, as school administration should begin meetings in the near future. [Update on proposed community meeting scheduled for September 28th meeting]
2. The School Board and City Council pass a resolution defining and supporting a commitment to community schools.
Look, here is a great example of a resolution passed by Cincinnati.
3. The Richmond community works to secure funding to implement the adopted facilities reform plan.
Do all of the following:
Contact our state legislators. Look to other states such as Minnesota, Florida, Ohio, or New York that established state grants to fund community schools or school infrastructure.
Aggressively pursue private investment in school partnerships. Use RPS historic resources to leverage private dollars for investment as detailed in Goldman, Kasper, and Rozell’s Style Weekly editorial. Contact our corporate, philanthropic, university, and healthcare partners to work out community school partnership agreements. Enter into efficiency service agreements to pay for new mechanical equipment that could leverage $4 private for every $1 public spent.
Pass a local bond referendum, allocate money in the budget and capital improvement plan, or pass a real estate tax that is directly tied to funding school infrastructure with a sunset clause. These are my favorites, but all options need to be on the table.
4. Gather partnerships and begin a system-wide community schools assessment.
Start by reading this comprehensive action guide for building community schools developed by NCCS.
Work through the RPS Office of Community-School Engagement to amass a list of partners. My initial assessment includes the following:
  • District-wide networks = Micah Initiative, Communities in Schools, Richmond Education Foundation, Boys and Girls Club, United Way, Altria, VCU, Sun Trust, Federal Reserve, YMCA, Virginia Lottery, Groundwork RVA, etc.
  • Neighborhood-based networks: CHAT, Peter Paul Development Center, Northside Outreach Center, YNPN, neighborhood or merchant associations, faith-based institutions, etc.
Use local planning resources (e.g. VCU’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, UR’s Bonner Center, or Storefront for Community Design) to help guide the community engagement process to conduct an inclusive system-wide assessment.
Storefront for Community Design, a gathering place for community engagement and planning (Self, 2013) 
But really, how can we fund this with Richmond’s vast needs?
When I started dating my wife, nothing would stop me from doing whatever I could to see her. Money, time, energy was not a question.
We need to apply this same ethic to our children’s safety and prosperity by examining where we FIRST spend our money (e.g. FY16 General Fund $700 million and CIP $200 million). Fix our schools, then work out the rest.
A community that stands idly by while children suffer, is not only complacent, but is a part of the problem. As MLK stated, “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.”
If we claim to love Richmond’s children, then what is stopping us?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Faith and Death by the State

As I sat at the table this morning, drinking my coffee and doodling on the day old newspaper, I found myself sketching three wooden crosses representing Jesus’ death. Upon reflection, this reminded me that Jesus was sentenced to death by the state. He spent his last few days on death row. Put there by a jury of his peers and sentenced to death.

If Christ would have made his return today, would he now be on death row? Probably. All of the early disciples of Jesus were jailed and put to death, not outside of legal means, but through a state-sanctioned process.

As modern Americans we like to feel removed from these practices. We believe we rationally superior with evolved systems that justify right from wrong. Any look at our current justice system will tell us we are far from perfect. 

In the fall of 2011, I completed my jury duty and sat on two first degree murder trials in the City of Richmond. These trials didn't make the news or garner any outside debate, but in the course of approximately 10 hours combined, 12 city residents – a jury of peers – were asked to decide the fate of two men’s lives.

John Marshall Courts Building, Richmond, Virginia 

As a follower of Jesus, I've got a problem with this system because it makes me think, could I have been a member of the crowd calling for Jesus’ death?

When Jesus was dying on the cross, he asks for forgiveness of those persecuting him, and the men being persecuted alongside him that day. If Jesus forgave in that moment, and me through his death, how can I not be called to forgive others?

In the Richmond cases we, the jury, found both defendants not guilty. One acting in self-defense and for the other we had reasonable doubt. This is not to say that all crime should be without penalty. If we aspire to foster healthy relationships in our society, then boundaries with penalties are necessary.

But, in light of issues raised in the deaths of Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and countless others, followers of Jesus need to ask harder questions of state sponsored killing. If Jesus exists within all of us, then what are we doing? Are we with Jesus on the cross or in the crowd calling for his death?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Improving the Academic Improvement Plan

On January 5, 2015 the RPS School Board approved the Academic Improvement Plan for 2014-2015. In its most simple form, the school administration is tasked with managing (A) people and programs, and (B) facilities and infrastructure. The Academic Improvement Plan just approved covers (A), and later this spring, school administration will present their plan for facilities and infrastructure (B). Thus, between these two documents we will have a complete plan for reform in RPS.

