20190522_MET_RPS_JM01

Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said the way the data were presented to the School Board “led to, understandably, a lot of anxiety and a lot of concern.”

There will be more than eight students graduating from Armstrong High School on Sunday.

Data presented to the Richmond School Board on May 20 showed that less than half of the school district’s 1,090 seniors were “on track” to graduate, meaning they had met all the state requirements for graduation at that point. According to the data, only eight of the 162 seniors, or 4.9%, from Armstrong had met all the requirements. In fact, more than 100 actually will.

The number of on-track Armstrong students (8) was widely shared on social media and criticized for not painting a clearer picture of what exactly that meant.

Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras apologized Thursday for how the data were presented to the School Board.

“It led to, understandably, a lot of anxiety and a lot of concern,” Kamras said.

It was also criticized Thursday during a town hall meeting called by the Richmond chapter of the NAACP at Mount Olivet Church in the city’s East End.

“We believe in our children,” said J.J. Minor, the chapter president. “You all have to do a better job communicating with the public with what’s going on.”

Kamras attended the meeting along with Chief Academic Officer Tracy Epp, who delivered the May 20 presentation, and Chief Engagement Officer Shadae Harris. About 20 community members were in attendance and asked Kamras specifically about the graduation issues.

Combined, 74 percent of seniors from city high schools were either “on track” or “likely” to graduate, meaning they’ve already met the graduation requirements or still need to pass at least one required test in order to graduate. That statistic, though, came after combining two columns in the May 20 presentation that community members said confused them.

“[The numbers] came out a bit garbled,” said former City Council member Marty Jewell, who attended the meeting.

***

While the conversation on the graduation issues has centered on the data, the presentation also revealed that the district’s graduation rate had been inflated through what the current administration called “inappropriate practices.”

Student work was essentially rubber-stamped. Students were given an easier test instead of taking the common state test. Students were put on individualized education programs to circumvent state graduation requirements.

The inflation was revealed as district officials continue to address discoveries in a state audit that found widespread issues in how the school system had administered course credit.

“We’re in the here and now, and the responsibility is on us to get it right,” School Board Chairwoman Dawn Page told town hall attendees. “We can’t continue to make excuses.”

The district’s 75% graduation rate was the lowest in the state last year.

“We have a long way to go,” Kamras said.

The district’s graduation ceremonies start with Armstrong High School at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Altria Theater. The ceremonies run through June 13.

A larger update on the school system’s graduation rate is expected at the board’s June 17 meeting.

***

Earlier this week, the School Board renewed the contract for a for-profit company that runs the city’s alternative school.

Richmond Alternative School has seen academic improvement under the management of Camelot Education, which is based in Texas. It serves students who are pulled out of their schools because they are too disruptive.

The board voted 7-2 to renew the contract. Second District representative Scott Barlow and 3rd District representative Kenya Gibson were the two votes against.

Barlow said he would like to see the school system operate its own alternative school, while Gibson has raised issue with allegations of abuse and bribery against Camelot in other cities.

Under Camelot, the school has seen large academic gains in English, math and science. In 2015-16, the last year the city school district ran the school, 29% of students passed the state English test or made “significant improvement.” That number climbed to 75% last year, according to state data.

The school is on West Leigh Street in Jackson Ward.

jmattingly@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6012

Twitter: @jmattingly306

Education Reporter

Justin Mattingly covers K-12 schools and higher education. A northern New York native and a Syracuse University alumnus, he's worked at the RTD since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmattingly306.

Recommended for you

Commenting is limited to Times-Dispatch subscribers. To sign up, click here.
If you’re already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.