Richmond Public Schools Deploy Extraordinary Resources at MLK Jr. Middle School

by James C. Sherlock

Virginia School Quality Measures have shown Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Richmond to be perhaps the worst public school in Virginia.

Richmond Public Schools (RPS) is flooding it with more adult supervision, instructional resources and student assistance than I personally have ever seen in such a school.

MLK Jr. has about 600 kids.

MLK Jr. Middle School has on this year’s staff:

  • a principal and three associate principals — one for each grade.
  • three school counselors — also one for each grade.
  • coaches for teachers of both literacy and math.
  • 56 classroom teachers, 16 of whom are special ed teachers, three are Title 1 positions and 16 elective teachers, leaving 24 teachers of standard English, History, Math and Science for the three grades.
  • eight instructional assistants assigned to individual teachers
  • two persons assigned full time to a “Restorative Caring Space” and two more to a “Sankofa Mindfulness Room.” The lead person for thee Mindfulness Room, Dr. Ram Bhagat (ex Craig Gooding), is also “Manager of School Culture and Mindfulness Strategies.”
  • A school social worker, a school nurse and a speech pathologist.
  • dedicated RPS positions for Boys and Girls Club, Communities in Schools, and Child Savers and a representative of the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority.

Finally, there are six “Care and Safety Associate” positions at Martin Luther King Jr. in 2021. RPS is seeking ex-cops or social workers to fill these positions while maintaining an active duty cop as a school resource officer on site.

The MLK Jr. staff is one of perhaps unprecedented complexity for a middle school. The principal will be challenged to deploy that breadth of assets as a high functioning team.

I fervently hope she succeeds and the kids in that school are finally offered the teaching and the learning climate they have for so long been denied.

Care and Safety Associates

Now for the “Care and Safety Associates.” I cannot find the RPS policies governing the activities of these persons — I have filed a FOIA request — but I found a job listing.

Care and Safety Associate

Job Title: Care and Safety Associate
Grade Level/Terms of Employment: Pay Grade: 112 / 10 Months – 201 Day contract
FLSA Status: Non-Exempt

Job Description

Primary Location Safety & Security
Salary Range $28,025.00 – $47,726.00 / Per Year
Shift Type Full-Time

General Description:

The Care and Safety Associate works collaboratively with the Director, Safety and Security and school- based leadership to cultivate and maintain a safe and loving school culture using both trauma and restorative lens. Additionally, the Care and Safety Associate serves as a mentor to students in need of additional social emotional support and works to engage parents and families as partners, in alignment with the Division’s priorities.

Essential Duties and Responsibilities:

  • Works proactively to build authentic relationships with students, families, school based staff and other stakeholders that is centered around safety and support
  • Supports the implementation of tiered supports for students struggling to meet behavioral expectations, including participation in alternatives to out-of-school suspensions
  • Models and implements trauma informed and restorative strategies such as conflict resolution, mediations, de-escalation including engaging students in conversations about peaceful resolution to conflict, and the importance of using social-emotional skills to resolve conflict
  • Leads community and healing circles with students to support their social and emotional development
  • Works collaboratively with school based staff including school administrators to identify and address safety concerns
  • Supports the implementation of the Student Code of Responsible Ethics (SCORE)
  • Conducts home visits with school staff to support student attendance efforts
  • Adheres to the State requirements for the Safe Schools Assessment, planning and reporting
  • Serves as a member of both school based threat assessment teams and school culture and climate teams
  • Assists in breaking up physical altercations (when necessary) between students and using appropriate measures to keep them safe during the duration of a physical conflict
  • Renders First Aid when appropriate
  • Prepares incident reports
  • Performs other duties as assigned


  • High school diploma or its equivalent required
  • Completion of two years of college courses or an associate’s degree from an accredited institution in social work, political science, criminology/criminal justice or related courses preferred
  • Three years of recent, successful experience in juvenile justice, law enforcement, or social services, preferably with juveniles, or any combination of education and related experience preferred
  • Maintains state certification as established by the DCJS
  • Maintain certification in Division-approved restraint training
  • Ability to establish and maintain effective working relationships with students, families, school leaders and staff
  • Authentic, effective, and professional verbal and written communication
  • Strong problem-solving abilities
  • Ability to adapt to changing priorities and situations and have the ability operate effectively in a team environment
  • Bilingual skills with proficiency/fluency in Spanish preferred

That is a daunting a list of expectations for anyone. It is all the more challenging to expect that for $35,000 per year on a 10-month contract.

In my non-attorney reading of Code of Virginia, § 44-146.23. Immunity from liability, the Care and Safety Associates have qualified immunity from liability. If any attorney reading this has a different opinion, please comment.

It will be interesting to see how this experiment in proving a safe learning environment in tough schools works out, both in recruiting and in practice in schools.

Again, I sincerely hope the full-court press succeeds.

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9 responses to “Richmond Public Schools Deploy Extraordinary Resources at MLK Jr. Middle School”

  1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    I am surprised that you did not note the absence of a position that you and I both consider important: a school attendance officer.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Note that the duties and responsibilities of the Care and Safety Associates includes “Conducts home visits with school staff to support student attendance efforts”.

      I agree that is an anodyne statement that does not appear to include the dedicated efforts or the methods of the now fired school attendance officers. The “with school staff” is a particular curiosity, but at least they admit that attendance issues must be addressed. We’ll see if it works.

  2. A ninety (90) person staff* for a 600 student school. I wonder what the per student cost is for all those salaries and benefits.

    * Does not appear to include lunchroom/kitchen, custodial or grounds-keeping personnel.

  3. …cultivate and maintain a safe and loving school culture using both trauma and restorative lens

    Position descriptions with flagrant grammatical errors always give me a warm, fuzzy feeling about the school system administrator(s) who wrote them.

    At least I hope it’s a grammatical error, because I don’t think subjecting students to trauma is the best way to “cultivate and maintain a safe and loving school culture”.


    UPDATE: This Position Description is a grammatical disaster:

    Works proactively to build authentic relationships with students, families, school based staff and other stakeholders that is centered around safety and support

    “…build authentic relationships.. ..that is centered around safety and support.”?

    This is a Position Description for a job with a Public School System – the very people who are supposed to be teaching our children how to correctly use the English language . What the hell is wrong with them?

    1. Matt Adams Avatar
      Matt Adams

      Perhaps “is” see’s itself as more of an “are” in this statement?


      1. You have helped me see the light. If “is” identifies as “are”, then it are very transprepophobic of me to try to correct the grammar in that position description.

        I must go and repent my sins…

        1. Matt Adams Avatar
          Matt Adams

          The alter of conjunction junction what’s your function awaits your penance.

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    The attendance zone for this school includes some tough neighborhoods. Next to the school the closest social institution is the Family Dollar or the City Jail. Good leadership can get this done!

  5. […] has a  student body of a little over 600 that is virtually all black.  Its astonishingly large leadership, administrative, and special staffs and its teaching staff have been fully populated and very stable for […]

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