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Recommended HCPS 2020-21 financial plan includes big wins for students, staff members

The budget proposal focuses on more opportunities and support systems for students and teachers, continued investment in safe and well-maintained learning spaces, and restoring cuts suffered during the Great Recession.

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Henrico County Public Schools’ 2020-21 Recommended Financial Plan includes $19 million in new funding and addresses some major needs of Henrico families, teachers, and staff members. The budget proposal focuses on more opportunities and support systems for students and teachers, continued investment in safe and well-maintained learning spaces, and restoring cuts suffered during the Great Recession. Important budget initiatives include:

  • Forty school counselors, nearly doubling the number of counselors at the elementary level in order to address a critical need among students for social and emotional support.
  • Daily elementary teacher planning time, fulfilling a promise to instructors to provide important resources. HCPS continues to add support staff in schools, such as counselors, innovative learning coaches, and library assistants so that master schedules can be adjusted to ensure daily planning time.
  • Converting 25 exceptional education instructional assistants from temporary to full-time positions. The change would strengthen the support for students with special needs, give them more continuity in the classroom, and provide valued employees with full-time benefits.
  • A new “career ladder” program, enabling staff members to climb in experience, expertise and pay.
  • Thirty-five full-time substitutes to provide more consistent coverage in schools. All 35 positions would have higher salaries and full-time benefits, to help attract and retain excellent candidates.
  • Thirteen elementary school library assistants, to ensure that elementary library programming offers greater opportunities for students and teachers.
  • Developing a school bus tracking app to allow parents to locate their student’s bus in real-time.
  • An emergency planning and response system known as “Anonymous Alerts,” and updated registration software for school visitors.

While a pay increase for HCPS employees is not yet included in the proposed budget, it is customary in Henrico County to consider compensation increases for both schools and general government employees later in the budget process.

“As I’ve talked this year with Henrico families, staff members and people in the community, I’ve gained a greater understanding of areas that need our investment if we are to continue to grow and thrive as a school division,” said Amy Cashwell, HCPS superintendent.

“This financial plan incorporates that input, builds on the progress we’ve made in recent years, and continues to focus on the goals in our strategic plan.”

The 2020-21 recommended budget totals $533,489,709, a 3.7% increase over the current year. Building and revising the document is a collaboration between HCPS staff members and general government partners, led by John Vithoulkas, Henrico county manager. The process included significant feedback from the public and employees, including two community input meetings in October and two additional public input sessions in front of the School Board in November and December. Community input, ideas and feedback were also received via email.

School Board members will review the proposal and provide additional feedback and direction to school division staff. School Board members will approve a budget in February, after which the plan moves to the Henrico Board of Supervisors for its approval.

Members of the public may comment on the proposed budget at a public hearing to be held after the School Board’s regular work session on Feb. 13. More information will be available at the School Board’s webpage at henricoschools.us/school-board/.

Find out more about the recommended plan by going to henricoschools.us/budget-finance/.

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Night shift: Student safety ambassadors provide a resource for the VCU community after dark

The ambassadors, part of the university’s transition to a more equitable public safety model, provide assistance when people need help but don’t need to contact law enforcement.

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If you’re looking for Virginia Commonwealth University sophomore Ayanna Farmer-Lawrence in the evenings, you’ll most likely find her around the Compass wearing a bright-yellow vest.

Farmer-Lawrence is a newly hired student safety ambassador for the VCU Police Department — and her vest is both a uniform and visual identifier for VCU community members.

This past summer, the university announced a plan for police reform initiatives, including workforce realignment and the hiring of non-sworn, unarmed employees to serve as resources on campus when members of the VCU community need assistance, but do not feel compelled to contact law enforcement.

Carly Jackson wearing a safety vest.
Carly Jackson models a designated, uniform vest during her shift. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

John Venuti, VCU’s associate vice president of public safety and chief of police, said with safety and well-being as the focus, a student may be a better alternative option for needs such as asking for directions, answering questions about transportation, working at events and walking people to their cars at night.

“The safety ambassadors will be present in places with high volumes of students, such as outside the University Student Commons and the Compass,” Venuti said. “They will predominately work at night because in the spring 2020 perception of safety survey, students told us they feel less safe at night.”

The three safety ambassadors received 40 hours of training and are also tasked with reporting safety concerns they come across during their shifts. In their first two nights working, they reported to police about damaged property, a traffic light failure and a fire at a business on West Broad Street.

Farmer-Lawrence, a homeland security and criminal justice major in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, said the part-time position coincides with her goal of becoming a special agent for the FBI. She was drawn to become a safety ambassador to learn from police, build relationships, network and be ready for internships or employment opportunities upon graduation.

“I thought it was a good idea to be that person that [people] can go to if they have a problem, but don’t want to go to the police directly,” Farmer-Lawrence said. “It’s a good idea given what’s going on in society currently.”

Venuti said he looks forward to hearing feedback from community members about the new program and plans to expand the number of student safety ambassadors, and their designated locations, in spring 2021.

