Thad Williamson is a professor, writer and civic activist teaching at the University of Richmond. His work focuses on the connection between theories of democracy and social justice and the practice of public policy and public administration.

Fifty Fixes for the Fifth, #3: A New George Wythe High School, Sooner, Not Later

Fifty Fixes for the Fifth, #3: A New George Wythe High School, Sooner, Not Later

George Wythe High School, the 5th District’s only comprehensive high school, has a proud history. Richmond has an opportunity and responsibility to make sure George Wythe has a bright future as well—by moving forward in an expeditious but thoughtful way to rebuild the high school and its campus.

City and school officials revealed earlier this week that they expect several million dollars to be available to begin a planning process with respect to rebuilding George Wythe once the current construction projects at George Mason Elementary, E.S.H. Greene Elementary, and the new Hull Street Middle School are complete.

The rebuild of George Wythe High School can’t come fast enough. A voter living near the school earlier this week had an apt one-word description for the school’s current condition: “dilapidated.”

George Wythe was one of five schools originally planned to be built in the first phase of the facilities plan adopted by the School Board in December 2017. The new debt capacity made possible by the meals tax increase in July 2018 will be mostly spent on George Mason, Greene, and Hull Street.

Making sure the City finds the money to start and finish the job of building a new George Wythe High School as soon as possible will be one of my utmost priorities as a member of City Council representing the 5th District.  

According to the facilities funding plan released by the Stoney administration in December 2018, an additional $200 million in capital funding earmarked for schools will become available in fiscal 2024—that is, July 1, 2023.

We can’t wait that long to give our community the new school it deserves.

If elected to Council this November I will push to be sure as many dollars as possible are conserved to begin the planning process for Wythe in 2020, and I will work to find sufficient dollars in the FY 2021 and succeeding City budgets to allow construction to begin as soon as possible—ideally, by 2021.

And if elected to a full term next year, assuring that the project is seen through in a timely and effective way will be at the very top of my priority list for the district.

Here’s why: first, the facility needs at George Wythe are urgent, and the need for more high school seats on the Southside is also urgent.  Wythe has seen a sharp increase in enrollment in recent years, including an increase in the number of Hispanic students from 116 in 2016-17 to 408 last year, and analysis performed by Cropper GIS for the School Board project Wythe’s enrollment to exceed building capacity as soon as 2020-21, with crowding growing more severe each succeeding year. (The School Board is envisioning building a 2,000 seat high school—an addition of 600 seats--on the current footprint of the Wythe campus.)

Second, the rebuilt George Wythe has an opportunity to become a model community school: a facility that is not only a first-class educational facility but is a resource hub and facility for the surrounding neighborhoods.  The City of Richmond should offer workforce development support to community members through the Office of Community Wealth Building as well as related services supporting families, just as it does at Huguenot High School. The facility should be made as accessible and usable as possible for community programming, recreation, and other uses on weekends and in the summer months. The new George Wythe will be one of the most diverse schools in the district by ethnicity and primary language, and the community activities and services offered must reflect that.

Third, the new George Wythe High School has the opportunity to be the anchor of broader neighborhood revitalization along the Midlothian corridor, involving new or revitalized commercial activity, housing, and transportation. Schools are embedded in and influenced by communities, and the revitalized Wythe is a chance to contribute to a stronger Midlothian.

Finally, the new George Wythe must not only be a first-class facility but be matched with strong curricular content and strong academic leadership prepared to assure that a dramatically improved school facility helps realize dramatically improved educational outcomes.

To bring this vision to life, the community must be involved and its ideas heard and heeded, at every step of the way. The critical work of planning and community engagement can and should start as soon as next year.

As a City Council member I will work tirelessly to assure that this major project stays on track, and I will work in collegial partnership with the 5th District School Board representative and neighborhood leaders to be sure the community has a major voice in shaping the new George Wythe.

This is a major opportunity for the 5th District to get better in the areas that matter most: improving education and expanding opportunity. I am incredibly excited, and incredibly committed, to making sure the new George Wythe High School does just that.

Authorized by Thad Williamson for Richmond City Council

 

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