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Kamras fields questions, concerns at community meeting

4/5/2018, 6:14 p.m.
Richmond schools Superintendent Jason Kamras met with more than 60 parents, educators and community members from the city’s 3rd District ...

By Ronald E. Carrington

Richmond schools Superintendent Jason Kamras met with more than 60 parents, educators and community members from the city’s 3rd District last week in the latest of his community meetings to talk about his vision for Richmond Public Schools and to listen to concerns people have about the school system.

The discussion, held March 22 at the Richmond Police Training Academy on North Side near Virginia Union University, covered topics ranging from school safety, academic performance, teacher training, school maintenance and Mr. Kamras’ newly announced cabinet members.

“As a parent, I think a lot about my boys, who are school age, and what I want for them,” Mr. Kamras said. “As superintendent, I want RPS students to have the same education I want for my children.”

Mr. Kamras, who took the helm of RPS on Feb. 1, told the group about his 100-day plan focusing on engagement, equity and excellence in the schools. He said he has visited all but one of the 44 schools in the city, noting that he found students to be bright and welcoming and saying that he had many frank conversations with teachers and school administrators.

When an audience member asked how the superintendent can ensure that dollars earmarked for the schools from the city meals tax hike that goes into effect July 1 won’t be diverted for other city projects such as replacement of the Richmond Coliseum, Mr. Kamras was direct.

“I will chain myself to the Coliseum to make sure that those dollars do not go there,” Mr. Kamras said, as the audience members chuckled and applauded.

“Those of you who have not been able to visit some of our facilities, they are crumbling. There are bathrooms without stall doors, ceilings failing down,” he said. “No child should have to go to a school in those conditions in the one of the richest countries in the world.”

He said he wants to review the line items in the RPS’ budget so he can see where the dollars are going.

“We can probably be using the money we have more effectively,” Mr. Kamras said. “We have 80 vacancies that have not been filled for the last two years, and we can redirect that money to be used in other areas.”

The audience responded with applause.

He continued by noting that the poor condition of the city’s aging school buildings is a moral, ethical, and economic issue that has to be addressed by the city and the School Board. He said people in the community will be able to see the RPS budget on the school system’s website, www.rvaschools.net.

The 1.5 percent hike in the Richmond meals tax will raise $9 million a year that will allow the city to borrow $150 million for the construction of four new school and renovation of several others during the next five years.

Another audience member asked if student achievement is a way to judge teacher performance. Mr. Kamras responded that student achievement is just one element in determining whether teachers are doing a good job. “The administration should look at an appropriate measure of student achievement as part of a larger picture when determining teacher performance,” he said.