RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Confusion reigned at the Richmond School Board meeting Tuesday night during an emergency meeting to discuss the results of last year’s SOL testing, which indicated continued learning loss even as other localities recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic.

School board members clashed with Superintendent Jason Kamras and each other, with some proposing sweeping curriculum changes even as others said they had not yet had a chance to look at the data.

The Public Speaks

During public comment at the start of the meeting, parents and community members spoke out largely in favor of Kamras, who has also received support from Mayor Levar Stoney, with many calling on the board not to fire him.

“If we’re thinking about firing the superintendent,” one man said. “Then all of you should resign.”

“We are not in support of the elimination of Mr. Kamras’ role,” said Katina Harris, representing the Richmond Teachers Union.

Others raised concerns that if Kamras is ousted, any new superintendent will have to be approved by the Youngkin administration.

“He is going to come and poke his nose into our curriculum,” said Emily Kavanaugh.

“I am calling on our elected school board tonight to please resign because you have shown yourself to be failures to our children,” she added.

Other commenters focused on questions over Richmond Public Schools’ curriculum, which underwent an ambitious overhaul over the past three years.

“The RPS should develop a teacher-led curriculum,” said Steven Strauss.

“I am not surprised by our SOL scores, said Rebecca Field, a teacher at John Marshall High School, where the meeting was held. “The decisions made by our central administration made our jobs very difficult last year.”

Measuring Success

Superintendent Kamras started by presenting his interpretation of the SOL results, focusing on reasons for optimism in the face of declining scores.

One focus was pass rates among certain subsets of RPS students. Kamras emphasized that economically disadvantaged, Black and Hispanic students saw smaller declines in some categories than the state average compared to pre-pandemic scores.

“Put another way,” the presentation read. “If the Commonwealth had the same demographics as RPS, we would have outperformed the entire state in math.”

He also emphasized improvements over scores on an SOL baseline test taken in the Fall, which showed strong recovery over the course of the year.

“When comparing performance on the fall 2021 Virginia Growth Assessment (essentially an SOL baseline test issued by the VDOE) to our spring 2022 SOLs, we see tremendous growth in reading (+12 points) and math (+27 points).”

He added that the VGA was not offered for other subjects.

But several school board members expressed confusion over why the emergency meeting was being held in the first place.

“Yes, we do need to talk about this, yes this is a matter of urgency,” said 7th district member Cheryl Burke. “But my question is, what is the expected outcome this evening?”

“This does nothing to build trust in our board,” said 1st district member Elizabeth Doerr. “I’m disappointed that we’re even having a meeting about standardized test results.”

Indecision Time

Some board members complained that they had been left out of the loop on proposals others were bringing forward at the meeting, which they said led them to be effectively blindsided.

But 3rd district member Kenya Gibson nevertheless presented a resolution — which was not on the agenda for the meeting — calling for the division to “implement new, internally-designed curricula” specific to the needs of the school division by the end of the 2022-2023 school year instead of “off-the-shelf” curriculum currently in use.

“I know there are plenty of folks who would like to see things stay the same but I am not among them,” she said.

Kamras spoke out against the proposal, calling the move a “tectonic shift” that no one had had time to properly consider.

“I have grave concerns about the motion that was put forward tonight,” he said. “Because it was not on the agenda. The public, and certainly our teachers and principals and others, did not have a chance to speak about the topic.”

He also spoke in defense of the curriculum currently in use, which he said was the best fit for a school division wracked by inequalities.

“It is a well-documented fact that putting rigorous material in front of children is the best way to close achievement gaps,” he said.

Ultimately, the board took no action, because a motion to call the question and hold a vote failed in a 5-4 result. Board members Young, Rizzi, Harris-Muhammed and Gibson voted to advance the proposal, while board members Doerr, Page, Jones, White and Burke voted against it.