Opportunity time

10/4/2018, 6 a.m.
It hasn’t been a week of good news for Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras and the Richmond School Board.

It hasn’t been a week of good news for Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras and the Richmond School Board.

Since Sept. 27, several state reports and outside audits have been released showing that Richmond Public Schools needs the corrective intercession, guidance and boost that the entire community has long understood was needed in order to raise student achievement.

During the past week, we learned from the state Department of Education that:

• Even under new rules, only 19 of Richmond’s 44 public schools are accredited, with accreditation withheld from Carver Elementary School this year because of the Standards of Learning cheating scandal orchestrated by its former principal.

• RPS has the lowest graduation rate in the state. Only 75.4 percent of RPS students graduated on time this year, with one in four city students from the Class of 2018 who started the ninth grade in 2014 dropping out. 

Additionally, two independent audits of RPS reconfirmed previous findings that:

• African-American students and students with disabilities are disproportionately disciplined and suspended from school.

• White students are more likely to be placed in gifted and advanced programs than African-American and Latino students.

• Absenteeism from school is more prevalent among African-American students, students with disabilities and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

• RPS’ central office has suffered from mismanagement and that its current organizational structure could impair the school system’s ability to handle its finances.

According to the state Department of Education snapshot report, RPS has an enrollment of 25,015 students, 70.5 percent of whom are African-American, 15.7 percent of whom are Latino, 12.3 percent of whom are Caucasian and 1.2 percent of whom are Asian.

A majority of RPS students — 61.3 percent — are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, while 16.5 percent of students have disabilities and 10.2 percent are English learners.

None of these reports and figures contains any surprises. Richmond’s graduation and accreditation rates and demographics have changed little during the past several years. The Richmond School Board and administration have been struggling with low performing schools, student underachievement and inequities in discipline and access to advanced classes for many years. 

And we are certain that Mr. Kamras knew what he was undertaking when he signed a five-year contract to lead RPS starting last February. 

Needless to say, with this latest slew of statistics rehashing the current obstacles and challenges, Mr. Kamras will be earning his $250,000 annual base salary. The 43-year-old former National Teacher of the Year is among the highest paid school superintendents in the area. But what is sorely needed in Richmond right now are expertise and vision, more than his former accolade.

Already, the community has shown its willingness to rally behind RPS with the recent approval of Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s meals tax plan to support construction of three new school buildings to replace dilapidated ones. On Wednesday, the mayor announced a new campaign, “Change for RVA Schools,” to encourage dining in Richmond restaurants as a way to support funding for new schools.