Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success

Strengthening and advancing diversity, equity and inclusion at Virginia Commonwealth University

In our Community Connections series, we spotlight a community partner and provide insight and details on how best to engage with them. This month, we’re talking to Grady Hart with Richmond Public Schools (RPS). Hart helps facilitate the dozens of partnerships RPS maintains that involve VCU.

  1. Tell us about yourself.

I’m an RVA native and I serve as the Coordinator of Community Partnerships for Richmond Public Schools, where I facilitate mutually beneficial partnerships between RPS and partners in the Richmond community. I have overseen a number of key initiatives at RPS, including the coordinated response to ensure that students and families had access to food and other essentials throughout the COVID-19 pandemic; RPS Shines, which leverages volunteer support to ensure that school facilities are clean, welcoming, and ready for students and families to return to school each fall; and the creation of Monumental Conversations, a student and community-led Augmented Reality experience on Monument Avenue. For partnership, research, volunteer, or donor inquiries you can reach me at

2. Give us some background on RPS.

Richmond Public Schools proudly serves approximately 22,000 amazing students in preschool through grade 12. Our division is comprised of 25 elementary schools, including one charter school, seven middle schools, five comprehensive high schools, three specialty schools, and five preschool centers. Guided by our Strategic Plan, Dreams4RPS, and commitment to equity, engagement, and excellence, we are committed to creating schools that are engines of opportunities for ALL of our children.

3. What do people need to consider before partnering with RPS?

  • Lift vs. Impact — whenever we are considering an engagement opportunity, we always ask whether there is a high impact on students and families, and whether the lift to achieve that impact is low enough to warrant moving forward. Put simply, you want your project to be in the ‘High Impact’ and ‘Low Lift’ quadrant in order to maximize your chance of being approved.
  • Patience and Persistence — When partnering with large organizations, processes can feel cumbersome – this is indicative of the fact that we need structure and time to communicate about our priorities and capacity internally. I always ask partners to please be both patient (giving us time between communications) and persistent (if it appears that something has fallen off our radar, don’t be afraid to bring it back around to keep the process moving).
  • Collaborate, don’t Dictate — Include our team in the collaboration process prior to submitting grant or research proposals that necessitate or promise our involvement to external organizations. Even though this can feel  challenging due to the reasons shared above, it is much more likely to be a successful and impactful project if we can collaborate with you to help shape the opportunity.
  • Timing is everything — Even if you do everything right and have a truly great project, it is still possible that the timing may not be right for us – we have very limited staff capacity, and unfortunately are required to sometimes say ‘no’ or at least ‘not now’ to some of the good and great ideas.

4. What are RPS’s most pressing needs?

As a division, we are focused on literacy and support of our English Language Learners. As a result, we are most in need of volunteer support during the school day and after school, especially around our literacy initiatives such as Reading Buddies. We are also asking for donations of brand new or gently used books for our school libraries and book vending machines, and are especially seeking books with characters and themes that represent the diversity of our students and families. The best way to get started on volunteering is to complete our Volunteer Application, and anyone interested in donating books is encouraged to email Judy Deichmann (

5. How can people best engage with and support RPS?

There are a lot of ways to support Richmond Public Schools, from sharing positive stories about your experiences with RPS, to celebrating the many Teachers and school leaders who support our students every day. Get started by visiting our Community Partnerships page, where you can:

6. Can you describe some example partnerships?

Two great examples of mutually beneficial VCU/RPS partnerships are with the School of Social Work, which consistently provides RPS with high quality student interns for year-long placements, and the VCU School of Education’s RPS Teacher Residency Program, which places student teachers in our schools for a year in preparation to teach within our schools for at least two years after graduating. For RPS, we are able to leverage the support of interns and student teachers to do some incredibly vital work both inside and outside the classroom. For VCU, student interns and teachers benefit from real-world, on-the-ground insight with co-educators with years of experience right in our schools and the broader Richmond community. It really is a win-win!

Categories Community Connection, Community Engagement

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