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Report outlines recommended improvements for HCPS’ exceptional education program

An independent report that examined Henrico County Public Schools’ exceptional education program outlined 27 recommendations to build on the program’s strengths.

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An independent report that examined Henrico County Public Schools’ exceptional education program outlined 27 recommendations to build on the program’s strengths. The 78-page document, “A Review of Equity and Parent Engagement in Special Education in Henrico County Public Schools,” was commissioned in early 2018 by the school division’s former superintendent, Patrick C. Kinlaw, and John Vithoulkas, Henrico county manager.

The report was presented to the School Board on Thursday. The four authors interviewed more than 100 parents, educators, advocates, lawyers, and community leaders. They analyzed data from Henrico Schools and compared HCPS to similar school divisions.

The report looked largely at four areas of the division’s exceptional education program: placement and identification of students with disabilities, student discipline, parent and family engagement, and staffing. The report cited things the school division is doing well while making recommendations for improvements. A number of the report’s suggestions are in line with Henrico Schools’ current initiatives or are part of improvements the division had undertaken before the review was conducted.

Amy Cashwell, Henrico Schools superintendent, said, “This review is a tremendous step toward building on our successes while also getting independent perspectives on where we can grow. Every school division has room for improvement, and we believe that Henrico is leading the region by not only asking for this review in the first place, but also working with our community to take the next steps together.”

The report’s authors were Anne Holton, a visiting professor at George Mason University, former Virginia secretary of education and former Virginia first lady; Adai Tefera, an assistant professor at VCU’s School of Education specializing in how educational policies affect equity among students; Melissa Cuba, an evaluation specialist with Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium and a doctoral student in the VCU School of Education, and a former special education and foreign language teacher in Arlington County; and Ashlee Lester, a doctoral student in VCU’s School of Education studying educational psychology.

“The School Board is very grateful to Anne Holton and her team for their extensive review,” said Micky Ogburn, School Board chair representing the Three Chopt District. “As expected, there were many examples of what’s working in our school division. For those items that need more attention, we’re happy to share that we have several efforts in place already.”

The review cited as strengths HCPS’ high rate of including students with disabilities in general education classes, and the fact that the division isn’t identifying students disproportionately according to race. It also cited the division’s drop in out-of-school student suspensions, a byproduct of HCPS’ revised Code of Student Conduct and implementation of a number of behavioral support programs. Reviewers said that most HCPS parents and guardians are satisfied with many aspects of their students’ special education services, and that the school division had dedicated, effective special education teachers whose morale was generally high.

The report also recommended ideas for moving forward. The authors said that the division should consider revamping or closing the Virginia Randolph Education Center, a dedicated school for students with disabilities, and suggested HCPS investigate other options. Among the recommendations regarding discipline, the report said that HCPS should expand its use of data, create a plan that focuses on race and culture, continue to revamp its Code of Student Conduct and investigate alternate solutions. It also suggested Henrico Schools expand staff training and behavioral support programs. In the area of parental and family engagement, the report cited the need to improve communication and trust and suggested the division give parents more access to classrooms, strengthen support resources and use in-house legal counsel when possible to resolve disputes. Finally, in the area of staffing, the report suggested making more use of principals and general education teachers in celebrating the successes of students with disabilities, making instructional assistants full-time employees and focusing on teacher retention and recruitment.

“Our review found that Henrico has made progress in reducing the use of exclusionary discipline in the schools,” Tefera said. “Henrico has also drastically reduced referrals from schools to juvenile court in recent years. But students with disabilities, and particularly students of color with disabilities, continue to be disciplined at a much higher rate than their peers, regardless of gender and economic status. This has negative consequences for educational outcomes, and our report includes a number of concrete recommendations to address the problem.”

Holton added, “There are indications that many parents of students with disabilities in Henrico are reasonably satisfied with their children’s education, but that many parents – particularly those dealing with more complex disabilities – voiced concerns. We made recommendations aimed at enhancing communications and trust. We appreciate the opportunity to have worked with Henrico on this review and hope the recommendations contribute to the county’s efforts to ensure success for all Henrico’s students.”

