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Education

Eight new principals in place at RPS to start 2016–2017 school year

The change in leadership follows appointments made in July at the recommendation of School Superintendent Dana T. Bedden.

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Eight new educational leaders will serve as Richmond Public Schools principals for 2016-2017 as the new school year opens. The appointments were approved by the Richmond City School Board at the recommendation of School Superintendent Dana T. Bedden.

New leadership includes:

David Peck, former assistant principal at Mary Williams Elementary School in Prince William County, will serve as principal at Chimborazo Elementary School. Peck previously taught at J.G. Hening Elementary and Falling Creek Elementary schools in Chesterfield County, VA. He holds a Doctor of Education in curriculum, teaching and leadership from Northeastern University.

Jacquelyn Murphy, former principal in Grand Prairie Independent School District, will serve as principal of Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School. Murphy previously served as a bilingual coordinator and principal at Lancaster Independent School District as well as a bilingual teacher and instructional coach at Dallas Independent School District. She holds a Doctor of Education in curriculum, instruction and assessment from Walden University.

Larry Marks, former interim principal at Huguenot High School, will serve as principal at the Richmond Technical Center. Marks previously served as principal at Courtland High School in Spotsylvania, VA. He holds a master’s degree in administration and supervision from Virginia State University.

Tamara Mines, former assistant principal at Charlottesville High School, will serve as principal at Armstrong High School. Mines previously served as an assistant principal, administrative intern and coordinator of student conduct in Henrico County Public Schools. She holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Wayne Scott, former principal at Greensville County High School, will serve as principal at Blackwell Elementary School. Scott previously served as principal at George Mason Elementary School and a turnaround specialist with Richmond Public Schools. Scott holds a Doctor of Education in educational administration from the University of Cincinnati.

James Sales, former assistant principal at Binford Middle School, will serve as principal at Swansboro Elementary School. Sales previously served as principal at Elizabeth Redd Elementary School and assistant principal at George Wythe High School. He holds a master’s degree in administration and supervision from Lynchburg College.

Cynthia Heckstall, former assistant principal at Boushall Middle School, will serve as principal at Henderson Middle School. Heckstall previously served as assistant principal at Boushall Middle School. She holds a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Cherita Sears, former assistant principal at Albert Hill Middle School, will serve as the school’s principal this year. Sears previously served as dean of students and an English teacher at Meadowbrook High School in Chesterfield County, Va. Sears holds a master’s degree in administration and supervision from Liberty University.

Additionally, the following instructional leaders have been tapped to serve as assistant principals this school year: Thomas Devaughn, Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts; Stephanie Douglas-Jackson, Lucille Brown Middle School; Erika Moseley, Chimborazo Elementary School; Tashiana Ivy, Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School; Verona Wilborn, Henderson Middle School, Felicia Coleman, Blackwell Elementary School; Juvenal Abrigo, Green Elementary School; Kennett Lee-Anderson, George Mason Elementary School; Inett Dabney, Aspire Academy; and Qualisha Zyhier-Williams, Boushall Middle School.

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Trevor Dickerson is the co-founder and editor of RVAhub.com, lover of all things Richmond, and a master of karate and friendship for everyone.

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Education

University of Richmond ranked as one of “Nation’s Most Environmentally Responsible Colleges” by The Princeton Review

For 12 consecutive years, The Princeton Review has selected the University of Richmond as a top school for environmental stewardship.  

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For 12 consecutive years, The Princeton Review has selected the University of Richmond as a top school for environmental stewardship.

Since 2010, The Princeton Review has released its annual Guide to Green Colleges, which highlights schools with strong commitments to environmentally conscious practices and programs and serves as a resource to college applicants seeking schools with exemplary commitments to the environment and sustainability. The University of Richmond has made the list every year.

“The University of Richmond integrates sustainability across academics and extra-curricular activities to ensure all faculty, staff, and students have an opportunity to participate in practices that improve environmental well-being on our campus,” said Director of Sustainability Rob Andrejewski. “To continually make this list is a testament to the great projects focused on sustainability happening on campus and the broader recognition that they are having an impact.”

