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| NEWS | District Dossier

Richmond, Va., Community Fights to Keep Superintendent

Before Dana Bedden arrived, many of the schools in Richmond, Va., suffered from crowding, outdated facilities, underfunding, and shortages of technology and other resources.

Since taking the post in January 2014, Bedden changed the team in the central office, made staffing changes for teachers and principals, and worked on upgrading facilities.

Saying there was a "lack of systems in place," he built a team of people from outside Richmond to look at the challenges with new eyes.

Once news spread that Bedden was a finalist for the superintendency in Boston, though, an organized effort to keep him in Richmond began.

Donald Cowles, a retired business executive, and about 10 others decided the best way to encourage Bedden to stay was to tell him they didn't want him to leave. Cowles and other community members set up a petition called "RPS: Better With Bedden." The catchy title took off, and soon the hashtag #betterwithbedden sparked a conversation on Twitter about how to keep Bedden.

The petition, signed by teachers, parents, and community leaders, was presented to Bedden at a school board meeting.

Cowles and other community members also got behind Bedden's academic-improvement plan by creating a website and a new petition to support the superintendent's budget.

Other influential people also weighed in, asking him to stay, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe and state Secretary of Education Anne Holton.

Bedden said he found out about the massive support system through the news media and his communications staff. A large presence at a school board meeting and the ongoing support helped him see that the overarching public sentiment was to get him to stay.

Bedden said he's focused on carrying out the three-year academic-improvement plan. "Any job I walk into, I focus on quality not quantity. Whether it's three years or 30 years, ... I look for, 'Am I making a difference?'"

–Tiara Beatty

| NEWS | Early Years

Laundromats and Playgrounds To Promote Early Literacy

Reading during the rinse cycle? Singing during the spin dry?

Why not? asks Too Small to Fail, an initiative of the Clinton Foundation and Next Generation, two nonprofits that have made early-childhood education a philanthropic focus. The Coin Laundry Association last month announced that it will ask its members to hang posters and distribute pamphlets that encourage parents to use laundry day as an opportunity to talk, read, and sing to their children.

"Too Small to Fail is looking at every possible way to reach children," said Patti Miller, its director. Families who use coin laundries are often lower-income and spend more than an hour there, making laundromats a perfect place to get the message out about the importance of early-literacy efforts, she said.

Other local organizations plan to host events tied to the literacy initiative. For example, in Oakland, Calif., the nonprofit Jumpstart plans to kick off its annual Read for the Record campaign in local coin laundries. And the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions will give resources to Arkansas laundromats and hold monthly story-time events with families.

Too Small to Fail also will partner with the nonprofit Shane's Inspiration and playground builder Landscape Structures to add signs in English and Spanish urging parents to talk to their children at the playground.

–Christina Samuels

| NEWS | Teaching Now

How Many Valedictorians Are Too Many?

An Ohio district celebrated its high school graduation season this year with 222 valedictorians.

That's right. Two hundred and twenty-two valedictorians—or roughly 20 percent of the seniors in the Dublin district's three high schools, according to local media. In contrast, schools in the nearby Columbus district had a total of 61 valedictorians in its 20 high schools.

In 2008, Dublin changed the rules so more than one student could be eligible for scholarships linked to the designation. Now, any student with a GPA of 4.1 qualifies.

The sheer number of valedictorians this year has caused a mild uproar from the local citizenry, among others. In a letter to The Columbus Dispatch, one reader said that this sort of "coddling" is the problem with the American education system. "Somewhere in Dublin, three students who actually deserve the title are sharing that award with 219 students who do not merit the distinction."

Another resident countered that the district did the right thing by not leaving out any of its top students. "If 222 students achieve a 4.0-point average ... but only one 'deserves' the honor, how shall the school system choose just one?"

Now, for the most important question: Did all the valedictorians give customary inspiring speeches? Apparently not: According to The Dispatch, ceremonies "might still be going on if Dublin schools had asked all of its valedictorians to speak."

–Maggie DeBlasis

Vol. 34, Issue 36, Page 9

Published in Print: July 8, 2015, as Best of the Blogs
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