‘We have seen enough’

Crusade for Voters calls for removal of RPS Superintendent Kamras

Darlene M. Johnson | 2/22/2024, 6 p.m.
The Richmond Crusade for Voters (RCV), a historically Black political organization, is calling for the immediate removal of RPS Superintendent ...
Members of the Richmond Crusade for Voters current leadership led various discussions during its Tuesday night meeting at Club 533 in Jackson Ward. From left, Garry Callis Sr., chair of the education committee, Charlotte Sydnor, first vice president, Jonathan Davis, communications chairman, and (standing) Marty Jewell, president. Photo by Bonnie Newman Davis/Richmond Free Press

The Richmond Crusade for Voters (RCV), a historically Black political organization, is calling for the immediate removal of RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras. In a statement released Tuesday, the organization said they have “seen enough” to make this determination.

“The problems, as we see it, begin and end at the top,” RCV stated. “The responsibility of any hired administrator is to produce positive results based on proven methods, staff consensus, setting realistic goals and objectives, and to do so in the most cohesive manner possible while holding everyone accountable, even themselves.”

Mr. Kamras

Mr. Kamras

This has not been the case, however, as RCV cited many instances of Superintendent Kamras’ top goals for 2018-2023 remaining unmet.

A goal of Superintendent Kamras was to increase proficiency and advanced rates in writing, reading, science, math and social studies. This was not achieved, especially among Black students, RCV stated. Another goal was to decrease gaps in proficiency and advanced rates by race, economic status, English language learner (ELL) status and individualized education program (IEP) status. That goal also was unsuccessful, RCV asserted.

“RPS creates deficiencies by neglecting needed interventions and supports at the middle and high school levels for reading, writing, math, science and (career and technical education) preparedness,” an RCV press release stated.

In a School Board meeting Tuesday, the board was presented data on high school winter SOL test scores for RPS students.

Between the winter of the 2022-23 school year and winter of the 2023-24 school year, there have been slight improvements of 8% in history and 5% in science. Students maintained a 60% proficiency in math but showed a decrease of 4% in reading proficiency.

Proficiency in Richmond schools usually increases over the spring due to extra support given to students to improve test scores after less-than-satisfactory results, according to the presentation.

The maintained math proficiency was deemed a “positive outcome” by John Grove, manager of data analytics for RPS. This is because more middle schoolers are taking Algebra I and are able to take more advanced math classes in high school. Despite this increase, there has not been an increase in high schoolers taking Algebra II, which could indicate students failing Algebra I, according to RCV.

Increasing student, family and staff satisfaction is another failed goal cited in RCV’s statement. RPS has faced complaints of mold in school buildings, as well as a lack of transparency and multiple shootings. The latter two points are evident in the June 2023 shooting at Huguenot High School’s graduation and issues surrounding the investigation into the shooting.

Garry Callis, RCV’s second vice president who also chairs its education committee, said the organization had spoken with “at least 100 people from different avenues,” including principals, community college officials, teaching training instructors, School Board members, parents and alumni.

“In some cases there were formal interviews,” he said in a Free Press interview on Tuesday. “We made appointments and sat with people.”

Those conversations further convinced RCV to call for Mr. Kamras’ termination.

Kenya Gibson, 3rd District representative, said that she supports RCV and the Richmond Branch NAACP, which pressed for a shorter, two-year extension of Superintendent Kamras’ contract in 2021.

“Three years later, we’ve seen an accelerated breakdown in the district,” Ms. Gibson stated in an email. “Missteps have led to growing staff turnover, fires, substandard lunches and a deadly shooting.”

Every student suffers when a school district is “dysfunctional,” Ms. Gibson stated, adding that working class Black and Latino students are most impacted.

“It’s truly unfortunate, but I don’t have confidence that our administration is equipped to bring a culture shift where workers are empowered to identify and address the problems at hand,” Ms. Gibson stated.

While Jonathan Young, 4th District representative, agreed that “RPS is failing” and noted his differences with Mr. Kamras, he continues to support the superintendent.

Mr. Young stated this is due to his shared “unwavering commitment to big, bold, transformative ideas like extending the school day, year-round school, devolving decision making to our principals and teachers,” among other things.

Stephanie Rizzi, board chair and 5th District representative, shared similar sentiments to Mr. Young’s. Ms. Rizzi expressed that now is not the right time to discuss Superintendent Kamras’ removal and it would not be in the best interest for students or the district. She added that the RCV’s statement “shared by literally three members of a much larger organization should not impact our decision making.”

Ms. Rizzi

Ms. Rizzi

Ms. Rizzi acknowledged that while more work is needed for “growth and change,” there are conditions outside of RPS’ control that disproportionately affect students’ well-being and success.

This includes increased housing and food insecurity, inflation and unaddressed generational trauma, she stated.

Leadership concerns are valid, but it should not be ignored that thousands of RPS employees give their all to address students’ needs everyday, Ms. Rizzi added.

“Perhaps the original strategic plan did not take all of this into account and did not do enough to acknowledge that addressing the inequities our students face necessitates an all hands on deck effort and that assigning blame without recognizing the complexities of our challenges is not a constructive approach,” Ms. Rizzi stated.

Ms. Rizzi plans to meet with RCV to ask for its continued help and support.