Aug 9, 2023 - Education

Richmond reckons with diversity problem at governor's schools

Illustration of a green apple surrounded by red apples.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Richmond Public Schools' student body is overwhelmingly Black, but the students it sends to Maggie Walker Governor's School are overwhelmingly white.

What's happening: School administrators are looking at ways to change that.

  • RPS is hosting town halls with parents on an array of potential changes to the application process for five of the specialty and governor's schools open to RPS students.

What they're saying: The district's goal is "to ensure that our specialty schools both maintain their unique character, their high level of rigor and are more reflective of the student body of RPS," superintendent Jason Kamras said during a recent school board meeting.

By the numbers: RPS has 205 seats at Maggie Walker, 78% are filled by white students, who make up just 11% of the district's total enrollment, per 2023 enrollment data.

  • 7% of the seats are held by Black students, who otherwise make up 60% of the district's student body.
  • Hispanic and Latino students represent 6% of students admitted but make up 25%.
  • There are also disparities, albeit not as dramatic, at two of the district's three specialty schools, Richmond Community High and Open High.

Of note: Only enrollment at the district's Franklin Military Academy matches the district's overall demographics.

Details: RPS is asking families to weigh three potential changes to the application process.

  • One option would enter all qualified students into a lottery, which would be weighted in favor of economically disadvantaged students.
  • A second would guarantee a minimum of three seats to each of the district's eight middle schools — a change similar to one implemented in Henrico for the coming school year.
  • And a third would dedicate a set percentage of seats to economically disadvantaged students.

Zoom out: An effort to diversify an extremely competitive governor's school in Northern Virginia, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, drew a legal challenge from parents of Asian American students, who had made up 70% of the student body.

  • The Fairfax County School Board's decision to deemphasize standardized testing scores and allocate a set number of seats to each middle school was recently upheld by a federal appeals court.

What's next: Any changes will go before the school board for final approval.

  • For now, the district is still taking feedback online and at town halls.
  • The next in-person meeting is set for Thursday at J.L. Francis Elementary from 6-7:30pm.

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