The 12-year history of recognition coincides with the development of the University’s Office for Sustainability, which was established in 2009. Recent campus sustainability projects include:

  • Operation of a 120-acre solar facility, which adds 40,000 MWh of fossil-free energy to the electricity grid annually.
  • Electric vehicle charging stations located at a variety of locations on campus, including a new installation near Maryland Hall, help decarbonize transportation.
  • The community garden located in the Eco-Corridor includes more than 30 raised beds available to members of the campus community through a lottery system each year.
  • Goats recently returned to campus for a third time to clear invasive plants along the Eco-Corridor. Goat browsing is an environmentally friendly landscape management practice that reduces the need for herbicide and gas-powered equipment.

The Princeton Review’s Green College Guide is released each October, and schools are selected based on data from student surveys about the influence of sustainability issues on their education and life on campus; administration and student support for environmental awareness and conservation efforts; and the visibility and impact of student environmental groups.

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VCUarts renames Fine Arts Building for first African American dean, Dr. Murry N. DePillars

In a ceremony Thursday, VCU unveiled the newly-renamed Murry N. DePillars Building and celebrated the life and legacy of the former dean, professional painter, and art historian whose leadership helped the school emerge as one of the largest art schools in the country.

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Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts (VCUarts) has renamed its Fine Arts Building for its first dean.

In a ceremony Thursday, VCU unveiled the newly-renamed Murry N. DePillars Building and celebrated the life and legacy of the former dean, professional painter, and art historian whose leadership helped the school emerge as one of the largest art schools in the country.

During the ceremony, VCU President Michael Rao, VCUarts Dean Carmenita Higginbotham, and Mrs. Mary DePillars, widow of the building’s namesake, gave commemoration remarks in the building’s atrium.

DePillars served as dean of VCUarts from 1976-1995, cultivating a period of immense growth and development and whose artwork and research have been exhibited and published throughout the country. He was also a major contributor to the Black Arts Movement, creating bold and daring depictions of what it meant to be Black in America, and was a founding member of the Chicago-based Black artists’ collective AfriCOBRA.

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Parents are changing their minds on in-person school – in most cases, there are no other options

As the Delta variant of COVID-19 takes foot, some parents who chose an in-person option for their kids are rethinking that. But there may not be an alternative in some districts.

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Families with Richmond Public Schools had until June 1 to choose between enrolling virtually or attending classes in person. At that point in the summer, COVID-19 vaccines were widely available to adults, new cases had dropped to less than 200 a day, and almost no one had heard of delta, the highly transmissible variant that now accounts for virtually all new infections across the U.S.

“It seemed like we were not at the end of things, but that there was an end coming,” Yeager said. Her four children — none of whom are old enough to be vaccinated — had managed a year of remote school fairly well. But the encouraging outlook convinced Yeager to enroll them in-person.

By the time cases began climbing, it was too late to change her mind. The vast majority of Virginia school divisions, including Richmond, required families to make a decision about the upcoming semester in late May or early June. Virtual enrollment is now closed, and many are denying an influx of requests from parents and students who changed their minds.

Yeager is one of hundreds of families stuck with face-to-face learning even as a third coronavirus surge casts a pall over the school year. Some districts have already quarantined dozens — or hundreds — of students after COVID-19 exposures. Earlier this week, the Virginia Department of Health urged Amherst County to temporarily close all its secondary schools after an outbreak in the district.

But local divisions are limited in how widely, and for how long, they can close schools thanks to a state law mandating in-person instruction (passed in the early, and optimistic, days of Virginia’s vaccine rollout). Late last summer, a spike in cases spurred the majority of districts to reopen with hybrid or fully remote learning plans. This year, with new infections reaching even higher levels, they don’t have that option. 

Nor are they required to offer remote instruction. “While school divisions need to provide five days of in-person learning to any family who wants it for their students in the fall, school districts are not obligated to provide a virtual option for all students,” Fairfax County reminded families in May. The vast majority of them — 110 out of 132 local divisions — are using Virtual Virginia, a state-run program with its own teachers and curriculum.

