Forty hours a week, senior planner Garet Prior is devoted to Ashland. The week’s remaining 128 hours are divided between Richmond community involvement and sleep.
Growing up in Cleveland, Prior often accompanied his father on service projects. But it was a move to a more affluent neighborhood in ninth grade that opened his eyes to the drastic inequities of school funding and how it affected students’ expectations and access to opportunity.
“I was personally spurred by my growing-up experiences,” he says of an early interest in education and advocacy.
Despite having no children, a turning point for his local involvement was an article he read about a Richmond Public Schools facilities task force. The Woodland Heights resident applied for it and was put on the committee, which came up with a plan adopted by the School Board in 2015.
“Now’s the challenge,” he says. “It takes an effort to move from paper to reality.”
As the founder of advocacy group Richmond Forward, his goal is to help create a world-class school system by facilitating conversation among people interested in the same mission.
“We’re trying to educate people on what’s actually going on,” he says. “It’s partly communication — website, social media and newsletter updates — but it’s also creating a network of engaged people. Maybe it’s connecting a parent at Cary Elementary with a parent at Chimborazo who has the same concerns.”
The group’s analysis and advocacy can mean the difference in a parent understanding and engaging in school issues or feeling outside the loop. “We take government budget language, provide key analysis of dense data and communicate that in a 60-second way that allows parents to have a knowledge base to engage,” he says.
Prior may not be a parent, but the former Hanover County teacher is married to a Chesterfield County guidance counselor, so he gets firsthand reports from the front lines and the news is sobering.
“Not having children is the reason I have the energy to do this,” he says. “School revitalization is a lot more than school facilities. It’s the economic underpinning of the entire city. And if we don’t solve this, we will drain the city’s coffers. All of us have a stake in our schools.”