7th District Candidate Questionnaire: Bryce Robertson

7th District Candidate Questionnaire

Editor’s Note: This candidate questionnaire is for the Richmond City 7th District School Board Race to be held November 6, 2018. Bryce Robertson is one of three candidates running in this election. Below, Robertson answers 10 questions presented to him via email. The other candidates, Gary Broderick and Cheryl Burke, answered the same questions. No edits (not even for spelling) have been done to the candidate’s responses.

Bryce Robertson

Question 1: Tell us about yourself in 100 words or less. 

I am ready to ignite change for Richmond’s students, parents, and educators. As an immigration attorney whose education began in Richmond Public Schools, my career is devoted to defending those that need it most, from Dreamers (DACA) to victims of abuse. I serve as board member at the Chesterfield Innovative Academy for girls, mentor with the Virginia Hispanic Chamber's "Pasaporte a la Educación" (Passport to Education) initiative and served on Cornell University's Educational Policy Committee. 

Question 2: Tell us why you are running for school board in 100 words or less. 

I am running because I can no longer sit back as a product and resident of this 7th District and watch what has become a system suffering under the “status quo” and stagnation in my community.   For far too long the school students of the 7th District have been victims of attending old and dilapidated school buildings, teachers have been victims of a severe lack of support and parents are victims of a school district starved of the resources it so desperately needs.  Until all our students have the power to achieve their dreams we simply are not doing enough.  In this spirit, I want to make sure that every student in Richmond has every opportunity to see how powerful they are and achieve their goals. 

Question 3: Why are you more qualified than the other candidates? 

I differ from other candidates in the following areas:

I cannot support making decisions without an adequate community voice.

I’m bold with new ideas that I will bring forth in support of the students, teachers and administrators in the 7th District.

My work as an immigration and criminal lawyer, representing Richmond Public School students and in advocating to keep families united gives me a unique perspective in understanding the trauma that many students in the 7th District face.

Question 4: What do you think ‘government transparency’ looks like in practice? 

First, transparency and trust go hand in hand. And the issue of transparent decision making has been a clear concern of mine and of the families and students who I have spoken with in my district. To address this issue, the school board’s policies related to closed-door sessions and meetings need to be followed and evaluated. Second, communication is essential. We need to be masters of technology, social media and electronic dissemination of information. Third, we have to recognize the diversity of our school system. And with that in mind, there are concrete steps we can take to make sure that language barriers do not impede a student’s or his or her family from understanding the decisions that will impact them. Striving to have translators on hand wherever feasible and official materials available in English and Spanish will go a long way toward raising the level of comfort families have with our schools no matter their linguistic background while equally fostering trust.

Question 5: What do you see as the #1 problem facing RPS as a whole? What is the solution? 

RPS’s biggest challenge is not only how we address our need for funding, but how we channel those resources so that they are used most effectively. When it comes to funding, we need to push for greater transparency and accountability; evaluate what funding resources we can tap into; and seek to push state leaders to make changes to the local composite index that unfairly deprives cities like Richmond of needed public education funding.

Question 6: What is the #1 problem in the 7th District? What is the solution?

In the 7th district, our biggest challenge is tackling the trauma and poverty that many of our students face. We need to make sure that every student has the opportunity to recognize his or her potential, embrace their passions and excel. As a school board member, I will work to fight for disciplinary policies balance accountability with understanding; undergird our educators with the flexibility to better support their students in a trauma-informed way; and push to integrate restorative justice practices into school life to promote a healthy emotional culture that supports the achievement of all students.

Question 7:  What is your opinion on the recently adopted RPS Strategic Plan?

The strategic plan, as adopted, provides a great set of goals for our school system and school board to work towards. More importantly, achieving the visions set forth by the strategic plan will require strong leadership and collaboration between the school system, our community, parents and educators. The plan can be a powerful tool if it is truly utilized, applied with measurable benchmarks and periodically adjusted to best reflect the needs of Richmond Public Schools.

Question 8: What is your opinion on how teachers should be evaluated and performance-based pay?

Ideal teacher evaluation is multidimensional. It necessarily involves both quantitative and qualitive measures that offer the most holistic perspective of a teacher’s performance. For example, observation is a great way to look at the creativity and engagement some of our excellent, committed educators foster within their classrooms. Additionally, this crucial type of evaluation ensures that teachers consistently have the resources they need to support student growth.

Question 9: Do you believe RPS needs to consolidate schools? Why or why not?

Wherever you can identify efficiencies that further the needs of students, families, and teachers it can be counted as a positive and is worthy of investigation.  However, whether to consolidate is a community decision that requires open, transparent discussion and input from within the community.  Richmond is a dynamic, changing city and it is important that as a school system, we be ready and willing to have the hard discussions required to stay ahead of the curve ball.

Question 10: Concerns regarding the local school board retaining it’s power have been raised in discussions including the Mayor’s Education Compact, VDOE’s MOU, and RPS’s newly passed strategic plan. How do you believe the school board can protect it’s autonomy

The legal status, role and powers of school boards are spelled out in Virginia law. More importantly, a great school board offers the policy, delineates the resources and sets the goals vetted by the community to support the needs of its students, teachers and families. Separately, the superintendent's role is to be the district’s chief administrator, academic advisor, and play a key role in implementing the policies decided upon by the community. Together the school board and superintendent should work collaboratively and with a shared vision to provide the best educational experience for students in Richmond. Executing this balance effectively to benefit Richmond’s students, parents and educators in the best ways will ensure the school board continues to enjoy its autonomy.

Moreover, the school board should take a bold approach to the Memorandum of Understanding and actively seek to collaborate with state leadership to provide the most flexibility to the school district in achieving its mission. Additionally, the strategic plan and Education Compact can serve as important tools to support informing the school board’s outlook on certain issues that are critical to student achievement throughout Richmond.