Challenge One 

New Richmond Schools Superintendent Deborah Jewell-Sherman talks about what lies ahead.

Style: Some people would say you are crazy to take on this position.

Jewell-Sherman: Well, it's challenging. But it's good work. It's important work. And it's worthy of the challenge.

What would you say is the No. 1 challenge facing Richmond Public Schools?

Increasing student achievement as measured by SOL scores on the state level, meeting the mandates of the new federal legislation, entitled "No Child Left Behind," and all in all, enhancing the education of our young people so that they're better prepared to seize the opportunities that increasingly await them.

So many people are familiar with [former Richmond Schools Superintendent Albert] Williams. How would you say your style is similar to, and different from, his style?

I don't know how you would describe his style, so maybe it would be better for me to just talk about my own.

I think I am very specific about the outcome that I expect, and I am very clear about the time frame in which I expect those outcomes to be achieved. But I am very collaborative in designing how we get there.

So I think that the people with whom I've worked, the majority of them, would say that I was approachable, inclusive, open, but always focused on where it is that I know we have to go. I also think that I would be described as a coach. I expect people to do great things, and I encourage them to meet my expectation.

Of course the big issue in education, in the news, at least, is the recent school-voucher decision. Do you think that's going to affect Richmond Public Schools at all?

I think that it's legislation that, down the line, may impact all of public education. In the short run, I am not anticipating that it will be something that we will have to deal with.

I can't tell where you stand on the issue.

And you won't. [laughs]

Not now, at least.

Not now, at least.

What would you tell people who take drastic steps, such as moving out of the city, to avoid putting their children in Richmond Public Schools?

That there are so many excellent programs, so many excellent schools in the district, that if they are willing to take the time to visit their neighborhood schools prior to making that decision, I believe that they'll be very pleasantly surprised.

One of the things that I know we're going to be more effective at doing is telling our own story. I believe that Richmond Public Schools provides a capital education. We are the capital, and it's a capital education. And we are working diligently to make sure that every school is a school of choice. And as parents visit these schools, I think that they're going to find out that each one has something unique about it, something to offer.

If you could teach one subject to one grade, what would it be?

It would be English to middle- or high-school students. I love literature. English has always been a passion. And I would want to imbue in some young people the gift of appreciating what reading can do in your life.

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