When the 577 students and 44 teachers and support staff return to the classes on Sept. 5, at Portsmouth’s W.E. Waters Middle School, they will be greeted by a new principal, Ricardo Randall. Randall, 52, is new, but he has an old connection to the school. He was a student there in 1977-79, and even more interesting, his father, Vernon Randall was principal from 1971 to 1987.
Education seems to be part of the family business tradition. His father and mother, Marlene Randall, have a combined 73 years of service in the Portsmouth School Division. Ricardo Randall has 29 in the profession.
His mother also served on the Portsmouth City Council for 12 years.
Ricardo Randall is a product of Manor High School (’83), Hampton University (’87) and Old Dominion University (’94). Last year, he enrolled at Old Dominion University again to pursue his Doctorate in Educational Leadership.
Randall was raised in the Cavalier Manor section of Portsmouth, and most of the students in that historic and middle class Black community attended Waters then, including himself.
“I did not get any special treatment,” he recalled. “I rode the bus just like the other kids.”
The elder Randall said the dynamics of families and students have changed since he led the school.
“My son may have a harder time. Back then, when I was a child, I did not need encouragement … it was expected. Times have changed.
“Back then it was ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir’. Parents were more engaged and supportive of their children and the teachers. I could call the parents and talk with them because I knew them. That’s not the case today. But I think with his experiences, Ricardo is ready for it. He has a lot of experience.”
His mother agrees that “times have changed, but my son’s background and experiences will enable him to be effective.”
“Children must believe they can do something to achieve,” said Mrs. Randall. “That comes from the parents and teachers. Like his father, Ricky always tries to pull people up rather than to put them down. So I think he will be a good principal at Waters.”
Apart from sage advice from his parents, Randall’s resume indicates he has had a career that has allowed him to experience the opportunities and challenges posed by variations in suburban to rural to urban public schools settings.
He launched his career in the Virginia Beach Public Schools in1988 at the Center for Effective Learning as a teacher and performing various administrative duties; at Bayside High School, he was a teacher and an administrative assistant; he was an assistant principal at Corporate Landing and Lynnhaven Middle schools, before becoming the principal of Central Middle School in Gates County.
He took a hiatus in 2009 from his administrative career to be a caregiver for his now deceased wife who was battling cancer. He worked at Madison Alternative Center in Norfolk City Schools for two years.
After she passed, he resumed his administrative career by serving as an assistant principal at Jefferson Davis Middle School in Hampton City Schools before arriving at Waters this year.
He realizes that the student population at W.E. Waters comes from varied home environments and educational levels. His goals include working to nurture the students and provide them the resources they need to navigate the precarious academic and social terrain of middle school.
One of his most pressing challenges is helping Waters Middle School to regain its accreditation. As a former science teacher, he views the school as his “laboratory” to apply new ideas and methods to achieve that goal.
He said he will work to balance out the school’s responsibility to prepare students academically and help them master the skills to pass the Standard of Learning (SOL) Exams which determine a school’s accreditation status.
“Do I think we are teaching to the SOL tests?,” Randall said, responding to a reporter’s question. “Our teachers are teaching the essential skills of the respective standards mandated by the Virginia Department of Education and the summative assessments are the measures used to determine the students’ comprehension and mastery of those standards.”
Randall said he will devise and implement ways to help teachers achieve their goals of building the skills levels of their students, and also their testing stamina. He said they will assist the students to better comprehend what they read and to work through complicated math formulas. The teachers will implement and conduct warm up exercises to reinforce reading, writing and other skills based on their course work to be better prepared to take the SOL tests and other assessments.
According to Randall, devoting more time and resources to developing students’ skills levels leading up to the spring SOL tests schedule is key.
He said he will encourage his teachers to work in teams to collaborate to allow the English, science, social studies and math teachers to use their skill sets to help their colleagues do their jobs better.
He wants to explore at least two “Early Release-type” Fridays a month to allow teachers to set up stations where students can get direct help to reinforce their grasp of course work and essential skills with instruction, exercises and hands-on experiences.
Randall said he knows the principal is the “face of the school.”
“For some parents, their ideas of the roles of a school have changed,” he said.
“Parents are the first teachers and the school must establish a partnership to ensure the best possible education for students.
“I want to reach out to the communities,” said Randall. “I want to know my parents and get them involved in their child’s educational experience at the school.”
He added, “I want to build up (student) confidence in themselves and their abilities. I am more of a listener, so I will be listening to them to determine what they need.
“Students will do more when they know you care more. You should let them know you expect for them to their best and do well. You can build on that and plant seeds every day.”
By Leonard E. Colvin