Read the entire report here.

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New book by former VCU president, history professor tells four-decade history of the university

“Fulfilling the Promise: Virginia Commonwealth University and the City of Richmond, 1968–2009,” by Eugene Trani and John Kneebone illuminates the past and future of American public higher education.

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In “Fulfilling the Promise: Virginia Commonwealth University and the City of Richmond, 1968–2009,” VCU President Emeritus and University Distinguished Professor Eugene P. Trani, Ph.D., and Associate Professor of History Emeritus John T. Kneebone, Ph.D., tell the story of VCU from its founding in 1968 through the end of Trani’s tenure as president in 2009, and the university’s role in Richmond.

The book, published by the University of Virginia Press and released in September, shows how VCU — created from the merger of the Medical College of Virginia and Richmond Professional Institute to serve a city emerging from an era of desegregation, white flight, political conflict and economic decline — reflects a larger, national story of urban universities and the past and future of American higher education.

Sen. Tim Kaine wrote the foreword of the book, and dust jacket blurbs were provided by former UVA President John Casteen III; former VCU basketball coach Shaka Smart; Susan Gooden, Ph.D., dean of VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs; bestselling novelist and VCU alumnus David Baldacci; and Roger Gregory, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and former rector of the VCU Board of Visitors.

The authors’ royalties from sales of the book will go to the VCU Foundation to fund student scholarships.

Trani and Kneebone recently spoke with VCU News about “Fulfilling the Promise,” which they say shows how VCU has been, and continues to be, a force for positive change in Richmond and Virginia.

What inspired you to work together to tell the story of VCU?

Kneebone: We were coming up on the 40th anniversary and, at that time, people felt like we had something to celebrate. The city had come back and VCU of course was quite successful — it had a large enrollment, enrolling more Virginia students than any other city university.

The book cover of “Fulfilling the Promise: Virginia Commonwealth University and the City of Richmond, 1968–2009."
“Fulfilling the Promise: Virginia Commonwealth University and the City of Richmond, 1968–2009″ published in September. The authors’ royalties will go to the VCU Foundation to fund student scholarships.

In the summer of 2009, I got a call from the president’s office. Dr. Trani, who was just stepping down, proposed that he and I work together on a history of VCU. My first instinct was to think, well, maybe this isn’t for me. Let me propose to him that I’ll do oral history interviews and we can put together a biography of Dr. Trani, a transformative leader.

He immediately said, “No, that’s too narrow. VCU’s story is much bigger than just one person and more complicated.” He said, “You know, VCU’s last history was Virginius Dabney’s 1988 book on the 20th anniversary. And he gave more attention in that book to the history of the Medical College of Virginia and Richmond Professional Institute than to VCU itself. So VCU really needs a proper history.”

We talked a bit and I said I know a lot about Virginia and Richmond. I’m not sure about higher education. And he said, “Well, I know something about higher education, so we can collaborate.” We set out with me doing research on the earlier years and interviewing him, sort of preliminary interviews.

Of course I could come to him and say, here’s something that was going on in Virginia higher education back then, do you have any thoughts? And he’d go, “Yeah. You know, this is what I was seeing in Nebraska. This is what seemed to be happening in Missouri.” So we had a sense of that larger context as well. We talk about the process in the book’s introduction. I think our different strengths actually worked together.

What is it about VCU’s story that makes it serve as a good microcosm for higher education in the U.S.?

Trani: Sen. Tim Kaine, in the foreword to this book, states there have been three trends that have led to a “powerful transformation in Richmond.” They are the emergence of VCU, the desire of its citizens to change long patterns of discrimination, and a concerted effort to emphasize the city’s natural beauty, especially the James River. This book explains the first of the three, how two institutions — MCV and RPI — came together to create a university that has worked with its community and that by doing so, showed that a large public institution with a significant medical center can not only survive but thrive and play a role in what is known as the “eds and meds” phenomenon that is typically played in urban America by elite private institutions with large medical centers. In that way, VCU can be a role model for higher education in the U.S.

