Henrico County Public Schools And Its Closing The Achievement Gap Smoke Screen

Mar 4, 2012 by

K. N. Lucas – In January 2012, Henrico County Public School held what they coined as “community meetings” to address, what they recently determined, was a major and urgent issue within the district, closing the achievement gap between white and black students.

During two separate meeting in the month of January, the leadership team of the district presented a very carefully and controlled program to parents, advocates, students, and community leaders that came out for the meetings. It was also clear that the district officials were very deliberate in their orchestration of what a majority of the community has dismissed as a “press conference” promoting more propaganda for the school district, aimed at improving its image among the community of color without truly confronting the real issues of institutionalized racism, systematic civil rights violations, district hostility toward any people of color that challenge them, and the exploitation of the criminal justice system by the district to intimidate and silence families of color.

One father of African-American students on the East End of Henrico communicated what were the sentiments of a majority of those in attendance when he stated, “why does the school district keep calling us back to give them solutions to help our children when we know they have never and will never act on these solutions because it would mean that they would have to fire a lot of the principals, assistant principals, and others that are incompetent and do not see our children as being able to achieve like white children. They would also have to admit that the all-white leadership of the district, especially in the special education department, sees no need to change and is not motivated in any way to do so. That is why our children are denied their civil right to an education.”

Another African-American mother of a child with special needs commented that she felt as though she were in Henrico during the 1960’s, when blacks did not have a say in the education of their children, black children were systematically and maliciously mistreated by school districts, school officials covered up the mistreatment, and black families became targets of terrorism and retaliation just for standing up and demanding their right to have their children educated in safe and secure schools where the staff is caring and competent. The East End community continues to wonder how district leaders can ban parents that report abuse, civil rights violations, and neglect of students; while allowing those that sexually and physically abuse our students to have free and unmonitored access to our schools and our children. Superintendent Russo refuses to respond to these questions as do all of the school board members, especially Lamont Bagby, whose Facebook page showed that he was a friend of Neil French, a special educator in Bagby’s district that was arrested for sexual battery in September 2011, and eventually was found guilty in March 2012, and forced to register as a sex offender. In 2009, parents made repeated reports to the school district and board regarding sexual assaults and abuse that were going on at Fairfield, but the reports were dismissed.

As is the norm in Henrico Schools, the administration did not take any time to accept or answer any questions from the community during the meetings, which was not only intentional, it was a matter of ensuring that the true issues would not be exposed by the attendees. In fact, on two separate occasions in which the data Superintendent Russo was presenting was questioned, it was quickly dismissed and the parent was told to hold his questions for his small group. In another instance, an African-American mother attempted to clarify why the community was being asked, yet again, to offer solutions to the problems in Henrico involving black children, but she was rudely dismissed and told to ask questions during her small group break out as well by the district’s PR man, Mychael Dickerson.

The president of Varina High School’s Parent Teacher Student Association, Tara Adams, inquired of Superintendent Russo as to the status of the federal investigation that was initiated in October 2010 agains the district, in which the focus was the systematic discrimination, retaliation, and institutionalized denial of educational services to African-American males, specifically those with special needs. Of course Russo responded that the “community meetings”/press conferences, had nothing to do with the U. S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights,(OCR), investigation which also involved Attorney Martha Russo of OCR and her team conducting two real community meetings last May; in which hundreds of parents, students, advocates, grandparents, and other community leaders packed into two conference rooms for over six hours, until it was considered a fire hazard, in order to share their horrific accounts of Klu Klux Klan-like attacks and Massive Resistance tactics that were being used against them and their students as they fought against school leaders and their system in order to obtain an education for their children. So many had come out to talk to the federal government directly when the local and state governments refused to even acknowledge these families, that they had to attend the meeting in shifts; leaving after they offered their stories so that those waiting outside could come in and speak.

It should be noted that, as of the present date, no one at the local or state levels has held a town hall or community meeting with the families of Henrico County regarding the rampant civil rights violations that are being committed by school officials on a daily basis with increasing hostility and maliciousness. While Drusilla Bridgeforth, president of the Henrico NAACP, stated that they would be holding follow-up meetings to OCR’s meetings, they never did. The Henrico NAACP did, however, deem it appropriate to support Henrico School’s community meeting/press conference in January 2012, after being silent and non-responsive to the community’s complaints for years. The district also attempted to portray itself as “partners in finding a solution for helping black children,” when they made it a point to profile their collaboration with The Coalition For Justice For Civil Rights, whose president is Rudy Langford, a self-proclaimed civil rights leader that refused to investigate physical abuse and race-driven discipline practices within Henrico Schools due to his personal affiliations with and affections for Superintendent Russo. It was clear after observing that while the NAACP and the Coalition For Justice For Civil Rights refused to meet with the African-American families within Henrico that are being victimized and terrorized by school officials, they ran to the table to support the school district leaders. It is clear that “Uncle Tom-ism” is alive and well in Henrico, and is also part of the problem for children and families of color when those organization that have the mission of protect and defending civil rights opt to protect and defend the civil rights offenders for financial and political gain.

