Throughout my childhood, my parents taught me the importance of saying “please” and “thank you,” and to give credit where it is due. Roanoke City Council recently announced a historic investment in school funding that will be considered for approval in early May. The proposed fiscal year 2024 budget provides an additional $9 million in funding to Roanoke City Public Schools (RCPS), for $101 million. As superintendent of RCPS, I want to say, “thank you,” to City Council, our School Board, and the entire community for your consideration of this investment in our schools.
RCPS is a beautifully diverse school system, serving nearly 14,000 students and employing more than 2,200 teachers and staff. A majority-minority, urban school division, our students include 2,657 who qualify for special education services, 573 who face housing insecurities, and 2,095 whose first language is not English. We are working every day to ensure all students graduate with both a diploma and resume of skills and experiences that will benefit them for a lifetime.
In Roanoke, we are blessed to have a strong partnership between the city council and school system. The city’s long-standing School Funding Policy provides 40% of local tax revenues to RCPS annually. With this money, RCPS funds instruction, athletics, the arts, student support services, and school-related expenditures. RCPS also funds 100% of the debt service that finances school improvement and construction projects, our School Resource Officers, audit fees, and other specified city expenses. This funding policy provides much needed consistency and stability in school funding. As federal pandemic funding ends, every dollar of local support is vital to funding crucial school programs and positions to ensure our students accelerate their post-pandemic learning.
Focusing on Academics, Arts, and Athletics, or what I call the “triple A” approach, we provide students with a well-rounded educational experience with an emphasis on literacy. I am proud of our work and excited about our future. Our Strategic Plan, which was created by representatives across our RCPS community, guides our work and provides our path forward. One example is our Equity in Action Plan that will double our career and technical education seat capacity. By Fall, we will expand our workforce development offerings to include landscaping, barbering, HVAC, and more. Also, we are planning for the opening of the Community Empowerment and Education Center in Gainsboro while streamlining central office services into one location. Just last year, we launched the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program so first-generation college students have the support they need to be college-ready upon graduation.
The pandemic hit urban school districts across the country hard. RCPS is no exception. We know the impact on students’ learning, achievement, and their psychological well-being is greater than anyone anticipated. Having said that, our teachers, administrators, families, and staff members are second to none and rallying to the challenge of helping students recover. I am proud of our commitment to know our students by name and need so we can pinpoint deficits and accelerate learning. Our formative assessment data tell us, for instance, that our middle school English Learners have made significant gains in reading this year and our schools are seeing slow but steady growth in most academic areas. Additionally, our 2021-2022 graduation rate held at 89%. We are recovering. We are moving forward together.
We have a long way to go, but the data indicates we are on the right track. Our focus on organizational discipline, safety, high-quality instruction, and pay recognition for our hard-working staff will result in student progress. Additionally, our focus on family involvement, innovative programs, and mental health services will continue to move the needle on student performance, while also keeping our students safe and connected to positive and productive activities. As a division, we are committed to finding funding for all these efforts, for our children.
Therefore, THANK YOU to Roanoke City Council for this proposal. Considering our historic, post-pandemic challenges, this historic funding proposal is critical to our children’s future. There is something special happening in Roanoke City Public Schools, and we are excited to continue working together, staying focused, and moving forward in support of our students.
Together, We Are One in support of our students. Thank you again, Roanoke!
Dr. Verletta White is Superintendent of Roanoke City Public Schools and the 2024 Virginia Superintendent of the Year.