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Upbeat superintendent offers plan to improve Richmond schools

Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras delivered an optimistic message in his first State of the Schools address — even though the district has the worst graduation rate in Virginia and more than half of its schools lack accreditation.

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By Evie King

Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras delivered an optimistic message in his first State of the Schools address — even though the district has the worst graduation rate in Virginia and more than half of its schools lack accreditation.

“I wasn’t sure where to begin tonight because it’s been such a quiet year at RPS,” Kamras said Tuesday, laughing as a picture of a nearly two-foot-tall stack of newspapers showed on the stage’s screen. “How many times did we grace the front page? Well … there you go,” Kamras told more than 200 people in the auditorium of Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.

Jokes aside, Kamras celebrated the steps RPS has taken in the last year to improve several issues plaguing the district. These efforts included renovating bathrooms in deteriorating buildings, working to correct student transcripts, improving chronic student absenteeism (down 2 percent from last school year), engaging in advocacy measures and increasing teachers’ salaries by 2 percent.

“Perhaps most powerful of all, we renamed J.E.B. Stuart Elementary to Barack Obama Elementary,” Kamras said. “School names are just symbols, but symbols matter, especially when it comes to Richmond’s history, and present, on race.”

Despite the progress made, Kamras said the district still has work to do. Fewer than half of RPS schools are accredited, and Kamras said the city’s graduation rate is the lowest in Virginia.

“There is absolutely nothing broken about our students … We [the adults] are on the hook for those statistics, not them,” Kamras said.

Dreams 4 RPS is the five-year strategic plan born from 170 community meetings and input from over 3,000 participants. “This isn’t my plan. It’s not the board’s plan … It’s our plan because it reflects the hopes and dreams of everyone in the RPS family,” Kamras said.

Dreams 4 RPS  features five priority areas: teaching and learning, staff, school culture, family and community, and infrastructure. Each priority is divided into action steps, 40 total,  that outline specific goals like hiring more male teachers of color and introducing hands-on and engaging curriculum.

“We can’t expect greatness from our students if we don’t ask greatness of them, and we’re going to raise the bar and ask greatness of our students a whole lot more in the coming years,” Kamras said.

The plan also explains the need for increased trauma-informed care. Kamras said 20 RPS students were shot and six were killed in the past 12 months. “Most teachers were never trained to help young people deal with those kinds of tragedies,” Kamras said. He said providing that kind of training is necessary for both student and staff support.

The fully implemented plan will cost $150 million over the next five years, which covers training programs, building improvements, school resources, salaries and more. Kamras said though RPS can and should act more wisely with finances, “We must continue to advocate for more.”

In December, RPS organized the March for More, and last month, the district participated in another march called Red for Ed. Kamras said continued pressure on the General Assembly is necessary to increase school funding.

With a strategic plan in place and problems to solve, Kamras is upbeat as he looks to the future.

“If I were to sum up the state of our schools in one word, I would say we are ‘rising,’” he said.  “We are rising together, and nothing can stop us.”

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Community

Train Derailment Near Hollywood Cemetery Again

This derailment occurred Friday afternoon. A train also derailed in the same vicinity on June 9th.

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All photos courtesy of RFD Twitter.

Posted by RFD Twitter on July 23rd

At approximately 1:26 p.m., crews responded to an area down the North Bank Trail near Hollywood Cemetery for the report of a train derailment. Once on scene, they found multiple freight cars that had been tipped over. The cars were carrying coal.
Some of the load spilled onto the track and ground in the area, but there was no coal in the water. No injuries reported. The incident was marked under control at 1:59 p.m. and turned over to CSX.

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Community

Suspect Sought in West Clay Street Burglary

At approximately 4:57 p.m. on Thursday, June 24, the man in the photos climbed a wall in the rear of a house, located in the 00 block of West Clay Street, broke into the residence and stole a computer and credit cards.

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Richmond Police detectives are asking for the public’s help to identify the individual in the attached photos who is a suspect in a residential burglary that occurred in the Jackson Ward neighborhood last month.

At approximately 4:57 p.m. on Thursday, June 24, the man in the photos climbed a wall in the rear of a house, located in the 00 block of West Clay Street, broke into the residence and stole a computer and credit cards. A photo of his distinctive pink and black sneakers is also attached.

 

Anyone with information about the identity of this person is asked to call Fourth Precinct Detective J. Land at (804) 646-3103 or contact Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000. The P3 Tips Crime Stoppers app for smartphones may also be used. All Crime Stoppers methods are anonymous.

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Downtown

Virginia attorney general announces plan to hire state’s first cannabis lawyer

“I’m hiring a dedicated attorney to help guide the commonwealth’s efforts because I am committed to getting this right, and to making sure that we keep Virginia at the forefront of national efforts to craft a more just, fair and sensible system for dealing with cannabis,” Herring said in a statement.

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Attorney General Mark Herring says he plans to hire a lawyer dedicated to marijuana law now that the state has legalized the drug.

The new addition to his staff would serve as a subject-matter expert as the state’s new Cannabis Control Authority, which Gov. Ralph Northam appointed Monday, begins work developing regulations that will govern the legal marijuana market expected to open in 2024.

“I’m hiring a dedicated attorney to help guide the commonwealth’s efforts because I am committed to getting this right, and to making sure that we keep Virginia at the forefront of national efforts to craft a more just, fair and sensible system for dealing with cannabis,” Herring said in a statement.

The announcement comes as Herring, a Democrat who was among the party’s earliest and loudest supporters of marijuana legalization, seeks reelection to his third term in office. He faces Republican Del. Jason Miyares, who voted against legislation that legalized marijuana possession.

Herring’s office said the new hire will provide advice on the new law to state agencies that deal with everything from taxation to healthcare.

Advocates, who have occasionally voiced frustration with the state’s Board of Pharmacy as it developed rules for the state’s medical marijuana program, said they hoped the additional legal expertise will make things smoother for the recreational marijuana market.

“It’s critical that the commonwealth have counsel available to state agencies who is well-versed in both state and federal cannabis policies,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, the state chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws.

Herring’s office says they’re looking for a lawyer with experience in business law, state and federal litigation, and “a strong knowledge of state and federal regulation of controlled substances.”

Under the legalization bill lawmakers passed earlier this year, employers can still refuse to hire or fire employees who use marijuana. A spokeswoman said the Office of the Attorney General does not conduct drug testing as a condition of employment.

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Robert Zullo for questions: [email protected] Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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