Special/Signature Issues » Top 40 Under 40

Kim Gray, 38


State Employee,
Richmond School Board Member

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How does a single mom with five kids — and two adopted children on the way — find time to serve on the Richmond School Board? “My two oldest just went off to college,” says Kim Gray, breathless from another day of mixing family, work and politics. “My children have always been a tremendous help. I've been fortunate to have supportive kids.”

Gray recently went through adding two more to the family, the offspring of “a relative who has an issue with drugs.” The longtime child advocate got her start volunteering with kids at Virginia Commonwealth University's Head Start — her children went through the program. “I've always volunteered and worked in social services,” she says, “and I've had family members that have struggled with substance abuse. It shapes how you see policy.”

The political rookie decided to step forward to help shape that policy, showing grit in her election win last year over the board's former vice chairwoman, Lisa Dawson. Gray's hardly been a shrinking violet, challenging the school administration on transparency and accountability. It makes no sense, she says, for the school system to preach parental involvement while limiting community access to information about how tax money is spent. “So many people have had a negative experience in our schools that they wash their hands of it,” she says, impatient for change. “We are losing so many children every day, dropping out.”

One sticking point: her job. Gov. Mark Warner appointed Gray to work on educational initiatives; she now works for the state at the Virginia Department of Highways. “Whenever I'm talking,” she says, “I have to make it clear whether I'm wearing my VDOT hat or my School Board hat.”

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