Richmond is amidst a cultural renaissance with thriving universities, vibrant museums, and a restaurant scene that put us on the map. But in contrast to this progress, poverty is more entrenched and the impact of trauma is more pronounced. Schools struggle to meet the demands of a divided city.
Richmond Public Schools lives in the legacy of "separate but equal" policies made decades ago. Teachers are asked to do more with less in crumbling buildings. The promise of increased accountability has left students spending days worth of classroom time taking expensive, multiple-choice tests. The achievement gap has not shrunk. We have stressed teachers and students – and have little to show for it.
The solution is not a quick fix. We need to have difficult conversations, so we can make difficult choices. Elected officials and school leaders must work side-by-side with communities to design a new vision for our district. Impactful policy, community understanding, and effective execution are all required to bring the change we want to see.
“This process of becoming one Richmond can’t just be institutional. It must be from and with the people. ”
Kenya Gibson is a champion of public education and a parent of two students in Richmond Public Schools. She served as Vice President of the Parent Teacher Association at Linwood Holton Elementary School.
Kenya attended the College of William and Mary and graduated with a double concentration in Economics and Fine Art. She lived in Richmond while applying to graduate school and went on to obtain a Master’s in Architecture from Yale University.
In her career she has created store environments for Saks Fifth Avenue and Disney; developed exclusive promotional programs for Target and Walmart; and managed product launches for Sony Electronics and Calvin Klein. She now works in healthcare marketing, creating multi-year strategic plans and overseeing advertising programs for hospital systems around the country. Like education, healthcare is a highly-regulated, data-driven industry facing unprecedented change.
Kenya returned to Richmond in 2006 after the birth of her daughter to be closer to family. She is passionate about the value of school integration and has been active in local efforts to increase funding for city schools. She appreciates the complexities of education policy and has an eye on long-term goals. As a parent and advocate, she’s done her homework. She’s read the Regulations Governing Special Education Programs for Children with Disabilities in Virginia, pored over SOL data and submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to become informed.
She thrives in the company of others who share her passion for public education and is eager to grow the network of community advocates to change student equity in the city.