The Academic Improvement Plan

The plan is based upon the National Center for Education Achievement (NCEA) Core Framework. The NCEA was a research wing of ACT, Inc. - the ACT test people - but has been reabsorbed back into the company.   
As seen in the image below, the framework is based on common characteristics found at urban, high-achieving  high-poverty schools. From their research, they developed 5 common themes with 15 core practices to instruct actions at the district, school, and classroom level.
NCEA Core Framework.jpg
An example of how this model is applied can be found in this 2011 NCEA core practice audit of Winnisquam Regional School District in New Hampshire.
In Richmond, school administration identified key metrics for school accreditation and SOLs to track and determine impact. Action teams, mainly comprised of central administration and school principals, created year-long action plans with district, school, and classroom-level practices, followed by more specific deliverables for each one of the 5 themes. In all, 129 deliverable practices are to be accomplished within the next year.  
Action Team
Theme 1
Theme 2
Theme 3
Theme 4
Theme 5

My Analysis

Improvements in the Academic Improvement Plan are needed for RPS to realize their extensive goals (129 deliverables in the next year alone). By simplifying this plan to actions at the district-level for year 1, we can start to lay the all important infrastructure to foster and sustain an environment of successful classrooms. If constructed properly, one could easily draw a line between student activities in the classroom to the role of district administration - a constant illusion when I was teaching.

The Solution

Start with Dr. Bedden’s top 3 priorities (pp.6), which are:
Dr. Bedden’s Top Priorities
1. Improve Teaching and Learning  
2. Positive Stakeholder Engagement
3. Establish and Maintain Positive Climate

To me, #3 is a product of #1 and #2. The NCEA 5 Core Framework targets - in an extensive way - #1, teaching and learning. Therefore, I’d add a 6th theme to the Academic Improvement Plan, stakeholder engagement, to address #2.
Action teams should be led by central administration, but would be comprised of a smaller number (6-8 people), from a wider range (e.g. students, teachers, private sector). These teams would be assigned to 6 core theme areas, and would plan and manage the implementation of 2-3 key solutions by the end of next year. Thus reducing 129 deliverables, to a maximum of 18.
NCEA’s Core Themes
Garet’s 6 Themes
1. Curriculum and Academic Goals
Curriculum Alignment
2. Staff Selection, Leadership and Capacity Development
Staff Selection and Development
3. Instructional Tools: Programs and Strategies
Teaching Resources
4. Monitoring Performance and Progress
5. Intervention and Adjustment
Remediation or Advancement
[Bedden Priority #2]
Stakeholder Engagement

For example, the assessment team would set a district-level goal to have all test scores processed and returned to teachers within a 48-hour period. This would focus the team’s efforts on the needed procedural and technological efficiencies to accomplish by the end of a year at the district, school, and classroom levels.  
For this upcoming year, practices  - as identified in the Academic Improvement Plan - for schools and classrooms would remain, but would be recommendations instead of deliverables. This would allow for deliverables at these levels to be developed from the pursuit of key district-level goals in year 1.
The emphasis on paring down the number of deliverables is not to dilute the impact of change, but to direct it to where it is most needed - programmatic infrastructure.  
In talking with Jean Rutherford, a researcher at ACT, Inc. who worked to develop the NCEA Core Framework, she said the key to high functioning schools  - with populations similar to Richmond - was “establishing a powerhouse infrastructure that supports teachers, principals, and classrooms, regardless of who is in role.” Her top examples of this framework in action were Wilson High School in Long Beach, CA and the system of Plano, TX.
In the end, we have to establish a top-down philosophy, reinforced with actions, where district-level administration supports the needs of students, teachers and principals - in that order. Dr. Bedden has started to lay this groundwork through his speeches to the community and choices in his administrative team. The recent #BetterwithBedden is representative of a distinct change in perception of RPS from past superintendents.
To build on this momentum - by developing district-wide infrastructure - we must be careful to craft solutions that lessen the burden on students, teachers, and principals. From my experience as a teacher, well meaning district solutions such as: creating a common template for lesson plans, additional SOL district-level tests, or adding professional development time (e.g. PLCs or curriculum alignment) became burden-adding because they were disconnected from actual needs or lacked necessary resources.
To create authentic solutions, we need to engage students, teachers, and community stakeholders in the process to develop a powerhouse programmatic infrastructure. By expanding membership of the 6 theme action teams and centering our efforts in year 1 on a few key district-level changes we can begin to establish and maintain a positive climate of progress.