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Can Chesterfield help struggling Petersburg schools?

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RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - "I feel we've lost a generation of students in Petersburg," Virginia Sen. Tommy Norment (R - New Kent County) said when asked to explain his proposal to allow Chesterfield County Schools to take over some administrative duties from Petersburg Schools.

The senate has set $1.6 million in its budget to make it happen.

In addition to schools that continue to fail to meet accreditation numbers, Sen. Norment cited superintendent turnover and difficultly recruiting school board candidates as reasons for change.

"Unfortunately Petersburg has been struggling for more than a decade to try to get their educational program moving in a more positive direction. I think the General Assembly has shown a lot of patience, unfortunately they  continue to have some struggles," Sen. Norment said. "There are those of us in the General Assembly who feel we have a responsibility to the young people in Petersburg to try and do something meaningful to move that along."

Sen. Tommy Norment (R - New Kent County)

Sen. Tommy Norment (R - New Kent County)

The proposal, Sen. Norment said, is just a voluntary suggestion at this point.

"If this does not work. If for some reason Petersburg is resistant to it, there are those who want to stick their political noses in it to stir up problems, we will move forward with something more dramatic in 2015 that will compel some changes," Sen. Norment warned.

Henry Marsh

Sen. Henry Marsh

Sen. Henry Marsh (D - Richmond), who represents portions of Richmond, Chesterfield, and Petersburg, does not agree with the notion of Chesterfield helping Petersburg Schools.

"I don't think it's an appropriate response for the state to make," Sen. Marsh said. "To suggest they [Petersburg Schools] have to be taken over by a neighboring jurisdiction, which doesn't want them, and they don't want to go, is a bad policy."

Sen. Marsh said  Petersburg Schools are going ahead with plans to fund year-round programs, a plan gaining support in the community.

He said the money that would go to Chesterfield Schools in this proposal would be better spent hiring more qualified teachers in Petersburg.

"I think the best way is to give Petersburg the resources they have been denied all these  years.  The new administration has been in one year. To expect them to come in and correct problems that have been hanging out for 20 years is unrealistic," Sen. Marsh said.

"I think Senator Marsh is part of the problem," Sen. Norment said when asked about Sen. Marsh's suggestion. "I think  he is trying to aggravate the situation. I do not know why."

Sen. Norment said,  if approved, the school set-up would be similar to one that exists between schools in Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax.

A spokeswoman for Petersburg Schools said the school system was "aware of the budget amendment" and was surprised to learn about the proposal.

"We will stay abreast of developments from the General Assembly regarding this issue," Petersburg Schools spokeswoman Nicole Bell said in a statement.

Chesterfield County Schools had a similar response.

"The administrations of Chesterfield Schools and Chesterfield County have been made aware of budget language included by the Senate Finance Committee. We will continue to monitor the budget language, and would respectfully refer any questions to the Virginia legislature," Chesterfield County Schools spokesman Shawn Smith said via email.

The system would be similar to one that already exists in Northern Virginia.

The City of Fairfax school system and Fairfax County school system are two separate school systems that function together as one.

They each have their own school board, but only the county has the authority to make any decisions.

The special relationship began in Fairfax back in the 1960s, when Fairfax —then a town -- decided to become a city.

When that happened, the city and county agreed the county would continue to manage the now city schools.

“By working together, they really give their students access to a much broader array of educational opportunities,” Fairfax Delegate David Bulova said.

Bulova says the set up can only work with two willing partners.

“You need to be able to structure it in a way so that everybody’s interests are respected and you can honestly work together,” Bulova said.

Parent Gary Powers moved to the Midlothian from the City of Fairfax nearly nine years ago.

The Chesterfield County School Board candidate said the relationship between the two Fairfax school systems works.

“They were able to work it, so it was a benefit to both localities,” Powers said.

But, he’s not sure yet if that same arrangement will succeed in Chesterfield and Petersburg.

“Just because it works in the city of Fairfax, doesn’t mean it’s going to automatically work down here,” Powers said.

Delegate Bulova said if Chesterfield County and Petersburg end up collaborating, the school board in Fairfax could provide advice on how to make it work.