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University of Richmond Partners with Richmond Public Schools on No Loan Program

“The No Loan Program gives our students the remarkable opportunity to graduate with a degree from a world-class institution without taking on any debt,” said RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras. “We are incredibly grateful to President Crutcher, and the entire University of Richmond team, for this generous commitment to our students.”

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The University of Richmond has announced, in a first-of-its-kind partnership, it will meet the full demonstrated financial need for all RPS graduates who qualify to attend with grant aid — not with loans — up to the full cost of attendance at UR.

“We know that the thought of taking out loans may create anxiety for families, particularly among first-generation students,” said University of Richmond President Ronald A. Crutcher. “The University of Richmond and the City of Richmond want to retain our best students in the region, and the No Loan Program will further that effort.”

“The No Loan Program gives our students the remarkable opportunity to graduate with a degree from a world-class institution without taking on any debt,” said RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras. “We are incredibly grateful to President Crutcher, and the entire University of Richmond team, for this generous commitment to our students.”

“The University of Richmond has been a wonderful partner for RPS over the years,” said School Board Chairwoman Linda Owen. “I am thrilled to see the collaboration continue in this way and I can’t wait to see the next generation of RPS students who become Richmond Spiders.”

The University of Richmond and Richmond Public Schools already partner on a number of programs. UR offers RPS specific admission and financial aid workshops. UR Bonner Scholars and students from the Jepson School of Leadership Studies’ “Justice and Civil Society” class volunteer with RVA Future Centers. Also, the student-led UR Mentoring Project brings UR students in to mentor students in the Armstrong Leadership Program.

UR also offers Richmond’s Promise to Virginia, which provides full tuition, room, and board grants to all Virginians who come from families with incomes below $60,000.

“We hope local students will consider Richmond and know that they will find the diverse community here that is found at other top universities, said Stephanie Dupaul, vice president for Enrollment Management. “RPS students who attend Richmond will find that staying local doesn’t mean they only have local experiences. Our financial aid awards are only part of the story. We also guarantee funding for faculty-mentored research and internships; we ensure that students are able to study abroad; and we provide the pathways for students to successful careers and graduate school.”

UR students also benefit from the partnership. “Just as students from Richmond benefit from the geographically diverse student population at the University, students from around the nation and world have much to learn from our hometown students,” Crutcher said.

Over the last decade, UR has invested more than $11 million in University-funded aid to graduates of Richmond Public Schools and the City of Richmond-located magnet schools.

“I am so pleased that we can expand our financial aid programs to make it possible for more RPS students to graduate as Spiders,” Crutcher said.

Current RPS seniors are encouraged to apply by Jan. 1 for fall semester 2021.

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Here come the Mavericks: New nickname, chapter for Douglas Freeman High School

When Douglas Freeman High School competitors next take the field or court, it will be as the Mavericks. John Marshall, principal, announced the new nickname — along with a new logo — in a message Thursday to students, families and staff members. The choice was the favorite of respondents in a survey of four options, and was selected by the school’s administration, in tandem with student leaders.

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When Douglas Freeman High School competitors next take the field or court, it will be as the Mavericks. John Marshall, principal, announced the new nickname — along with a new logo — in a message Thursday to students, families and staff members. The choice was the favorite of respondents in a survey of four options, and was selected by the school’s administration, in tandem with student leaders.

The final contenders — Mavericks, Pioneers, Trailblazers and United — were announced in October by a committee made up of members of the school community. The group had help from VCU’s nationally recognized Brandcenter, which includes Douglas Freeman alumni. The Brandcenter also helped develop the logo for the final selection, a stylized “M” above the words “Freeman Mavericks.” The new branding will join the school’s interlocking “DSF” logo, which will remain in use.

“After a careful and intentional process to find a new school nickname, symbol and mascot, we are overjoyed to announce that we are moving forward together, starting today,” said Marshall in a message to the school community.

Marshall noted that the nickname describes the school’s independent spirit and is consistent with the school’s core values of excellence, pride, intensity, family, diversity and tradition.

“We are free-thinkers and forward thinkers,” Marshall said. “We challenge the status quo to make the world a better place.”

To see a video featuring students and staff members talking about the selection, go to www.freemanmascot.info/announcement.

The school will share details soon about a planned “spirit-wear swap” where students can trade in Rebels gear for items with the new nickname and logo.

Marshall also announced in August the creation of the “Freeman Forward Fund” in partnership with the Henrico Education Foundation. The fund will build school culture and support long-term efforts to promote inclusivity and innovation. Members of the public can donate to the fund by going to https://bit.ly/33oNrqu.

The school announced in August that, after a review process that included public input, it was retiring its “Rebels” nickname and would seek a more inclusive nickname and mascot. That process drew more than 2,000 comments, including around 1,500 responses through an online form. The input also included emails, social media posts, handwritten notes, voicemails, videos and an online panel discussion on the topic.

While the school had used the Rebels name since it opened in 1954, it has not used a visual mascot for many years, instead opting for the “DSF” logo.

The school is named for Douglas Southall Freeman, a Richmond historian, author and journalist. While Freeman won Pulitzer Prizes for his biographies of both Robert E. Lee and George Washington, the school’s original mascot was likely inspired by his Confederate subjects.

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