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4 More Years: Richmond Schools Renew Superintendent’s Contract

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FILE PHOTO: Jason Kamras at an event in 2019, before the pandemic. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

During a special meeting Monday, the Richmond school board voted to extend Superintendent Jason Kamras’s contract for the state maximum of four years. The extension passed on a 6 to 3 vote after a closed session of the board.

Kamras’s new term will begin on July 1 of this year and is set to expire in the summer of 2025. After the vote, he reaffirmed his commitment to follow through with his “Dreams 4 RPS” strategic plan, following calls for accountability from several board members.

“We have an enormous amount of work to do,” Kamras told board members. “I’m not going to lie: it’s not going to be easy. But I’m certain there’s nothing we can’t achieve if we all work together, and I am eager to do exactly that.”

Board members Mariah White, Kenya Gibson and Stephanie Rizzi voted “no” to the four-year contract renewal, while the other six members approved. Before the vote, White expressed disappointment in how the superintendent’s strategic plan for RPS has been rolled out.

“I have seen all the evaluations,” she said. “No data to match the metrics. I don’t evaluate anyone on their personal feelings, or your personal feelings. I will evaluate you on your job performance. I need to see things done.”

Rizzi said the Kamras administration has not successfully addressed critical matters of equity, despite the superintendent’s inclusive rhetoric on social issues. She noted the underrepresentation of non-white students at specialty schools and questioned the district’s record of student arrests.

“Why do some of my friends and other employees of RPS report being pushed out or being forced to work in hostile environments?” she asked. “Why were there 121 arrests in our schools last year, many at the middle school level, all at schools with vastly majority-minority populations?” 

The overall message from board members was a desire for increased accountability. Board member Shonda Harris-Muhammed, who voted “yes,” urged for increased focus on teacher retention and training during Kamras’s next term.

“It is necessary and important that our students and entire division receive consistency… That consistency cannot be consumed with political popularity, but with wisdom and humility,” she said.

Other members who voted yes, such as Doer, Burke and Young, had nothing but good things to say of the superintendent. Young praised Kamras’s “bold and transformative” ideas, pointing to his year-round calendar proposal as one example, and Burke said the contract extension signifies a step forward for the school district.

The terms of the new contract are not yet clear. In his last contract, Kamras earned $250,000 a year. After the board’s vote, he thanked its members and expressed love for Richmond families and school staff.

“Serving as superintendent here has been the greatest honor of my life, and I am overjoyed that I'll have the opportunity to continue serving for the next 4 years,” Kamras said.

The vote comes after weeks of contention between people that wanted Kamras’s contract extended for four years and those who wanted a shorter extension. Based on social media posts, public comments during school board meetings and interviews held by VPM, a large majority of RPS stakeholders seem to support a four-year renewal.

Parents, teachers and staff who support Kamras say they want consistent and stable leadership at RPS. The superintendent has also been praised for his support of several social justice initiatives, such as making RPS more welcoming of LGBTQ students and endorsing the removal of armed police from schools.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney endorsed a four-year contract renewal for the superintendent in a Jan. 27 letter to the school board: “A four-year renewal promises stability, especially in these more volatile times.”

Several Richmond residents also formed the #KeepKamras campaign in support of a four-year renewal. The group has organized car rallies and demonstrations in support of the superintendent, and it also started a petition that has received over 1,600 signatures.

Controversy around the contract renewal was first ignited by an article from the Richmond Free Press that suggested the RPS school board was split on whether to renew for two years or four. The Free Press later endorsed a contract extension of no more than two years in an op-ed. 

“RPS has made little progress as measured by the numbers… The people of Richmond need to see results — measurable results. Unfortunately, the data doesn’t yet show the turnaround we all are hoping for,” the article read, while commending Kamras for his handling of the pandemic and other achievements.

The discussion around the superintendent’s contract also raised alarms around a confidentiality clause that was included in Kamras’s previous contract, which barred school board members from discussing the matter with the media and the public. 

In a statement last month, RPS Boardmember Kenya Gibson said fellow members violated this clause by speaking to the Free Press, calling it a “bad faith attempt” to pressure a four-year renewal.


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