Westover Hills principal criticizes 'dysfunctional' school board in aftermath of deadly shooting

Posted at 6:01 PM, Oct 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-18 18:01:12-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The principal of Westover Hills Elementary School didn't hold back as she went before the Richmond School Board Monday night to decry gun violence that took place at her school and to criticize the leadership of the school board.

Police said a teenager was charged after a Friday shooting outside of Westover Hills Elementary just 45 minutes before dismissal, leaving 26-year-old Imani Hill dead. A man was also injured in the incident when he was struck by a gun.

“Last Friday, one of my worst nightmares came true," said Principal Allison El Koubi. “There was a shooting at my school literally on the front doorstep.”

While El Koubi praised the response from staff and police, she called the experience a "time of tremendous fear and stress" with impacts that will continue to linger throughout the school community.

“An experience like Friday's is traumatic for everyone involved, our staff, our students, our parents/caregivers and their families, and it will be a while before we are emotionally okay," she said. "As a principal, I am still not okay."

El Koubi then charged the school board and her fellow Richmond principals to take action to help prevent gun violence at schools and support trauma support in the aftermath of the tragedy.

"With everything going on at our schools and in our communities at the moment, we need to have all the people in place to effectively support our school. Angela Jones is also amazing but only one person and her team is stretched very thin," El Koubi said.

Angela Jones is the Director of Culture, Climate, and Student Services for RPS. She's in charge of coordinating mental and emotional health resources when school communities experience traumatizing incidents such as gun violence.

Jones gave a presentation to the school board Monday night highlighting crisis responses her team has implemented over the current and past school years.

Since the start of the 2022-2023 school year, RPS has already initiated seven crisis responses to gun violence and youth shootings. Last school year, there were 42 total school-level responses to gun violence.

“The numbers are appalling, and they are astounding, and it is overwhelming," Jones said.

In fact, Jones said as she was assisting a crisis response at Westover Hills Monday morning, she had to immediately shift her attention to another tragedy after learning a child was shot that same morning.

While she said the district has made a "considerable investment" into growing her team, she still needs more help.

"We have fabulous school counselors, incredible psychologists, social workers, behavior specialist students, support specialists, and me," she said. "And it's not enough. It is not enough."

Earlier this year, the school board rejected filling an already-budgeted position in Superintendent Jason Kamras' cabinet for a Chief Wellness Officer who would lead and oversee division-level mental health support as well as other health-related matters like nutrition.

Board Chair Dr. Shonda Harris-Muhammed said the district did not need that executive-level position and instead wanted to focus on reorganizing Jones' department while supporting staff with "boots on the ground" rather than the central office.

However, El Koubi told the board Monday that a CWO is necessary and accused members of working against Kamras.

"What we have here is a dysfunctional board and it appears to be set up to be adversarial which means that it is very hard to get things done. I have heard the rumblings that some of you want to oust our current superintendent, but exactly who do you think would follow him into this position? Students and staff members' very lives and emotional and mental health are at stake if we don’t have super tight systems across operations, academics, mental wellness, transportation, and all the other departments," El Koubi said.

She asked the board to find common ground with the administration.

El Koubi also emailed her public comment in full to all board members and Kamras, prompting a response from Harris-Muhammed.

"Your email comes across as if board members who did not show up at your school yesterday or reached out to you do not care. I cannot speak for any board member, but I am speaking for me. I have spent much of my adult life in service to children and their families. I encourage you to ask sincere questions before sending correspondence that reads as if school board members are being disciplined for not visiting a school because of a tragedy beyond our control. I also encourage you to obtain facts prior to sending such correspondence," Harris-Muhammed wrote to El Koubi Tuesday morning.

Harris-Muhammed added, "As a school division, several unfortunate incidents have resulted in the loss of our students and/or their family members. When this unfortunate incident strikes our school division, the protocol is for Mr. Kamras to lead. That is his job, Mrs. El Koubi."

The chairwoman told El Koubi she would not address her comments "regarding school board members positioning themselves to force Mr. Kamras out of his job" but said it is the board's job to hold Kamras accountable and that "distractions are always present when accountability is forming."

Harris-Muhammed said she was not available for an interview but sent CBS an email response saying she does not believe the school board is dysfunctional.

Superintendent Kamras was not available for an interview and did not want to comment on El Koubi's remarks due to school board policy stating that public comments are not to be responded to individually.



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