Throughout the community meeting/press conference held by Henrico Schools in January, the district leaders; Superintendent Patrick Russo, Executive Director of Communications and Community Outreach, Mychael Dickerson, and Executive Director of Organizational Development, Quality, and Innovation Chris Corallo; repeatedly expressed how they had “just discovered” how poorly black students are performing in the district, and felt “compelled” to take “urgent” action to address this issue. In fact, during the second meeting, Dickerson arrogantly commented that “we went out on a limb to share all of this information with you,” after the data reflecting the failure of African-American students had been shared with the meeting participants. Evidently, Dickerson, Russo, and Corallo’s arrogance is second only to their ignorance when they have the audacity to attempt to convince Henrico’s community of color that they “just discovered” that the district is failing black children. Instead, they proved and confirmed an even greater discouraging truth, during all of the years that African-American community was providing documentation and voicing the fact that Henrico was failing to meet the academic, social, physical, spiritual, and cultural needs of our children, the district was turning not only a blind eye, but a deaf ear.

On Henrico School’s webpage entitled, “Closing The Achievement Gap,” the first sentence reads, “Henrico County Public Schools has a gap in student academic achievement.” ( See: http://www.henrico.k12.va.us/closingtheachievementgap/) This statement within itself testifies to the fact that the district still does not get it or, as many of us believe, just does not want to get it. The achievement gap disparity is one of many symptoms of a greater cancer that has consumed Henrico County Public Schools, and as we all know, dealing with the symptoms and not the source of the illness is no real action at all. In Henrico, placing band-aids on symptoms, no matter how severe and fatal they are, is their answer, however, it is not the answer for our children.

Before the school board and district can truly address the student achievement gap issues, they must be completely and painfully honest with themselves and others; operating in utter humiliation by admitting that there are greater gaps that must be closed first. Henrico must close its institutionalized racism gap. They must close their culture of corruption gap. They must close their cronyism gap. They must close their discrimination gap. They must close their lack of integrity gap. They must close their retaliation gap. They must close their incompetency gap. They must close their cultural competence gap. They must close their arrogance gap. They must close their ignorance gap. They must close their insecurity gap. They must close their abuse and neglect of children gap. They must close their abuse of power gap. They must close their civil rights violating gap. They must close the politics over people gap. They must also close their children are last gap.

Once the district leaders and school board members resolve to do some real soul searching, be honest with themselves and others; then and only then can any “gaps” within the district be closed, and that includes student achievement gaps, which, if all of the other gaps were addressed, would automatically be closed. We must all remember that calling “community meeting/press conferences” where people write words on a piece of paper for those words never to become a reality is no longer the answer in Henrico. This has been going on for too long, and the sense of urgency for saving our African-American children, especially our males, is now, if the district truly cares about our children.

Henrico school leaders can no longer claim that parents and the community do not make an effort to be involved in our children’s schools when not only are we fighting gangs, drugs, and other vices for our children; but we are fighting incompetent, vindictive, corrupt and mean- spirited school leaders like Russo, Arthur Raymond, Lamont Bagby, Diana Winston, John Montgomery, and others; who would rather illegally ban, intimidate, and silence parents that speak out about the conditions that result in achievement gaps than sit down, respectively with them to resolve the issues for our children.

As one mother stated during a community meeting where parents are filing complaints with the U. S. Justice Department against the district for hate crimes, conspiracy, and racial discrimination, “we may as well be back on the auction block in Henrico County because the principals and superintendent treat us like we are slaves with no rights and no voice over our children. They lie on us and get away with it. They threaten us and get away with it. They have us falsely arrested and get away with it. They fail our children illegally to get back at us and get away with it. They threaten to arrest our children if they go to school that they are entitled to go to and get away with it. They falsify our children’s school records and get away with it. They let our children be abused by teachers, refuse to report it and get away with it. They even keep us from our own children in the schools that we pay taxes for and get away with it. I am tired of them getting away with all of this. It is time for them to go to prison for a long time for what they have done to our families and our communities. If they did it during the Civil Rights Movement then, we can do the same thing now because we are living with the same evils that they did.”

Henrico County Public Schools has a long way to go before they can even think about closing the achievement gap of black students. The district leaders and school board members must remember that there is only one way to close a gap, and that is to build a bridge. The district must begin to build the bridges of hope, trust, justice, integrity, respect, compassion, competency, and collaboration. These bridges must not only be built for black children and families, but for all children and all families throughout the district. Once the bridges have been built, the gaps will automatically be closed permanently.
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