top of page

Critiques

Students and teacher at piano in classroom.
Colorful elementary school classroom at T. C. Miller School of Innovation and Arts
Kindergarten students working on math

Along with believing that the decision to close schools and zone close-to-home is inequitable and a byproduct of continued bias in Lynchburg, we have many critiques about how and why the decision was made. We discuss our civil right concerns on 'Continued Inequities' and 'Unitary Status'.

Manipulating the Situation to Fit an agenda

Days after the school board's finance committee proposed their plan to close T. C. Miller and Dearington Schools of Innovation Superintendent Edwards went to talk to teachers at T. C. Miller. During this meeting, Edwards stated that she had been hired by the school board "to close schools." Everything from the Dominion 7 analysis to the directives they gave MGT were to uphold this.

This is not the first time Edwards has proposed closing schools. During her first year, she proposed closing Sheffield and Perrymont Elementary Schools. Students from these schools would be zoned for the proposed new and larger Sandusky Elementary School.

There was much backlash to this decision and it was dropped. Instead of making necessary capital improvements to Sandusky, Bedford Hills received improvements. We discuss how capital improvement decisions are made and their trends in the city in 'Continued Inequities'.

Instead of investing in the schools, requesting funds through a concrete plan from city council, and completing the capital improvements, they are using the facilities study to justify their agenda.

If the goal of the district is to be "fiscally responsible", why didn't they ask MGT to present scenarios that saved the district the most money? When presenting at a school board meeting after the original proposal to close T. C. Miller and Dearington, a representative from MGT states "he had no idea about the deficit until the school board proposal," and that their scenarios were not intended for cost savings.

It is apparent that the city is using buzzwords like "fiscally responsible" to garner support from community members critical of the administration's spending habits to promote the closures. All of this is part of an agenda and is not what's best for the students.

Superintendent Edwards' job is to provide the best education for students in the city, to be their advocate, and to fight for a quality education. Instead, she is focusing on an objective given to her when she was hired which isn't in the best interest of students. 

We expect more, and are critical of her leadership of the district and care for the students.

Students playing at recess

Students playing at recess

Dominion 7 Analysis

Dominion 7 Architects is a local architecture firm. They were hired to evaluate necessary capital improvements and to give recommendations for the future of the district.

 

Before we continue, we need to state that they are an architecture company. They do not have educational experience and many of their judgements and analysis are not actually based in any best practices in education. They are designers and they theorized aesthetic buildings that don't add anything to the quality of education or culture of a school.

A major critiques is their evaluation of utilization rates. All utilization rates, the impetus of school closing, are under represented. Principal of Dominion 7, Blair Smith, stated in a presentation to city council in May 2022 that they used the maximum class sizes to still receive funding in Virginia, not the recommended class size from the Department of Education​.

The class sizes Dominion 7 used were from the direction of district administrators. This is another example of how Edwards is manipulating findings to justify closing schools.

We further discuss how dramatically increasing the utilization of elementary schools is harmful to students' achievement on the 'Research' page later on in the page under 'Ignoring MGT's Recommendations'. 

" If I were designing the classrooms, I would not put 24 kindergarteners in a class. I would make the class 16-18 students which is the recommendation of the Department of Education." - Blair Smith

Community Feedback

Lynchburg City Schools touts that they had extensive community engagement. In reality, their engagement lacked intentionality, effort, and initiative. 

 

The district hosted four community meetings during the summer, a time that many families might be out of town. They did not make meetings more accessible by starting the meeting later in the evening so parents who are working until 6 pm could attend or by providing transportation, child care, and dinner. Since many of the scenarios concern schools that serve marginalized communities these measures needed to happen to make the meetings accessible. 

For comparison, extensive community engagement looks like what the city did in the early 90s when they discussed the creation of a magnet elementary school. 

Led by Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, Rodger Jones, the district gathered input through a community survey of elementary school parents and there were 35 open public meetings for community members to discuss the program.

This is what extensive community engagement looks like. Not four meetings in the span of 6 weeks and fewer than 1,200 survey responses.

Sandusky community members at the October 5th school board meeting

Sandusky community members at the October 5th school board meeting

However, even if we only consider the community input that was given to the city, the district ignored it. 70% of the community chose scenario 1. In this, they stated they wanted to invest in public education, to keep small classes, and to keep small schools. 

The administration and officials state they want more feedback and we keep giving it to them, but they only want it and will only listen to it if it agrees with their decisions.

Dr. Day's Analysis

Dr. Day's analysis was flawed, archaic, and included one metric: costs per student. It was also not extensive. In his proposal he presented a simple spreadsheet that could not have taken more than 20-30 minutes to prepare. This is not an in-depth analysis that school board members praised him for and it lacked any critical thought.

 

In his proposal he pulled operational costs from two separate reports and he presented the operational costs as just maintenance of the buildings to justify why Dearington and T. C. Miller should be closed.

This is false though, the operational costs are instructional (teachers and staff salaries and benefits) plus facility costs. In order to have any savings, you must fire teachers, which the city has stated will not happen.

Further, Day had no understanding that these schools have higher costs because they are magnet schools, receiving money from grants, not the city, and that they receive more money for the number of Title 1 students they have. 

In his analysis, Dr. Day highlights his lack of understanding of education, equitable funding, and the needs of students. This is all part of a trend to divest from schools serving at-risk students and the programs targeting the achievement gap.

MGT statement on utilization

MGT statement on utilization

Ignoring MGT Recommendations

Lynchburg City Schools spent 150,000 dollars on educational consulting. Yet, they are ignoring many recommendations from the consultants.

