On January 13, cost Dr. Dana T. Bedden was sworn in as the new Superintendent of Richmond Public Schools (RPS). An accomplished, creative, high-energy leader with 20 years of experience in administration and leadership, Dr. Bedden has a results-oriented record of improving academic achievement, working with diverse groups, increasing parent/community involvement, implementing systems-thinking, and providing a positive school and work environment. Bedden has been the superintendent of school systems in both Texas and Georgia and sees his recent appointment to lead Richmond’s district as a great opportunity.
In his most recent position as superintendent of the Irving (Texas) Independent School District, Dr. Bedden oversaw an economically and socially diverse school district with 4500 employees serving 35,111 students representing 90 countries and speaking over 50 languages on 38 campuses. The position also entailed overseeing the development and management of a $260 million general fund budget and approximate $400 million total budget. His responsibilities included implementing a new multi-year strategic plan for the school district, developing a strategic communications plan for improvement of both internal and external communication. During his three year tenure, the district expanded its Advanced Placement course offerings and increased the percentage of students taking: AP courses by 13.6%, AP exams scores by 23.6%, AP Scholars recognition by 14.4% and the SAT participation rate from 39% to 85%. His system-wide reading and math extended learning program for grades K-11 provided 85,000 books for summer reading and math enrichment activities. During the 2011-2012 school year, each comprehensive high school began implementation of signature programs in the areas of: Architecture, Construction and Engineering (ACE); Aviation and Bio-Medical Science; Energy and Environmental Entrepreneurship as part of twelve career and technical education pathways. The Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses taken by students increased over 50%. Fine Arts enrollment also experienced a significant increase in enrollment of approximately 18%. In 2012 and 2013, two of the four Irving ISD high schools received Silver Medal Recognition by U.S. News & World Report as being in the top 8% of more than 21,000 high schools. In 2013, two of the four high schools were also selected for Newsweek’s Best High Schools. The District’s graduation rate increased from 78% in 2009 to 86% in 2013.
Prior to Irving ISD, Dr. Bedden served as superintendent for Richmond County (Augusta, GA) where he also had two high schools recognized in the top 200 schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Particularly noteworthy were the improvements in academic performance in multiple areas. Along with an increase in the percentage of schools making adequate yearly progress (AYP), the percentage of students graduating increased from 63.8% to 77%. In addition, seven out of eight comprehensive high schools increased their graduation rate during his tenure as superintendent.
Urban Views recently had an opportunity to ask Dr. Bedden a few questions about his vision for Richmond Public Schools.
What are your views on the importance of public education and how did public education change/enhance your life?
I believe public education is the great equalizer.. It is one of the single most important anti-poverty programs we can institute. I can say that with unequivocal confidence because I started out in low-income housing in Florida. But my mother always said: “You are going to get an education. That is your tool to have a better life.”
Education helped me to better my circumstances. Although I went to school during the early days of desegregation in Florida and was bused very far to go to school, I had the best teachers who believed in me, they had high expectations of me and would not accept anything less than my best.
I don’t know if I would be where I am today if it weren’t for public education.
That’s why I believe that equity in education is a must. I’m a firm believer in setting high expectations. Children can achieve if you believe they can achieve.
What will be your top priorities during your first 100 Days?
While I will be working with the Board on developing a roadmap for the first hundred days, my first priorities include leadership by listening, trying to make sure our teachers and other staff get raises to allow us to be competitive in the market. Other than the mid-year, two percent increase RPS employees recently received, our teachers and staff have been without raises for five years. That’s a long time, and doesn’t help to improve teacher and staff retention or employee morale. I also will work to fill key positions and get our team focused on implementing strategies and changes to increase our student achievement and make sure our students are both college and career ready by the time they graduate.
It’s no secret that RPS has been plagued with low standardized test scores in recent years. What do you say to some naysayers who believe it will be almost impossible to turn the district around?
First and foremost, I want to say that I can’t make the changes alone. I will need everyone’s help to do things differently while still keeping the things that have worked. It will be challenging, yes, but doable. We have some great things that have occurred in RPS and good things are happening throughout the district and clearly some things that are not working well. No stone will remain unturned as we look at moving this district forward and improving student achievement.
For me, students come first. We must have a balanced approach to strengthening the core, yet making sure our students have exposure to the arts for a well-rounded educational experience. We will be looking at assessments, instruction and personnel.
What is your leadership style? How will you build your leadership team?
I advocate for children. I try to demonstrate servant leadership. I’m student centered and every decision I make is predicated on what is in the best interest of our youth. I’m collaborative and encourage open and honest dialogue. I am becoming better at leading by listening. I want us to make decisions for the welfare of our students based on good information and good data. I am committed to innovative and strategic thought and results-oriented processes.
As for building a leadership team, I believe in balancing the talents and knowledge of people in the system – have performed well with the infusion of new ideas and new blood being brought to the table.
How important is community engagement as you seek to improve student performance?
Our success in helping students realize their full potential depends on how well we engage the community and how willing the community is to being a constructive and productive partner. Student achievement cannot happen in a vacuum and takes the efforts of all—the school, parents, community leaders, business leaders and legislators. Richmond Public Schools represents the future of this community. We’re going to get back to making people feel like they have got a seat at the table; that things will be done with them instead of to them. Student success is the responsibility of this entire City.
What is the role of parents in this turn-around effort?
Parents are an integral part of our student’s academic success. Parent engagement is critical. I want us to make sure we continue to partner with parents. How we partner may be different. If parents can’t come to us, we will go to them. We have to do a better job of creating two-way communications. To that end, in the next few weeks, I will be establishing a parent advisory group so that we not only have access to the parental voice, but also are inclusive of parental concerns and opinions in our decision-making processes.
In three years, what story do you want people to write about Richmond Public Schools?
I want the story of RPS to be likened to that of the comeback kid, that our community sees enough progress that they are able to say positive things like: we have great teachers and support personnel molding and nurturing great students. I want it to be a story we are proud to tell as we continue to work to make sure every student in our schools gets a high-quality education. The reality is however that it will probably take longer than three years to get to where we want to be, but we definitely want to show progress and that this big ship is heading in the right direction. One person can’t do it, but we all can do it if we work as a team and not as individuals with individual agendas. It’s got to be about the greater good of our children. It really is a “WE” opportunity, not a “me” opportunity.