Dawn Page retains chairmanship of Richmond School Board

Ronald E. Carrington | 1/11/2019, 6 a.m.
Dawn Page, the 8th District representative on the Richmond School Board, narrowly kept her role as board chair in a ...
Superintendent Jason Kamras is flanked by the Richmond School Board’s newly elected vice chair, Liz Doerr, 1st District, left, and Dawn Page, 8th District, who was re-elected as chair on a close 5-4 vote at Monday night’s board meeting. Photo by Sandra Sellars Richmond Free Press

Dawn Page, the 8th District representative on the Richmond School Board, narrowly kept her role as board chair in a close vote Monday night.

During the board’s first meeting of 2019, Ms. Page retained her leadership role, squeaking by with a 5-4 vote.

In a push for new leadership, several board members supported challenger Patrick Sapini, 5th District, the board’s vice chair.

The deciding vote was cast by board member Scott Barlow, 2nd District, who was in Washington, D.C., and participated in the meeting via phone.

After winning re-election as chair, Ms. Page said, “Whether you were in the minority or the majority, we are still a team of one. We represent nine districts, but we are a team of one.”

Ms. Page served as chair of the board in 2012, during her first tenure. She was re-elected to the School Board in 2016 and has served as chair since then.

An undercurrent of no confidence in Ms. Page’s leadership became apparent when board member Kenya Gibson, 3rd District, nominated Mr. Sapini. He was supported by members Jonathan Young, 4th District, and Felicia Cosby, 6th District.

“The vote for Dr. Sapini signaled that a group of us are less concerned with pleasantries, orthodoxy, and going slow, but rather want to introduce the kind of radical change that our students, teachers and taxpayers deserve,” Mr. Young explained in an email to the Free Press.

“We lit our hair on fire in 2018 in turning things upside down. But for the New Year, we know that we can do even more in concert with (Superintendent) Jason Kamras if a majority of the board loosens the guardrails.”

Ultimately, the board voted in new blood for the vice president. On a separate 6-3 vote, Mr. Sapini was replaced in that role by Liz Doerr, 1st District. Mr. Sapini, Ms. Gibson and Ms. Cosby cast the dissenting votes.

“I’m honored to have been nominated and voted for RPS Board vice chair by my colleagues,” Ms. Doerr said in a statement emailed to the Free Press. “I’m looking forward to using this role to further advocate for kids in RPS. For me, it’s not about who is in charge; it’s what we do that matters.”

Ms. Doerr is known as a fiscal hawk and has been prudent in how the board spends dollars associated with classroom priorities.

In other matters, the board retroactively approved a small set of courses allowing students who took those classes to receive credit on their transcripts. The action comes as the board and Richmond Public Schools officials work to address the widespread problems found in student transcripts during an audit by the Virginia Department of Education.

The audit, released in November, found that some students were taking classes not approved by the School Board, as required by the state; course and credit requirements were added by RPS specialty schools; and that the policy on credit for honors and International Baccalaureate courses was not clearly stated.

More than 1,000 students taking unapproved classes — courses developed in the district rather than by the state — are likely to have their GPAs and class rank changed, as school and state officials analyze each transcript.

“For VDOE approval of the past courses, RPS had to find original copies of documents related to the classes, such as a syllabus, curriculum or a description of the course,” Dr. Tracy Epp, RPS’ chief academic officer, informed the board. “Those documents also had to have the specific dates for the class.”

Meanwhile, the RPS superintendent has a fully staffed leadership team.

Jennifer Bramble started Monday as the school district’s chief talent officer, overseeing the district’s human resources.

RPS has been plagued by a high number of teacher vacancies. Richmond’s teacher retention rate ranks below the national average, while salaries also rank below the national average of nearly $59,000.

The average pay for RPS teachers is $55,213 for elementary school teachers, $57,984 for middle school teachers and $57,825 for high school teachers.

Ms. Bramble, a certified executive coach who was vice president of human resources at Community Health Accreditation Partner in Washington, holds a bachelor’s degree in business management and a master’s in public administration from Washington Adventist University. In Richmond, her annual salary will be $180,547.