RPS approves increasing school days for one school, two others pending

Richmond Public Schools wants to add 20 more days to the school year to tackle learning loss due to the pandemic. Photo by: Alessandro Latour

Natalie Barr, Staff Writer

Richmond Public School 200, a proposal from the RPS school board to update the school calendar, increases the number of school days from 180 to 200.

The proposal would only affect three schools — Fairfield Court Elementary which has approved the plan last week, and Overby-Sheppard Elementary and Cardinal Elementary if the two schools decide to pass the proposal; voting is required from teachers, faculty, staff senate and RPS school board members, according to fourth district school board member Jonathan Young. 

If the plan is passed, it would be in effect for the 2023-2024 school year and begin July 24, he said.

Young worked alongside RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras on RPS 200 to combat learning loss, seen prior to COVID-19, but worsened due to the pandemic, according to Young. Learning loss was seen in basic fundamentals needed for reading, writing and math, Young said.

 “RPS was the last school division in the state to re-open in person, so our students’ enrichment sustained a disproportionate share of harm relevant to active academic learning loss, but also social emotional support,” Young said. “I’m really excited about the opportunity to reverse some of that with the 200 days.” 

 Twelve elementary schools submitted an interest form regarding the proposal idea and each form was reviewed and narrowed down to four schools, according to Young. The four schools were chosen based on their student demographics and school leadership, who recognized additional learning was needed, Young said. 

 Westover Hills Elementary was the fourth school, but did not receive the required votes, leaving only three schools as the pilot schools, according to Young.

 School board members voted 7-2 at the March 6 school board meeting and approved RPS 200 to be implemented for Fairfield Court Elementary; Young anticipates the two additional schools will be voted on at the next school board meeting on March 20, he said.

 “The other two schools are presumably getting closer to knowing if their families approved it,” Young said. “I’m very excited for it, but it’s going to be a close vote on the school board. Some of my colleagues don’t approve of it [RPS 200].”

 The superintendent and Young do not want these additional 20 days to just be a “traditional school setting,” but filled with more field trips, small group learning and hands-on learning to make-up for what was missed during the pandemic, according to Young.

 “It’s pretty clear that it can’t look like what school looks like right now,” Young said. “My real motive is to try to use these four additional weeks to change what the other 180 days look like.”

 The additional days will not affect the schools’ budget, according to Young. 

 “It’s pretty nominal, relevant to all of our expenditures. We have money for it, Young said. “That won’t be the challenge.”

 Young hopes if all works out, the results of three schools will be looked at to expand RPS 200 to all schools in the system, he said. 

 “Everybody’s gonna be watching us. I’m very, very, very excited about it and understand the magnitude and the gravity of the situation,” Young said.

Linda Jaeger, a math coach at Overby-Sheppard, supports the school board’s decision for this proposal, Jaeger said. She appreciates how this plan will help fill the education gap students lost during the pandemic.

 Jaeger wishes the school board would have proposed this plan in August rather than in January, she said.

 “I know families and teachers who plan out vacations well in advance. If somebody had made plans to go on vacation in July, now they’re told they have to go back to work in July,” Jaeger said.

 As an educator, Jaeger experienced the learning loss of students and noted that school interventionists and data identified one-on-one tutoring and small group activities as successful in closing the gap, she said. Overby-Sheppard used these strategies and saw growth last year, according to Jaeger. 

 School leadership began discussions on what RPS 200 would look like for Overby-Sheppard, if the proposal is passed, but no concrete plans or lesson plans have been made yet, Jaeger said.

 “It’s based on the student data and what the students need the most,” Jaeger said.

 Overby-Sheppard’s principal spoke with parents on multiple occasions to discuss the proposal, and the school knows without parent support, it will not be possible, Jaeger said. She hopes the additional days will not only help improve learning, but also bring back friendship and support found at school, she said. 

 “I appreciate that people are looking out for our students.” Jaeger said. “That they’re trying to come up with ways to help bring them up.”

 Tara FitzPatrick, a parent of two children at Linwood Holton Elementary, thinks RPS 200 will be beneficial for students at Fairfield Court; and even though her children are not at one of three pilot schools, FitzPatrick thinks RPS 200 would benefit schools across the district, she said.

 “I think that there’s a lot of reason why RPS 200 is a good thing. There are concerns, obviously, that I have. A lot of those just kind of revolve around logistical things,” FitzPatrick said. “But, I think that they are things that can be overcome.”

 FitzPatrick has a background in education and knows the learning loss from the pandemic has caused a strain on the school system, parents and teachers, she said. RPS closed schools on March 13, 2020, and did not return to virtual learning until Labor Day of 2020; each student had a different experience depending on resources they had access to at home, according to FitzPatrick.

 “A lot of students were really struggling across the district to have their basic needs met throughout that year,” FitzPatrick said. “Learning wasn’t a high priority during the virtual year, maybe, for a good chunk of our students in the district.”

 Even though she was able to provide a space for her child, FitzPatrick’s son still fell behind and his literacy struggles went unnoticed, she said.

 “I think there is a need for that additional classroom time to really have those things sort of acknowledged by the teachers, and we still have a little bit to make-up for,” FitzPatrick said.

 FitzPatrick’s son participated in the RPS summer school program in 2021, the first in-person classroom setting prior to the pandemic, she said. This was an opportunity for her son to get prepared to enter fourth grade and socialize with other kids, all aspects of school lost during COVID-19, according to FitzPatrick.

 FitzPatrick applauds Fairfield Court’s principal for getting parents approval of the plan and bringing RPS 200 to their school, she said. She hopes this pilot program will show positive results for learning growth and act as a catalyst to expand beyond just these three schools, she said 

 “I trust that the leadership are going to make solid and sound decisions knowing how to best serve our community,” FitzPatrick said.

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