Growing up, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s family had only one car and no way of picking him up after school. But when he told his third-grade teacher he wouldn’t be able to join the social studies club, she arranged a ride for him.
“Moments like that along the way, when teachers did things they didn’t have to, changed the trajectory of my life,” he said.
That’s part of the madness behind Stoney’s mission to recruit top talent to Richmond schools, which are experiencing, like many other areas of the country, a shortage of teachers. He shared his story this morning with College of Education students at UMW, his second stop on a quest to visit higher education campuses across the commonwealth.
“I think Richmond schools deserve the best teachers,” he said. “That’s why I’m here at Mary Washington.”
Stoney grew up in Hampton Roads, a product of “children raising children,” he said. His parents were both teenagers when he was born. Brought up in a single-parent home, he and his brother were on the free-and-reduced lunch program and often could not afford books. Yet Stoney consistently made the honor roll, landing jobs with the Democratic Party of Virginia at age 26, as secretary of the commonwealth at 32 and as Richmond’s youngest mayor at 35.
“All of that would not have happened,” he said, “if it weren’t for great teachers.”
He hopes to bring those high-caliber professionals to Richmond, where 44 public schools include plenty of special-needs children and 75 percent of their 24,000 students receive free-and-reduced lunch. “They’re kids just like me,” he said.
At the Hurley Convergence Center in the morning and at Trinkle Hall over lunch, Stoney wooed COE students, touting Richmond as a great place to live and an emerging city, where half the population is aged 20 to 45. Professor of Education George Meadows’ students showed off Maker Space projects during the afternoon session, attended by UMW Ukrop Fellows, who’ve earned financial support to teach in Richmond City Schools, and by BOV member Heather Mullins Crislip ’95, whose children attend Richmond schools.
“A lot of those teachers are Mary Washington alums,” Crislip told the COE students. “I hope you’ll come join us.”
Stoney said the city plans to hire 360 public school teachers this spring, spending millions of dollars in the process. The main trait he looks for in applicants? Passion.
That’s something transfer student Yasmin Cox, a mother of four, two of whom are special needs, has plenty of.
“I’m looking for a specific type of student. The schools other teachers are running out of, I’m running into,” she said. “That’s why I love Mary Washington. We embrace that here – that kind of mindset, that kind of passion – we believe these kids really can do anything.”