  • Joe

    As a resident of Chesterfield that pays property taxes and thus funds the school system, I’d rather not see the time required by our county’s administrators spent on another region. For the simple conclusion that time spent helping a failed system is time not spent tending to one’s own.

    • Paul E. Raisley

      This actually is a reply to all, my child goes to a Petersburg School, and in many ways it has failed her. Fortunatley she is smart and my wife puts in the time working with her on homework etc, I do some but work later etc. The schools reading program was atrocious from pre-k through 1st until it was changed when she was going into 2nd, we bought hooked on phonics and it helped, but it has taken longer than expected to get her reading up to par. Most of the problem is the thug life children in the schools that distract the children with appropriate behavior and the teachers from teaching and learning what is supposed to be taught and learned. I understand your holier than thou Chesterfield attitude, but something needs done, the problem needs attention and if Chesterfield takes over and is compensated for it maybe we could get some administraters with a clue. Are we not all Virginians? My taxes are as high as yours are. I’m all for fixing the schools or busing my kid to Chesterfield, why should anyone in Virginia have to pay for their child to go to private school to have a quality safe educaiton? And before you say move, due to our government that would require going bankrupt so no thankyou.

  • Glen Allen

    I agree with you Joe, I live in Henrico County and would be very upset if we were asked to take on the also failing Richmond Public Schools. It seems to me if they hire properly educated and experienced educators and administrators, they should be able to handle their own.

  • WorkingMan

    Considering the surprisingly calm repsonse by Chesterfield, considering that they’ve been begging for higher taxes (in part to pacify some upset teachers)….it’s pretty obvious that Chesterfield is in ‘secret concert’ with Norment on this. What’s the real motive here?

  • Lloyd the Idiot

    There’s no reason why Chesterfield should go for this. There must be consequences for the people of Petersburg’s poor decision in electing poor leaders and their resulting fiscal (and educational) mismanagement.

  • Manalishi

    Petersburg, like every democrat run society will NEVER improve. It will continue the same downhill spiral that ALL democrat led societies endure.. Chesterfield would be completely irresponsible to invest 1 penny of resources into this fraud..

  • Becky

    Oh, NO! If this isn’t set up to suit, it won’t suit. You will be
    inundated with the party political chants, jargon, outrage, rage,
    and political theatrical art antics.
    They built this. Let party, of, by, and for party solve, remedy,
    and Fix the problems they politically manifested by as their will,
    their way. It’s amusing to watch party dysfunction of party
    politics and governance.

  • Becky

    This is a dangerous Trap. It’s a set-up BLAME tactic.
    “Can’t Touch Dis!” style of Governance will Blame anything,
    everything, and anyone sent in to save, IF… it isn’t Strictly
    Democratic Party all the way. That carries automatic,
    built-in EXCUSES with more taxes targeted toward their
    problems of can’t govern well, efficiently, or effectively.
    Need MORE help, taxes, government.

  • RB Perkinson

    Norment is from James City not New Kent.
    Marsh and most of the Democratic party do not want improvement, their ‘plantation’ mentality calls for poor ignorant constituents eager to vote Democratic as instructed.

    • Gigi

      I agree. And unfortunately, many people in petersburg have this thought process. Take time to visit the board meetings, that’s just one example.

  • Red

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to have Colonial Heights Public Schools take over Petersburg??? CH is a fantastic school district in good shape financially with a small span of control (1-HS, 1-MS, 3-ES). Chesterfield is already hurting for money, and they have their own academic problems (e.g. Meadowbrook HS). This must be “on the down low” between Chesterfield Public Schools and Sen. Norment.

    • Concerned Mother

      Ettrick is considered to be Chesterfield County and also has a Petersburg zipcode, so technically speaking, Chesterfield already has jurisdiction in Petersburg. The main point here is that Petersburg needs help and it doesn’t matter who helps them, we just need to see some results. Petersburg City Schools has some excellent teachers so I wouldn’t blame it on the city hiring teachers who are incapable of doing their jobs as others have done. However, the teachers aren’t given the material they need in order to make sure their students are successful. What is required of teachers comes from the District/School Board. That is where the problem lies and once that is fixed hopefully everything else will fall into place.

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