Debating Diversity at Maggie Walker Governor's School 

Genevieve Siegal-Hawley and Paul Fleisher suggest that the Maggie L. Walker Governor's School for Government and International Studies dumb down its application process in order to admit more blacks, citing a need for more diversity in the enrollment (“Maggie Walker's Diversity Complex,” Back Page, Aug. 12).

I have been among the governor's school students on several occasions and found them to be very diverse in ethnicity. I noticed Asian, Indian and Hispanic students among Caucasians, as well as African-Americans. Consequently, the writers simply want the school to enroll more black students; and to call for a reduction in the rigor of the application process seems an insult to the race.

I am a strong supporter of Barack Obama and was also of Douglas Wilder. I am not aware of any accommodations given them in order to succeed in accordance with their abilities. Public education in this country has suffered enough in the name of diversity. Let's let the governor's school remain a beacon of educational excellence. And if more blacks do not qualify for admission, well, that's too bad.
Jim Edmonson

As the parent of two Maggie Walker Governor's School graduates and a perennial school volunteer, I take issue with the premise that the school's selection criteria are racially biased. The school exists to serve the area's most gifted students who seek academic challenge beyond what is otherwise available. Students enrolled at Maggie Walker know that they were selected using identical criteria which exclude race, socio-economic background, ethnicity, religion, sex (no quotas for males vs. females) and parents' connections.

Information from the Web sites of Maggie Walker, the University of Virginia and William and Mary show that the school's racial diversity is consistent with the two public colleges whose students demonstrate similar academic achievement. Maggie Walker's white enrollment is 73.9 percent and William & Mary's is 75 percent. Maggie Walker and William and Mary both have 7 percent black students. Maggie Walker's Asian population is 13 percent; U.Va.'s is 11.4 percent. Maggie Walker has numerous more applicants than it has space to accept. On average over the past five years, the school could enroll only 16 percent of the students who applied.

Each school system that sends students to Maggie Walker has the responsibility to identify and nurture all gifted children from elementary school forward. Parents are responsible for instilling a love of learning and a work ethic. Preparation for Maggie Walker selection and success begins in kindergarten. Unless the student body remains a meritocracy, why should students leave their home schools or should participating school districts pay to educate their students there?
Mary Jo Sisson-Vaughan

As a parent with a student attending Maggie Walker Governor's School I feel compelled to comment. I do agree with several of the points made by the authors, particularly that Maggie Walker serves as a beacon of excellence.  We are so fortunate to have such an outstanding educational organization that serves the needs of the city and 11 surrounding counties. The leaders at Maggie Walker, including retiring Principal Doug Hunt, deserve our recognition and support for building this nationally recognized program right here in Richmond.

However, the authors are misleading us in several ways:

While the term privileged is used several times by the authors, they don't devote any of their opinion to substantiating this claim. The kids and parents I know at the school seem to represent their area of Richmond very well. I invite folks to come by and look at the types of vehicles driven by the parents when picking up their kids after sports and other activities. To me, Maggie Walker's pickup area could be any school's.

The admissions criteria have to be based on a scoring system and some set standards. How else does the admissions committee sort through so many applications? And there just has to be a significant portion of admissions testing that assesses knowledge and the ability to reason. In my opinion, the rigor of the testing is equivalent to the types of academic pressure these kids will face at Maggie Walker.

Finally, I firmly believe that the real contributor here to the authors' claim of inequality is the Richmond Public Schools. If the city was evaluating, educating, tracking and challenging their elementary and middle school children like the surrounding counties do now, we would not be having this exchange. With higher dropout rates and lower Standards of Learning scores, the city schools are not doing their job preparing their young for a chance at the Maggie Walker experience.

Let's use findings from the recent study to help create ways for all local school systems, especially Richmond's, to work with our children to provide them with the best education that suits their individual needs and styles, including the option to attend Maggie Walker!
Thomas Raper



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