Allison El Koubi, principal of Westover Hills Elementary School in Richmond, greeted a student Sept. 3 as students across the Richmond region returned to class. Westover Hills received a visit from Jason Kamras, Richmond Public Schools’ superintendent, and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.

A divided Richmond School Board has agreed on specific goals for its five-year turnaround plan.

In a 5-3-1 vote Monday night, the board approved 10 goals for the plan, which was unanimously approved last year. Among them is the commitment to have all 44 city schools meet the state’s full standards of accreditation by the 2022-23 school year, something Superintendent Jason Kamras promised when he first took over in February 2018.

“We want every child to be successful,” said School Board Chairwoman Dawn Page. “We have to have a starting line.”

The school system has a long way to go.

Fewer than half of Richmond’s schools are accredited. Test scores are drastically behind state averages. Last year, Richmond Public Schools had the lowest graduation rate in the state; this year’s graduation information is expected to be released Tuesday.

Each of the turnaround plan’s 10 goals now has a specific data target for each year between the current school year and the 2022-23 school year, when the plan expires.

Take the school division’s current 56% pass rate on the state reading test, for example. The goal for this school year is to increase the pass rate by 2 percentage points, to 58%; by 3 percentage points in the 2020-21 school year; and other small gains until the school system reaches its 68% pass rate goal in the 2022-23 school year.

“That is a lot in terms of turning the Titanic before it hits the iceberg,” said the School Board’s 9th District representative, Linda Owen, about the incremental targets.

The strategic plan — formally dubbed Dreams4RPS — includes 40 specific action items to turn around the district, including the creation of themed middle and high schools that would focus on such subjects as engineering and social justice. The plan is projected to cost $150 million in total, with costs escalating annually.

School Board member Scott Barlow, who represents the 2nd District, abstained from the vote. Barlow pushed for a delay on the vote until the board’s Oct. 21 meeting, looking for more consensus among board members.

“What I don’t want to do is shortchange [the work done by the RPS administration in creating the goals] by passing something that we don’t have a consensus with,” he said before the vote.

Voting against the goals were Kenya Gibson of the 3rd District, Patrick Sapini of the 5th District and Felicia Cosby of the 6th District.

The three board members — the vocal minority of the body — raised issue with the specific goals, saying they don’t go far enough, as well as the lack of incorporation of board feedback into the goals, among other things.

“I think we should have higher expectations of ourselves,” Cosby said.

Said Gibson: “I hope there will be some adjustments made so we can really see how we’re doing.”

Those goals now have specific benchmarks. The RPS administration is planning to make an online tracker for each goal.


(804) 649-6012

Twitter: @jmattingly306

Politics/Education Reporter

Justin Mattingly covers state government and 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.

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