Kneebone: We say that VCU is sort of exemplary of the fall and rise of urban universities. And we tell the story. Urban universities, of course, have always existed but today’s universities in urban areas are more than half of the total number of institutions. City education has become the norm, and that wasn’t always the case. Higher education, the idea was that putting students out in the countryside in a bucolic location where they weren’t distracted gave them a chance to engage in the high jinks of fraternity and sorority life and college life in general.

Urban universities, which catered to working-class immigrant minority students, students who were occupation oriented rather than liberal arts types you might find at traditional schools, seemed to be lower status. The higher status was for more selective schools and schools engaged in research. Urban universities, coming from a low point where they were in the midst of cities that were falling apart, suffering from suburbanization and white flight and conflicts, and with a mission to help solve some of these city issues as well, ended up becoming sort of the exemplars of higher education.

Students today at just about every school are career oriented, are thinking ahead to what they’re going to do in the future, less connected and less worried about fraternities and sororities. And urban universities, particularly, I think, for students who grew up in the suburbs, are a place that is actually lively and exciting instead of scary and dangerous as it was 40, 50 years ago. So it’s a success story that we’re telling.

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U of R School of Law awarded grant to support community work, technology needs for low-income seniors

A new grant from The Community Foundation for a Greater Richmond’s Central Virginia COVID-19 Response Fund will provide $14,500 in support of the MLP, which is a partnership with VCU.

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The University of Richmond School of Law’s Medical-Legal Partnership provides medical and legal services to approximately 300 residents at Dominion Place Apartments, an affordable housing facility for seniors or individuals with disabilities living on or below the poverty line.

A new grant from The Community Foundation for a Greater Richmond’s Central Virginia COVID-19 Response Fund will provide $14,500 in support of the MLP, which is a partnership with VCU.

“During COVID-19, Dominion Place, like all elderly resident facilities, has placed strict bans on visitors thereby exacerbating the loneliness crisis among older adults,” said Leigh Melton, Richmond’s elder law faculty member who leads the program.

The grant will directly support COVID-19 related items for Dominion Place residents, including masks, soap, cleaning supplies, and gloves. The funding will also support technological devices with video screens equipped to work with Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant.

“This technology will not only allow the residents much-needed connection with family and friends but also allow the Richmond legal team and the VCU medical group to continue to meet with the residents,” Melton said.

Melton also noted that the pandemic has motivated many residents of Dominion Place to expand their use of technology for the first time, and these devices, which have a camera to help those with visual impairment, help them connect to the outside world.

This program was previously awarded a grant from the Regirer Foundation.

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Family workshops abound in HCPS’ newly reimagined ‘Bridge Builders Academy’ series

Henrico County Public Schools’ family workshops have always been about transformation. Now, the workshop series itself has been transformed to bring Henrico families and educators even more useful presentations, speakers, and events.

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Henrico County Public Schools’ family workshops have always been about transformation. Now, the workshop series itself has been transformed to bring Henrico families and educators even more useful presentations, speakers, and events.

The new name better evokes the series’ purpose: to build connections among families, the community, and the school division. The series has also been divided into four “learning strands,” or categories, to make it easier to find relevant information. The learning strands are: Beyond the Classroom; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Exceptional Education; and Information, Access, and Opportunities.

All fall “Bridge Builders Academy” workshops are virtual, and students, staff, and members of the public can participate using Microsoft Teams. Instructions for joining the workshops are at the new Bridge Builders Academy webpage at https://henricoschools.us/bridgebuildersacademy. Workshops are recorded for later viewing, and you can watch past workshops by going to the Bridge Builders Academy page.

