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Richmond School Board member concerned about more RPS resignations

Posted at 6:04 PM, May 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-03 04:45:38-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Parents and school leaders continue to express concern about perceived political turmoil within Richmond Public Schools after Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said his team was "stretched to a breaking point."
Amanda James, who has one child at Westover Hills Elementary and another at Mary Munford Elementary, said she was worried about the state of her school district.

"I’m a little bit confused," she said. “It shouldn’t be us versus them."

James said she believed five members on the Richmond School Board including Stephanie Rizzi, Jonathan Young, Kenya Gibson, Mariah White, and Dr. Shonda Harris-Muhammed consistently oppose Kamras' recommendations on several key issues that impact students and staff.

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She said she was frustrated by their votes against proposals from the administration on River City Middle rezoning, multiple plans involving George Wythe High construction, and the hiring of a Chief Wellness Officer.

“I’m concerned with the adversarial relationship that we're seeing," James said. "Because I don't know how you're supposed to compromise and come to any solutions when one side is just saying no."

Richmond Schools parent Scott Garnett applauded the school board majority for holding Kamras accountable.

“Every time there’s a battle, it becomes political," he said. “There are checks and balances here. You can’t just have somebody doing something unchecked.”

Garnett, who has one child at Open High School and another that he pulled from Richmond Schools, pointed to several operational missteps about which he wanted answers.

He cited faulty fire alarm panels across the district. The CBS 6 Problem Solvers have reported extensively on alarm panels that did not include correct phone numbers and were too old to be reprogrammed.

“You look at the fire alarms. We've known about the problems with the fire panels for months, and yet we didn't address them. Now three blocks from here, we have a burnt-down elementary school," Garnett said.

Kamras said his team was "stretched to a breaking point."

In an email sent to the board, first reported and obtained by the CBS 6 Problem Solvers, Kamras announced the resignation of his Chief Operating Officer Alana Gonzalez effective May 20.

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The superintendent said Gonzalez felt she couldn't perform her duties due to a "political climate in which she felt harassed, undermined, and demeaned."

He added her absence will lead to operational delays.

This comes as construction plans for building a new George Wythe High and renovating Fox are underway. A COO would manage construction projects.

At a Monday teacher appreciation event at Armstrong High School, in which the press was invited, Kamras told the CBS 6 Problem Solvers he didn't have time to answer questions.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D - Virginia) spoke to reporters.

At the same event, 7th District School Board Representative Cheryl Burke spoke with the CBS 6 Problem Solvers to share the same concerns as the superintendent.

“We will be delayed," Burke said.

She added Richmond Schools would feel the impact of losing its COO beyond construction projects.

"The COO does more than the construction piece. That's your finances. That's your food services. That's the maintenance on the buildings. The list goes on and on and on," Burke said. "It's going to take a while to fill that seat."

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7th District School Board Representative Cheryl Burke

Burke was also asked if Kamras would be the next to resign amid a tense political climate within Richmond Schools.

"Don't say that," Burke responded. "But I am concerned. We need the support, the relationship piece in place in terms of addressing each other respectfully, holding people accountable for their jobs, but also being respectable about it. So yes, I am concerned."

She agreed with Kamras that Richmond Schools has reached a breaking point.

"Yeah we are," she said. "It’s inevitable. It's been coming."

Meanwhile, School Board Chair, Dr. Shonda Harris-Muhammed, said all projects including Wythe and Fox will proceed without delays and said she is confident in the facilities team to manage construction moving forward.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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