  • MGT states 85% utilization is optimal utilization to allow for programmatic necessities like special education, literacy coaches, restorative academies, and resource classes.

    • We must note this was included in the draft report that we FOIA'ed (Freedom of Information Act) from the city. It was deleted from the final report. Another example of the manipulation of data.

    • Administrators have failed at making this clear to school board members and city officials. These officials are aiming for utilization between 90-94% which MGT clearly states will cause schools to be overcrowded and learning harmed.​

Another key factor MGT states is vital to student success is the culture of the school. In fact, school culture and climate were among the top influences in affecting improved student achievement. Here are their recommendations:

  • Build a brand for your school (example, Sandusky's Principal Mr. Womack "We do it better when we do it together")

  • Maintain school facilities that are well-maintained and welcoming. (example, T. C. Miller colorfully painted classes, hallways, and murals)

  • Celebrate diversity, acknowledge student achievements, and create opportunities for student voice and leadership (example, T. C. Miller's library assistant student worker positions) 

 

Why would the city close two schools with such vibrant communities. Families passionately support Sandusky and T. C. Miller. They state that the schools have supported them and their students through highs and lows, that the cultures at the schools help their students be their best. 

These cultures can not be simply transplanted and combined into another school. Each school is unique and has its own atmosphere. Why are we destroying communities that have such a positive impact?

First grade classroom at T. C. Miller School of Innovation

First grade classroom at T. C. Miller School of Innovation

Unitary Status

Every scenario MGT presented the city included close-to-home zoning. This zoning assumes that the district receives unitary status. We discuss unitary status, what it is, what it will mean, and how it will affect Lynchburg on the 'Unitary Status' page.

We oppose rezoning and unitary status because it will lead to resegregation in the city. In other cities that have received this status and resegregated, schools serving low-income students and students of color receive less funding than predominately white and higher income schools. 

We believe this will be true in Lynchburg and exasperated by the fact that the city has a deficit that will prohibit them from investing in more programs for at-risk students.

Closing high performing schools to send students to lower performing schools

Nationally, there are trends that show inequities in school closures. One aspect is the fact that some closures send students from high performing schools to lower performing schools and schools that do not have an equal quality education.

Sandusky and T. C. Miller are performing well. Sending students to William Bass and other schools that do not have the same quality of education is not an equitable decision, especially for at-risk students.

Lack of Consideration

  • MGT only presented the city with their full report of planning recommendations on August 8th. School board positions are voluntary and they only meet every other week.

    • How is one month long enough to make this decision?

  • The school board failed to complete a full financial analysis, an evaluation of programs and education quality, and impact on teachers. 

Timeline of MGT scenarios and school board decision

Timeline of MGT scenarios and school board decision

  • Scenario 3, alone, was discussed for 40 minutes, and other solutions discussed for 20 minutes.

    • This is the most significant decision for the school system in decades and has long-term impacts. How is this a long enough discussion ?

  • Community input and public comments were ignored.

  • The impact on students, their well-being, education, and stability was not considered.

​Disregard for teachers

School board members have repeatedly voiced that they are not concerned about teachers. To them, the teachers are just chess pieces that can be moved to any position their qualifications allow. They disregard the preferences of teachers, experience in certain grades, and tenure of teachers at their schools.

There has also been no explanation on how they will maintain the current amount of teachers while reducing the amount of classrooms in the district, causing a distrust of administrators among staff.

Incomplete plan for programs

All we have heard from administrators is empty promises about how there will still be innovation programs. "We want innovation everywhere." "We're thinking about middle school innovation." But, that's not our concern.

Our concern is about the removal of a magnet school that has these programs. School of Innovation is just the title of the city's magnet schools. Removing the magnet programs takes opportunities from students who currently have them.

Further, there is no plan. The programs at T. C. Miller have taken 30 years to develop. They take resources, experience, and buy-in. Teachers at T. C. Miller come to the school understanding they will run rehearsals after school and that they will have extra responsibilities. Not all teachers at every school signed up for those responsibilities. This is another example of disregard for teachers. 

All the statements about maintaining the programs are surface level and to placate parents. If T. C. Miller costs more due to these programs, and the district is closing schools to save money, how can we expect them to actually continue them?

Kindergarten musical at T. C. Miller School of Innovation

Kindergarten musical at T. C. Miller School of Innovation

School Board Incompetence

As discussed in 'How We Got Here', during school board meetings following the September 19th vote, members were confused about what they voted on and what it meant.

Members did not understand that the Facilities Master Plan was supposed to be a long term vision. No cost savings happen for 5-10 years, and it was supposed to inform future improvements in the city. 

Further, once they began discussing converting T. C. Miller to a Pre-K facility, it becomes clear that the plan is not feasible and the building is not suited for a Pre-K facility.

All of these components are things that should have been discussed before the vote to close the schools. And, the misunderstandings on the master plan should have been clarified and thoroughly explained by Deputy Superintendent of Operations, Reid Wodika, and Superintendent Edwards. 

While Save our Schools had asked them to make these clarifications prior to the vote, they gave minimal input, one to two sentences without correcting false statements, at the end of the discussions concerning school closures.

However, on October 24th they were increasingly vocal, highlighting a lack of leadership and care during the closure discussions, not an inability to engage in the school board’s conversations. 

We find flaws in nearly every aspect of the administrators and school board's directives, plans, and implementations. Here, our critiques are more thorough than city officials' plans and decisions. All of these reasons are a part of why we believe the decision is wrong, and this doesn't even include the major civil rights concerns and inequities in their decisions.

bottom of page