Defending a Principal, Open Enrollment 

I am writing regarding the principal at John B. Cary Elementary School ("The Insubordinate," Cover Story, March 12; "Parents 'Bullied' by Richmond Schools," Letters, April 2). As a 35-year resident of the Carillon neighborhood, former co-chair of the Hope in the Cities board of directors, an advocate for the Richmond Public Schools and friend of John B. Cary Elementary School community, I have found the principal of JBC to be a person of integrity, tremendous intelligence, beauty and sensitivity.

The principal seems to exhibit great skill and ability in providing leadership and direction to her teachers, staff and volunteers. Under her leadership, John B. Cary continues to enjoy an enviable position relating to its accomplishments with regards to accreditation, parent participation and community outreach initiatives. I have found the environment clean, children calm and polite, the principal, teachers and staff very professional, courteous, friendly and very welcoming.

We are very fortunate to have such individuals taking responsibility to help shape our children's future. Thank you for caring, educating and shaping future citizens of Richmond. Congratulations to the principal, teachers and staff for a job well-done!

Audrey Brown Burton

As a parent of a young child in the city of Richmond, I feel that I have done my due diligence researching the public school options available. I reviewed SOL scores, ethnic makeup, course selection and the percentage of children who are considered disadvantaged. Through open enrollment I can select a school -- albeit through a nail-biting lottery system — that has much higher SOL scores, offers a large variety of extracurricular activities and more varied curriculum.

I can select a school where the PTA is so strong that it can raise $100,000 to support these activities and curriculum, and expects a high rate of parental involvement. I can select a school that more closely represents the city at large ethnically and economically. And I can select a school that has fewer social issues to address and can focus on excellence rather than merely passing grades. Our zoned school has none of these.

I think that the PTA is underestimating the number of low-income families who choose to use open enrollment for their children's benefit. Parents can be fiercely creative when it comes to their children's education. To assume that it is only white or affluent families who use open enrollment is ridiculous.

School attendance has been dropping for years, much of it attributed to the flight to the suburbs that many of the families in neighborhoods like mine are making. And already, for those who remain, traversing the open-enrollment path is not easy. You cannot force people to send children to a school that they don't think can adequately serve their children's educational and emotional needs. They will just choose to go elsewhere and RPS ultimately loses, resulting in even more economic and racial segregation.

Rather than doing away with open enrollment, perhaps policies should be implemented that could help financially strained families get the transportation help they need, or someone needs to pony up and make all of RPS schools as good as their best.

Page Hayes

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