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POWER: Education

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Jason Kamras, superintendent of Richmond Public Schools

The superintendent of the Richmond Public Schools since Feb. 1, Kamras is paid $250,000 a year and is in charge of the 12th-largest school district in the state and one of the worst performing. The new guy in town sees education as a civil rights issue and he promptly fired all of the district's executive-cabinet members and promised that all schools in the district would be accredited by 2023. 

He inherits a failing school division in need of teachers, improved academic performance and repair of crumbling school facilities. Unlike past superintendents who eschew mixing it up in political frays, Kamras is upfront about the politics of his position and promises to "fight like hell." 

He oversees an operating budget of $301 million next year and until recently it looked like the division would have barely $1.6 million to spend on maintenance and repairs, $7.8 million less than last year.  But Kamras is resourceful and innovative.  Instead of pointing fingers, he launched a bathroom blitz that inspired School Board members to mow lawns, paint and directly worked with community members to do what they could with what they had to at least begin fixing crumbling and decrepit schools.  

The former middle school math teacher and administrative veteran of the Washington public schools asked City Council and the School Board to examine the accounts to see if any additional money could be found within the bowels of City Hall.  Earlier this month, the city and schools found $22.3 million in their capital accounts.   

Striking blows for accountability, Kamras deserves credit for doing what the past three superintendents wouldn't do when he asked the Virginia Department of Education to investigate allegations that Carver Elementary School was cheating on the Standards of Learning test.  When the report confirmed cheating, he didn't blink.  He recommended that the School Board fire those responsible and yank their licenses. He accepted their resignations and asked state officials to suspend their licenses. He has rolled out a strategic plan that is the product of 170 community meetings, launched an attendance initiative and worked with community members to change the name of J.E.B. Stuart Elementary School to Barack Obama Elementary — earning national media coverage.


SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

 

Paul Goldman, political consultant and civil rights activist

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney should have known better than to play political chess with a grandmaster like Paul Goldman. Stoney wasn't even in kindergarten when Goldman helped get L. Douglas Wilder elected lieutenant governor, thus making him the first African-American elected to statewide office in the Old Dominion. 

Stoney not only rebuffed Goldman's quest to find money for the city's crumbling schools, he repeatedly told people that there was no way Goldman could get the 13,097 necessary signatures to place a referendum on the ballot. Goldman got 16,000.  Then Stoney said there was no way the referendum would pass. Wrong, again. It passed with an overwhelming 85 percent of the vote.  

By now, it should be clear that the more Stoney mocks Goldman, the harder Goldman fights. When Goldman couldn't get any satisfaction at City Hall, he took the fight across the street to the General Assembly where he won unanimous support for directing the mayor to present a plan to modernize and repair the city's schools or else say it can't be done without raising new taxes. He didn›t stop there.  Goldman has the support of Gov. Ralph Northam and both of Virginia›s U.S. senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.

And now, State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, who is chairman of the Senate Local Government Committee, has joined the fight. As someone who wields a gavel, he decided to use that authority to create a subcommittee to look anew at the problem of Virginia's aging school buildings. Not just look, either. "We've had enough time to study the problem," he says. "It's time to find a solution." 

Stay tuned.


 

Leah Walker, community and minority affairs liaison at the Education Department

Walker manages special initiatives on behalf of the state superintendent of public instruction and is responsible for developing and carrying out community-engagement strategies that support public education in Virginia.  

She also coordinates outreach initiatives for the Virginia Department of Education and cultivates partnerships with community organizations and stakeholder groups to promote student success. And she represents the state superintendent of public instruction at meetings, conferences and designated events.  

She responds to education-related constituent inquiries — no easy task.


James F. Lane, superintendent of Public Instruction

No one was surprised when Gov. Ralph Northam appointed James F. Lane to serve as Virginia's 25th superintendent of public instruction effective June 1.  Prior to his appointment as the commonwealth's chief school officer, Lane served as a division superintendent in Chesterfield, Goochland and Middlesex counties. He was recognized as the 2017 Virginia superintendent of the year for his leadership in Goochland. 

