City welcomes new schools chief

Jason Kamras from D.C. to become next Richmond superintendent

Jeremy Lazarus | 11/24/2017, 3:06 p.m.
They campaigned on a platform of change for a school system that continues to rank high in dropouts and suspensions ...
Jason Kamras, the newly selected Richmond Public Schools superintendent, receives a congratulatory hug Monday night from Richmond School Board Chairwoman Dawn Page. Mr. Kamras, who won National Teacher of the Year honors in 2005, is to start Feb. 1. Photo by Sandra Sellars

Two years later, he was plucked from the teaching ranks by now former D.C. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee to lead her efforts to upgrade instruction.

He also served as chief of instructional practice and chief of human capital before taking his current job as transitional chief of the Office of Equity in recent months.

He is expected to bring some or all of the D.C. playbook to push reform and boost student success in Richmond, a process that has won national recognition, but done little to close the huge achievement gap between white and African-American students — a gap the Washington Post reported is the largest among major school districts in the nation.

He led the effort to create a data-driven evaluation system of instructional staff that enabled Dr. Rhee to replace hundreds of teachers and principals with people rated as higher performing.

After Dr. Rhee left in 2010, he went on to lead the 48,000-student system’s instructional program and then was put in charge of opening an equity office to better serve African-American and disabled students.

His pay of $250,000 a year would be his base salary, but he could earn up to $25,000 more if Richmond schools meet certain performance benchmarks.

Mr. Kamras also is to receive $20,000 to cover moving expenses and $20,000 in deferred pay in a retirement fund.

Mayor Levar M. Stoney is among those praising his selection. The mayor called him a “reform-minded, creative and innovative educator with a demonstrated commitment to public schools who is not afraid to roll up his sleeves and take on big challenges.

“I congratulate the board on its choice, welcome Jason to our city and look forward to working with him to make things happen for our kids,” Mayor Stoney said in a statement.

The chairman of the Richmond Branch NAACP, which has filed a federal civil rights complaint against RPS for high suspension rates of African-American and disabled students, also supports the choice.

James E. “J.J.” Minor III, who served on the selection committee, said that Mr. Kamras “is someone who will move Richmond forward and help our schools achieve accreditation.”

Bernice Travers, president of the Richmond Crusade for Voters, who also served on the committee, also is positive, but skeptical.

She said she is impressed by Mr. Kamras’ words, but has heard similar promises from the parade of Richmond superintendents who have come and gone in recent years “without having produced any change in the quality of the system.”

Ms. Travers also is concerned that the School Board did not allow the three finalists to meet with the community ahead of the vote.

That’s also a problem for Paul Goldman, chair of the Put Schools First Coalition that has led the effort for school modernization.

He said the failure to hold a community meeting to meet the finalists means the public “was cut out.”

The School Board and the selection committee held several meetings to get community input on what kind of superintendent people wanted, but there were no public sessions to get comments once candidates began submitting résumés. Sixty-five people competed for the job, School Board members said.

Ms. Page brushed off the criticism. She said the secrecy allowed Richmond to “expand its candidate pool” and ensured applications from current superintendents and others who did not want their employers to know they were applying.

Mr. Kamras promised to undertake a listening tour as he prepares to take over from interim Superintendent Thomas E. “Tommy” Kranz, the RPS chief operating officer who has run the system since Dr. Bedden left in June.

He said his views are shaped by his role as a school leader and a parent. He and his wife, Miwa, would be enrolling their sons, ages 6 and 8, in city schools.

Mr. Kamras said along with RPS families, he also wants to hear from and partner with Richmond’s faith, nonprofit and business communities.

“I believe the work of public education must be done with families and the community,” he said. “It really does take a village. I really want schools to be welcoming.”