12/1/2017, 8:41 p.m.
We are impressed by the résumé and remarks of Jason Kamras, the 43-year-old Washington public schools administrator and 2005 National Teacher of the Year who received the unanimous backing of the Richmond School Board to become Richmond’s next public schools superintendent.
When he was introduced to the public last week, Mr. Kamras acknowledged the responsibility he soon will undertake with others in educating the 24,000 students in Richmond schools, the majority of whom are children of color who come from families that are economically disadvantaged.
Among those challenges, as demographics and reports show: About three out of four students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, 40 percent live below the poverty level, many have a history of childhood trauma and 18 percent have special needs.
“I believe we have a particular responsibility to achieve (a quality education) for the children who face the greatest challenges in their lives,” Mr. Kamras said. “After all, public education must be more than just good instruction. It must be about creating a more equitable society.”
While Richmond may not be D.C., we know that Mr. Kamras will not have a cakewalk when he takes over at RPS on Feb. 1. The combination of his education — undergraduate and master’s degrees from Princeton and Harvard — and his experience, largely in D.C. public schools, may prepare him to an extent for the issues and challenges awaiting him in Richmond, not the least of which is boosting student achievement — only 18 of the city’s 44 schools are fully accredited — and funding to repair a plethora of aging, crumbling school buildings.
Certainly, Mr. Kamras, like any new superintendent, arrives on the wings of hope, with the support of the parent, teacher, advocate, community and business sectors that want him to succeed. The selection panel, whose members came from all these sectors, put forward Mr. Kamras as one of its top three finalists.
But its work was done largely in secret, without introduction of the finalists to the wider swath of community stakeholders for comment or vetting, a clear misstep in terms of accountability to the public. The community was wrongly shut out of the final process, never allowed to hear or evaluate the goals or vision put forward by the finalists for RPS chief executive.
The entire community is invested in the success of the school system as evidenced by the overwhelming vote of support on the Nov. 7 school modernization referendum.
While Mr. Kamras hit all the right notes in his introduction as the new superintendent, we hope that he will continue to walk the walk when it comes to equity for our children and our teachers. We have high expectations of him, as well as of our students and the teachers we entrust to educate them. And as parents, community members and taxpayers who are underwriting his $250,000 annual salary, we expect Mr. Kamras to be accountable to the people who are depending on him to move RPS forward.