In Richmond’s 7th District, three candidates are running in a November special election for the school board seat vacated by Nadine Marsh-Carter after the death of her husband in 2017.
Schools in the district suffer from chronic underfunding and maintenance issues, placing them amongst the most-dilapidated in the city. A majority of students attending qualify for free or reduced meals, indicating high levels of poverty at home. Students in the district face significant challenges, and whoever is elected to the seat will face strong public scrutiny.
The candidates include the current representative, Cheryl Burke, a retired principal of Chimborazo Elementary School who was appointed as an interim last October. Also vying for the seat are Gary Broderick, a Richmond education advocate who worked as a learning assistant in Durham, N.C., and Bryce Robertson, a lawyer with Dyer Immigration Law Group, in Henrico County.
RVA Magazine interviewed each candidate to learn more about their backgrounds, why they want to serve the district, and their vision for Richmond’s schools. The candidates are listed alphabetically below.
Broderick comes to Richmond with deep ties to education advocacy. His work began in earnest after he learned that the city he lived in, Philadelphia, Pa., was going to close 37 schools. He was part of a group of 19 that participated in civil disobedience in favor of keeping the schools open. He would later move to Durham, where he worked as an educator in an elementary school and volunteered as an advocate with the Durham Association of Educators.
When he came to Richmond, Broderick continued his work in education advocacy. With A New Virginia Majority, Broderick ran a successful campaign to push the school board to adopt a needs-based budget, and won democratic reforms to the Mayor’s education compact. He also served in a volunteer leadership role with then-candidate Kenya Gibson, who was elected to serve the 3rd District last year. Broderick would like the school board to be more active in demanding funding for schools. He would like to see Richmond’s elected officials at the city and state level push for raising Virginia’s corporate tax rate, which is one of the lowest in the country, and hasn’t been raised in 40 years.
Broderick has not accepted any corporate contributions because he believes one person, one vote is important for true democracy. In a video by his campaign, Broderick pointed to how city council voted against a cigarette tax bill that would have given more funding to schools.
“We’re actually fighting for the pie to increase from those who can most afford to chip in, we’re not just having different people in need fighting over the same kind of pie that’s too small,” Broderick said to RVAMag.
Broderick is concerned about the recommendation from schools to the juvenile justice system in the 7th District. He envisions restorative justice programs in schools and wants a community negotiation with the Richmond Police Department to discuss the role of School Resource Officers.
Broderick said poor funding is how these problems manifest, but they originate within anti-black racism, opertalizioned by corporate interest and donors groups in Richmond with interest in lower taxes.
“Our schools are so understaffed that the schools don’t have as many options as they should have before they reach out to law enforcement,” Broderick said. “Our schools need enough funding that they can handle challenging situations in-house and that requires more support staff and more funding.”
Burke, who worked in the Richmond Public School system for 38 years as a teacher and then become an administrator, said she was a born teacher. Coming from a family of teachers, she said she’d been teaching since she was two years old.
“Some teachers are made, some teachers are born, you’re talking to a born teacher and I’m proud of it,” Burke said.
Burke said she mimicked her mother by making everything hands on. Eventually, one school she taught at, Clark Springs Elementary, gave her two classrooms to teach in. For her, the most difficult thing was discipline. She had to learn to be an entertainer.
Burke became an important part of improving Chimborazo Elementary as principal. She helped clean up the school to make it welcoming for students, attempted to lift up the community and making sure the students had enough supplies and support.
“I was glad that I was taught that no matter how much you have, someone else has more and someone else has less and it’s important to meet people where they are in order to take them where we all need to go,” Burke said.
She said her goal is to make sure students have the opportunity to excel. In the past, she tried to help students focus on their books and nooks by implementing an optional dress code, wrote grants and worked with a partnership with Yale that had three principles: collaboration, no-fault and consensus. Burke retired four years ago but said she has stayed engaged in the community
Burke said she is continuing her legacy and working with her constituents. She wants to continue to build relationships as she works to make the school system better because she believes the school district can do better.
“We have to do better than this,” Burke said. “We can do better than this. We want our children to learn and listen and follow expectations.”
Robertson is a Richmond native. In fact, Burke was his former principal. Robertson hopes to expand English as a Second Language class, trauma-informed care, access to programs similar to universal pre-K, the use of technology and forming a collaboration in the community. He said he has a good context of the trauma and pain students feel because of what he has seen in his job.
“It’s one of the things that encourages me to make sure that in our schools we do our best for young folks,” Robertson said. “This is my primary concern. This is where I stand. I have a commitment to this role and uniquely this role, being on the school board, being in the community and seeing kids succeed in their dreams in terms of education.”
He hopes by looking at disciplinary processes and making sure there are enough opportunities for students to do well in school and be successful. His goal of expanding collaboration into community, he said, could provide resources that schools might be lacking, such as nurses. He said these partnerships and mentorship opportunities could give hope to students.
Robertson served as a youth mentor in Richmond and Chesterfield. He also served on the board of Chesterfield Innovative Academy for Girls, now called the Garden School House. He would like to take this background with the community and serve on the school board and promote transparency.
“One of the things that concerns me about Richmond Public Schools, and has been an ongoing concern, is transparency in the decision making processes and the accessibility in general,” Robertson said.
Similar to Broderick, Robertson was concerned about the lack of public input on issues such as the Memorandum of Understanding and the renewal of the Camelot contract. The board adopted a Corrective Action Plan, as required by the Memorandum of Understanding, with three representatives from three districts not present. Robertson was especially concerned with the renewal of the Camelot contract; Camelot is an alternative school that Robertson has a connection to the number of students in the justice system.
“I don’t think the ways of doing things in the past are going to get us to where we need to be as a school district,” Robertson said. “I want to make sure that the leadership on the school board is prepared and ready to move us forward in the most innovative and bold ways possible to get us to the next level.”
The special election will be held on November 6, 2018, during the regular midterm general election. All regular polling places will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Registrar Office advises all voters that photo ID is required.