Editor’s Note: The following is a brief report sent by an anonymous insider, highlighting the situation at Richmond Alternative School, one of the initial schools slated for closure by the RPS School Board due to budget shortfalls. The RSCI feels it important to begin providing coverage that is otherwise missing from local media regarding the continued degradation of working class resources in the city while also providing a voice for the working class and poor people who otherwise are censored, mis-characterized, or shut out from the media in the city:
What you are about to read does not scratch the surface of what I know due to my experience at Richmond Alternative School. This report is extremely limited due to a deadline that needs to be met. Maybe one day I will transcribe a more complete version of my tenure at RAS but for now I will focus on some of the institutional politics that goes on in the Richmond Public Schools system.
Upon signing my contract with Richmond Public Schools to work at Richmond Alternative School I was promised many things that did not come to fruition, including a teacher coach. A teacher coach’s job is to help teachers with their lesson planning, observe classes, and provide feedback and constructive criticism. As a new teacher you can imagine my disappointment to not receive this very important and necessary resource. Although I did not get a teacher coach, my English and math-teaching counterparts did. My feelings of resentment quickly turned to relief when I discovered the ways my colleagues were being treated by the teacher coaches. Instead of receiving constructive criticism the math and English teachers were often berated in front of their students and given busy work that did not benefit anyone, or so I thought.
These teacher coaches worked for a company called Catapult Learning, a company that merged with Specialized Education Services, Inc. in July 2015 to create the nation’s largest provider of contracted instructional services according to Catapult Learning, Inc., the new official name of the merged companies. These companies may sound familiar because SESI was given the Richmond Alternative School contract in 2004 in order to establish the Capital City Program, better known as CCP. I must admit this is where some of the information gets a little hazy because the information I am about to disclose was received from a principal at CCP during a casual conversation a few years after CCP became RAS. SESI either subcontracted or received the subcontract from another company after whichever company that received the contract from RPS realized they could make a larger profit by subcontracting it to a third party. Mind you, the students that attend RAS and attended CCP are among the poorest residents in Richmond.
This is all significant because the same year that Catapult Learning and SESI merged to create Catapult Learning, Inc. was the year that another alternative school, Aspire, was established at the Richmond Technical Center. So, just to give you a little recap to help you connect the dots, before the 2015-2016 school year SESI and Catapult Learning merged to create Catapult Learning, Inc. That same school year RPS provided RAS with teacher coaches that work for Catapult Learning, Inc. and a new alternative school, Aspire, was created. The writing was on the wall. Richmond Alternative School was to be privatized by a company that was collecting data way before anything was official or finalized. These teacher coaches were not there to help the teachers better educate the students, they had a vested interest to see the teachers and therefore the students fail so the city could rid itself of its school to prison gateway. To make matters worse, RPS put out a request for proposal that had a turnaround time of less than a month, hardly anytime for a competitor to propose an alternative to Catapult Learning, Inc.
This whole process is quite peculiar when you consider the fact that RPS took CCP back under city control to create RAS only a few years ago. Why would the city, which was obviously disappointed in the way SESI ran CCP, return its most vulnerable students to a parasitic company that profits off their education or lack thereof?