RICHMOND, Va. – Newly-elected Mayor Doug Wilder faced a serious and growing truancy problem among Richmond public school students in 2005.
Even the School Administration conceded they had run out of useful options to try and reverse the situation. So I was there when the newly-elected Mayor and House Speaker Bill Howell had their private meeting to develop a city/state partnership to help Richmond.
Republican Speaker Bill Howell is a terrific guy and in my experience, you can “do business” with Mr. Howell on a principled, pragmatic basis, he is one of the best Speakers in the state history, Democrat or Republican.
Wilder needed state assistance to try something new. Howell had been helpful in getting the Elected Mayor reform enacted despite Delegate Jones and Senator Marsh’s opposition, and thus wanted it to succeed.
Wilder had promised in the campaign to focus on school reform to the extent the School Board and School Superintendent would allow!
People forget that, back then, they were not all that helpful on reforming.
So Wilder and Howell decided to do something about it on the issue of Truancy.
This helped spur the new Mayor’s decision to give the city police the primary responsibility for dealing with truants, taking the operational dynamics from the RPS system. It was a first-ever move in the Commonwealth. Our police admittedly have enough to do to fight crime, but truancy is a problem that if not corrected winds up at their doorstep in the end, and they know it. So they did their duty.
Now, nine years later, we learn in today’s RTD that the Mayor’s top spokesman for a Shockoe Bottom Baseball stadium- the guy who says it is a done deal and so the people should just get over it – has taken time out from his selling job to meet with the new School Chief on the truancy issue.
The school chief, Dr. Dana Bedden, believes “Truancy is one of our own core responsibilities…If kids aren’t in school, we can’t teach them.”
This being the case, Dr. Bedden believes the primary responsibility for dealing with truants should be returned to the Richmond Public Schools from the city’s Department of Justice Services [it had been transferred here from the police department awhile ago].
“The move would reunite the school system’s four elementary school truancy officers with the 31 employees who work on middle and high school truancy.”
“I hope it can happen,” Hicks told the RTD. “I’ve spoken to Bedden.”
I too hope Mr. Hicks can make it work with Dr. Bedden.
It has been nine years since the problem forced the new Mayor to seek a new solution.
But Dr. Bedden is right. The RPS system should have the primary responsibility on truancy for school children, it fits with their mission.
This is not an easy problem, so it is encouraging to see Dr. Bedden willing to take responsibility giving all the other issues he needs to address.
And it is good to see Mr. Hicks take time off from selling his Shockoe Stadium baloney to support something that makes good common sense.
Now, if I can just get both of them to join together to publicly fight for my school modernization plan, then we can make some real progress on teaching kids who aren’t truant but want to go to learn in a school building that isn’t obsolete, crumbling down, and causing them serious health problems in many cases.
Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR. His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity. Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.