Lane was one of 100 superintendents in the nation selected to attend the 2014 ConnectEd Superintendents Summit at the White House in recognition of his leadership in the use of instructional technology. He has overseen several changes within the school system, including an overhaul of when the school day starts, the move to year-round classes for Bellwood Elementary, a resolution to the system's beleaguered supplemental retirement plan and the establishment of a committee to address issues of inequality. 

Education leaders hope the new standards passed late last year will chip away at this inequity, and these new standards took center stage during a portion of the two-day Education Equity Summer Institute in Richmond recently focused on equity and achievement gaps that drew Gov. Ralph Northam, Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, educators, school administrators and policymakers.


Keri Treadway - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Keri Treadway

 

Support Richmond Schools Group (Parents, teachers and reform education advocates)

To be sure, Richmond has been blessed by many different groups of concerned residents pushing for public education reform in the city.  Support Richmond Schools is noteworthy in that it has harnessed the power of Facebook and 4,183 friends and packed City Hall with a sea of red shirts on several occasions to trumpet its messages and unite in support of the city's students and teachers.  

Keri Treadway, a teacher at Fox Elementary School and an active member of the group, says "We are proud to stand with organizations that have been doing this work for years, like Richmond Education Association, as well as newer advocacy organizations: Teachers for Social Justice, Rise for Youth and the RTR Alumni Network." She also noted that the group is determined to grow its coalition and bring the fight for equity and accountability to the General Assembly with Virginia Educators United, adding that we "all believe that education is not a cost, but an investment; children are not a burden, they are the future — and that future is worth fighting for."


SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

 

Rebecca and Chris Dovi, founders of CodeVA

In 2013, the year before CodeVA began, just 1,655 students statewide took the AP computer science Java class. Of those, about 300 were girls — just 16 were African-American girls. This couple decided to do something to fix that.  Since the summer of 2014, CodeVA has trained nearly 400 teachers statewide, according to the organization. 

CodeVA is the only teacher training program of its kind in the state, and until this year was the only such organization in the nation. The Dovis remain dedicated to providing free training and support to public school teachers, advocating for computer science curriculum and courses in their schools, and providing first-hand opportunities to underserved Richmond area students through after-school and summer opportunities. 

CodeVA already has changed the face of public education by making policymakers — from Govs. Terry McAuliffe and Ralph Northam to school districts and classrooms — take note of the critical importance of computer science literacy. 

Thanks to their efforts, almost 200 are middle and high school teachers who are teaching full curricula or integrating computer science into a math or science class. Twenty-five percent of the state's districts have at least one middle or high school teacher trained through CodeVA, and 35 percent have a teacher at some grade level who has trained through the organization.  It is designed to address a surprising statistic: Of the roughly 370,000 high school students in Virginia, only about 2,000 took the AP computer science A exam in 2014, according to the College Board.

Simply put, the Dovis have worked with state policymakers to redefine Virginia as a leader in computer science education. Chris has co-written various laws about computer science education innovation, including 2016 legislation that made Virginia the first state in the country to mandate computer science as a core, integrated subject for all children from kindergarten to 12th grade. 

A master teacher with more than 15 years of classroom experience and a decade of experience doing professional development and curriculum development at the state and national level, Rebecca Dovi serves on the Education Advisory Council for Code.org, and is a Google fellow trailblazer. In 2013, she was selected by Amplify Education to become the first teacher to deliver a Massively Open On Line class. In 2010, she was selected for the development team creating the new computer science principles course for the College Board, and was one of the first four who taught it. She also was a recipient of the Aspirations in Computing Award from the National Council of Women in Information Technology, and is a frequent presenter at state and national conferences on computer science and on women in technology.


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Delegate Jeffrey M. Bourne D-71, and State Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-10

Both are fathers of African-American children, both are lawyers and they served together on the Richmond School Board. Their combined power in the General Assembly and willingness to reach across the aisle and set aside party affiliations has helped bring about legislation that directly benefits public schools in Richmond and across the state.  

Some of their legislative efforts on behalf of children and teachers include the Virginia preschool initiative program and reforms to student discipline, standards of learning and higher education.

 

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