Ten districts aren’t offering any virtual option at all, according to Charles Pyle, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Education. And some divisions providing their own virtual courses have even tighter restrictions. Fairfax County, for example, is limiting remote learning to students with medical needs documented by a licensed health professional. The deadline to enroll in the program was May 28, and a little more than 400 students, out of roughly 180,000 across the district, are participating.

“Family health/medical conditions are not considered for this program and eligibility is not extended to siblings or other students in a household,” spokesperson Kathleen Miller wrote in a statement on Friday. “Enrolling additional students would require additional staffing, which has already been a significant challenge.” 

Providing both in-person and virtual learning, as many schools have done over the course of the pandemic, have created escalating burdens for local divisions — even with millions of dollars in federal aid. In addition to teacher burnout, administrators have struggled to find enough staff to fill instructional and support positions, especially with regular exposures forcing many into quarantine. In a presentation to lawmakers last fall, state Superintendent James Lane described staffing as one of the biggest challenges facing Virginia’s schools.

Those ongoing needs, combined with the state mandate, offer few incentives for schools to continue providing their own remote learning options. Brian Mott, the executive director for Virtual Virginia, said enrollment in the program was open to any student until their district’s deadline. But he also said planning needs made it difficult to accommodate a wave of later registrations.

“We’ve got to make sure we have the appropriate staff to support them,” Mott said. “The other reason is communication. Students don’t just enroll and start the next day. We need to be setting them up and supporting them as soon as possible.”

Many local districts are also limiting virtual enrollment to students who can show they were successful with the modality — another process that takes time, he added. Despite the division-wide policies to curb late registrations, though, that’s exactly what’s happening across the state. Mott said there have been more than 1,200 enrollment requests from individual schools in recent weeks, most of which involve multiple students.

Virtual Virginia is offering a “limited number” of late enrollment slots, with a priority on students with medical needs, students from military families, or transfers who entered a school division after the cut-off date, Pyle said. But some individual districts are seeing even higher demand.

The waitlist for Henrico’s Virtual Academy now sits at more than 3,000 students — an increase of around 800 compared to two weeks prior, the Henrico Citizen reported

The district is attempting to hire more teachers to accommodate the waitlist, according to the Citizen. Other divisions, though, are simply denying the requests.

“Students who have not chosen the virtual option will not be permitted to change to virtual,” said Diana Gulotta, a spokesperson for Prince William County Schools, the second-largest division in the state. “Those with documented health conditions can apply for homebound services.” 

Unlike Fairfax County, which is Virginia’s largest school district, Prince William isn’t currently requiring its staff to be vaccinated.

Richmond is another division mandating vaccines for its staff, and Yeager said that’s provided her with some degree of comfort. But while she understands the constraints facing local school districts, she’s frustrated — like many families — over the lack of flexibility amid a constantly changing pandemic.  

Delta has changed the conversation, she said. Research on earlier variants indicated that children were less susceptible to COVID-19 than adults and displayed milder symptoms when they contracted the virus. But the rise of delta has corresponded with worrying reports of increasing pediatric cases and hospitalizations, especially in hard-hit areas. Ballad Health, for example — the primary hospital system in far southwestern Virginia — has reported several COVID-19 admissions in their pediatric ICU.

“We are seeing children dying, though I know, intellectually, the chances of that happening are very small,” Yeager said. It’s still not clear if delta presents any more of a risk to children than previous variants. Public health experts have pointed out that pediatric hospitalizations are still the same proportion of the total, but that the overall number is rising given the higher transmissibility of the variant. 

Right now, though, delta poses the greatest risk to the unvaccinated — a population that still includes children under 12. Authorization for that age group isn’t expected before the end of this year, according to some federal officials. And many parents aren’t willing to take the risk.

“I would love to be wrong,” Yeager said. “But delta is so terribly infectious. Kids can’t be masked all the time. I don’t see how it’s going to be other than … I can’t even think of a polite way to put it.”

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Robert Zullo for questions: [email protected] Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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