Are Henrico Schools Solving the Wrong Problem?

Are new school buildings what Henrico schools need to improve academic performance?
Glen Allen High School. Are new buildings what Henrico schools need to improve academic performance?

In 2014 the Henrico County Board of Supervisors enacted a 4% meals tax, promising to dedicate the money to county schools. This year, voters approved $272 million in renovations and other capital projects for the school system, funded largely by meals tax revenues.

When the projects are completed, parents no doubt will be pleased to send off their children to bright, shiny new school facilities. But one must ask: Will better buildings do anything to improve the caliber of education? A quotation from Matthew 27:23 comes to mind:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.

Despite Henrico County’s success in raising new funds for its school division, the Virginia Board of Education denied state accreditation to seven Henrico schools — the first time in the division’s history that more than one of its schools failed to meet the state benchmark for student achievement, reported the Richmond Times-Dispatch over the weekend.

Now Henrico County officials have announced a town hall forum to update the public how how the school division is addressing the problems. “Our No. 1 hope is to have a very productive dialogue,” said spokesman Andy Jenks. “We hope to be up front about what we’re doing well and where there is more work to be done.”

I expect school officials to talk about the challenges of serving neighborhoods with large populations of minority and economically disadvantaged students. No doubt they also will have something to say about the state’s tougher Standards of Learning Tests, which caused SOL scores to plummet across the state, putting dozens of schools across the state under accreditation pressure.

But will school officials be “up front” about the discipline policies enacted after the Virginia ACLU and the Obama administration condemned the county for disciplining African-American students at higher rates than other racial/ethnic groups? Suspensions have declined significantly (at least they had the last time I checked) in Henrico schools. Some three years have passed. Now it’s time to take an honest look at the effectiveness of the new policies, including their impact on African-American students whose education is harmed by the disruptive behavior of a small number of kids acting up in class.

Has disruptive behavior improved or gotten worse? Are problem students more or less likely to cut into teaching time? Are teachers more or less frustrated by their inability to teach, more or less likely to transfer out of the low-achieving schools?

Will Henrico parents get honest answers, or politically correct answers?

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4 responses to “Are Henrico Schools Solving the Wrong Problem?”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    interesting stats:
    Total Schools – 1,823
    Accreditation Denied – 13
    Partially Accredited: Warned School-Pass Rate – 215
    Partially Accredited: Improving School-Pass Rate – 76
    Partially Accredited: Approaching Benchmark-Pass Rate – 46

    Interesting map:

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    ” Will Henrico parents get honest answers, or politically correct answers?”

    perhaps useful to also know what is below… as part of the context?

    Headline: ” Report: VA schools rank #1 nationally for student referrals to law enforcement”

    HENRICO, VA (WWBT) – A report just released on Friday says when it comes to referring misbehaving students to law enforcement, Virginia ranks number one. The article was published by the Center for Public Integrity, a non profit investigative news organization. It says this could lead to a “school to prison pipeline.” NBC12 also spoke to the local police departments who says arrests should be a last resort.

    You may remember Henrico student Elijah Coles- Brown, who was once threatened with jail time for rough housing at school.

    “It’s a terrifying feeling, and it was just hard to handle,” he said in a previous interview.

    The report says, Virginia schools top the nation when it comes to referring a misbehaving student to a police officer and the court.

    Its numbers say in one academic year the rate was three-times the national average. It also says: “Virginia’s referral rate (is) about 16 for every 1,000 students, compared to a national rate of six referrals for every 1,000 students.”

    So Virginia is number one in the country for essentially criminalizing disruptive behavior of kids in school and that’s their excuse for their failing schools?

    Note that out of over 1000 schools in Va – just a handful failed to gain accreditation…

    1. It’s entirely possible that Virginia schools are calling in the police way too often. I wonder why that is. There must be some kind of institutional bias toward that kind of “solution” to problems in schools. Just theorizing now, but perhaps one of those institutional biases is the paucity of options available to school administrators. Definitely bears looking into.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    Henrico – like many bigger systems has “alternative” schools for kids who need “behavior support” – the point being that kids who cannot behave and are disruptive are moved to a school designed to deal with them and away from the school where teachers and other kids would be affected – so I’m not totally buying the narrative here.

    Much more likely to be the case is the fact that neighborhood schools that serve a lot of low income kids – feeds on itself without better performing peers for other kids to emulate.

    In both housing and schools – they are now seeing that the effects of low-income being concentrated in neighborhoods and the schools that serve those neighborhoods feeds on itself in bad ways.

    Wake County, North Carolina (a regional county/city system with Raleigh) now attempts to disperse low-income in low income neighborhoods to higher performing schools – to spread them out… in much the same way that subsidy vouchers are attempting to target housing that is not located in low-income neighborhoods.

    Continuing to play blame games with the Feds or Obama is not only cowardly – it’s irresponsible. It’s like saying we have no ability of our own to try to find answers… Henrico certainly does have options it can exercise… and should. We cannot go on forever shirking our own responsibility for these issues and blaming others.

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