With the November elections right around the corner, the School of Education’s Dr. Kurt Stemhagen is helping Richmonders keep education at the forefront by serving as moderator for a candidate forum in the city's 1st District.
Held at Thomas Jefferson High School on Oct. 5, the forum provided an opportunity for voters to hear local school board and city council candidates address major issues affecting Richmond schools.
Those participating in the forum included school board nominees Dawson Boyer and Liz Doerr, and city council nominees Andreas Addison, Jonathan Cruise and Harry Warner.
“Contributing to an event like this is one of the best parts about being a professor - helping to build and maintain democratic communities,” Stemhagen, an associate professor in the Foundations of Education department, said. “These people are neighbors, and it was good to see them coming together to talk specifically about education in their district.”
In addition to keeping the conversation moving and on track during the event, Stemhagen also helped curate a list of prepared questions for the candidates ahead of time. Among the topics addressed during the forum included school funding, school integration, and the relationship between city council and the schools.
“One of the best questions actually came from the crowd: ‘What does an integrated Richmond Public Schools look like to you?’” Stemhagen said. “It was a simple question, but it really forced the candidates to be specific.
“Overall, I think the candidates were more frank than politicians usually are, which was nice.”
Interestingly enough, the forum stems from the “Support our schools” initiative earlier this year. Formed then by a group of RPS teachers to organize the community and protest impending budget cuts, events like this illustrate a proactive effort to keep education issues in the public eye.
“It’s nice to be at a university that allows for this kind of work,” Stemhagen said. “VCU is very committed to community engagement. As a university, we can offer certain resources, credibility and expertise to events like this. To be able to play a role in teachers' efforts to make Richmond a better place is a real privilege.”
Richmond’s 1st District covers much of the city’s West End, stretching southwest from Broad Street to the James River, and west of Interstate 195 to the Henrico County border. Schools located in this district include Mary Munford Elementary School, Albert Hill Middle School and Thomas Jefferson High School.
Members of the district, as well as all other Richmonders, will cast their ballots for school board and city council representatives as part of the general election on Nov. 8.