Richmond School Board puts off year-round school until 2022-23

Ronald E. Carrington | 3/18/2021, 6 p.m.
After a marathon debate Monday night on Richmond Public Schools’ reopening calendar, the Richmond School Board approved a multiyear plan …
Jonathan Young

After a marathon debate Monday night on Richmond Public Schools’ reopening calendar, the Richmond School Board approved a multi-year plan that does not include immediate year-round school but is designed to address educational gaps caused by the coronavirus shutdown and virtual learning.

In an 8-1 vote, the board approved to reopening for the 2021-2022 school year using a traditional school calendar starting this fall, preceded by a “robust” summer school and then going to a year-round schedule in 2022-23.

The 2021-22 school year will begin the day after Labor Day, on Tuesday, Sept. 7.

No details were offered about the “robust” summer school, when it would begin or how long it would last.

After the vote, Superintendent Jason Kamras said he supports the new calendar and will commit to “a year-round calendar that makes the most sense for our community.”

School Board Vice Chairman Jonathan Young, 4th District, cast the lone “no” vote on the plan. He expressed concerns about the seeming reversal for reopening with a year-round schedule that he said the administration had been working on since last year.

The board’s decision was made after hours of debate about the most effective approach to easing students back into a normal academic schedule, environment and socializing after more than a year of virtual learning, while also addressing academic gaps.

In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Young talked about his concerns with and disappointment in his colleagues’ decision. He said putting off year-round school kicks the problem of a learning gap down the road and does not adequately provide for students’ learning needs or parents’ desires.

At Monday night’s meeting, Tracy Epp, RPS’ chief academic officer, presented a report showing that 52 percent of RPS’ first-graders are now reading below grade level.

“This especially impacts the kind of support elementary students need after what amounts to a year and a half out of school,” Mr. Young said. “I am concerned about reading proficiency because literacy is everything,” he said. He fears many of the students will not catch up to their respective grade levels.

“Educators know there is no better predictor for a high schooler’s graduation and success than early grade literacy,” he said. “Later in life, if someone does not have reading proficiency and lives in poverty, their chances to become a statistic in all of the wrong categories increases at a steady rate.”

Mr. Kamras also emphasized the district’s reading crisis, saying, “It is going to impact our students for the rest of their lives if we don’t deal with it.”

Mr. Young’s concerns also extended to teachers, who he said have been denied an opportunity to increase their salary by $10,000 with the year-round calendar being moved to 2022-23. A year-round calendar would have an additional seven weeks of instruction.

“There will not be 100 percent agreement in what the board has selected to do,” said Board Chair Cheryl Burke, 7th District. “Each member is mindful of the needs and concerns of stakeholders in their respective districts.”

But she said the board is “passionate about our decision. This is business. We are keeping the main thing, the main thing as we function together as a team, as a unit.”

Mr. Kamras said by the board laying out the calendar for the next two years, Richmond families are alleviated of stress and can now plan their lives.