Fall 2020 Bridge Builders Academy workshops are below, grouped by category. For more information, go to https://henricoschools.us/bridgebuildersacademy. The fall sessions are moderated by the HCPS Department of Family and Community Engagement, in conjunction with the session hosts. Questions about workshops can be directed to [email protected].

Fall 2020 Bridge Builders Academy workshops, listed by category:

Beyond the Classroom:

  • Supporting Student Participation in a Virtual Classroom (Sept. 29 at noon). In the new space of virtual learning, families and caregivers have the new responsibility of supporting students in the virtual classroom. This session will focus on tips and strategies to support your learners, straight from the mouths of educators in the virtual classroom.
  • Understanding “New Math” (Oct. 7 at 6 p.m.). A common challenge for most parents is understanding the transition to “new math.” Mathnasium will join us to help families and caregivers understand why the switch was made and how to assist your learner who may need support.
  • Building Resilience in Your Learner (Oct. 20 at noon). When you think of resilience what comes to mind? Join nonprofit ChildSavers for a workshop on building resilience in your learner to help them succeed in their learning space and beyond.

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion:

  • Raising a G.U.R.L.L. (Greatness Using Real-Life Lessons) (Oct. 14 at 6 p.m.). “Greatness Using Real-Life Lessons” will focus on Mrs. Scott-Mayo’s journey raising her daughters. The discussion will cover how we can empower our girls, boost their self-esteem, and encourage a positive self-image.
  • Exceptional Education:
  • “Centering You” with the Center for Family Involvement (Oct. 21 at 6 p.m.). Have you heard of the Center for Family Involvement at VCU’s Partnership for People with Disabilities? This session will provide an overview of the organization’s resources and a bonus self-care session for parents to help them support their virtual learners.
  • Virtual IEP Kits (TBD). “IEP Kits” were sent last year to each HCPS school, to help keep families informed about the Individualized Education Program. Explore the digital version, and get access to the information you need about IEPs.

Information, Access, and Opportunities:

  • Digital Resources at Your Fingertips (Sept. 30 at 6 p.m.). Are you ready to help your child reach for the stars? Do you want to get a closer look at the digital resources that support your child’s pre-K through grade 5 virtual classroom? If you answered yes to any of these questions, join us for an up-close look at Henrico’s digital resources.
  • Save, Spend, Achieve (Oct. 6 at 6 p.m.). This session will discuss setting financial goals and strategies to achieve them.
  • Welcome to Henrico from the HCPS Welcome Center (Oct. 13 at noon). Starting in a new school division is a major shift for any family, but especially for families who may need language assistance. Join the HCPS Welcome Center for a session for English-learner families entering Henrico Schools.
  • Grandparents Raising Grandchildren (Oct. 27 at noon). Grandparents raising their grandchildren often face unique challenges as they navigate the school experience. Especially this fall, grandfamilies and other relative caregivers must learn new technology, practices, and systems. Join us as nonprofit Formed Families Forward provides tools and resources for grandparents raising their grandchildren.
  • Advanced Courses (Oct. 28 at 6 p.m.). Advanced Placement courses, specialty center programs, and honors courses are available across Henrico County for students interested in challenging themselves academically. This session will focus on information to help your learner access these courses in middle and high school.

Fall 2020 Bridge Builders Academy workshops, listed chronologically:

  • Save, Spend, Achieve (Oct. 6 at 6 p.m.)
  • Understanding “New Math” (Oct. 7 at 6 p.m.)
  • Welcome to Henrico from the HCPS Welcome Center (Oct. 13 at noon)
  • Raising a G.U.R.L.L. (Greatness Using Real-Life Lessons) (Oct. 14 at 6 p.m.)
  • Building Resilience in Your Learner (Oct. 20 at noon)
  • “Centering You” with the Center for Family Involvement (Oct. 21 at 6 p.m.)
  • Grandparents Raising Grandchildren (Oct. 27 at noon)
  • Advanced Courses (Oct. 28 at 6 p.m.)
  • Virtual IEP Kits (TBD)

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