Unlike previous school board meetings, this took place in the auditorium of Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.
The first agenda items were to receive proclamations for different themed months and weeks. Richmond joined in having Virginia School Board appreciation month be made in February. School board clerk appreciation week was made to be from February 14 – 18 for this year. School counselors week was also acknowledged.
The student speaker, Brittany Alston, came up to share her thoughts. She is currently a junior at John Marshall High School. She is a member of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council, Partnership for the Future, and the School Health Advisory Board (SHAB). A strong advocate for physical, mental, and emotional health, Brittany recently took over the RPS Instagram page to advocate for self-love in a society that places emphasis on beauty standards.
Brittany stated that she was happy about the budget having increased pay for teachers. She also wished for there being more spaces for students to speak on mental health. She proposed funding to give these spaces for students in all schools. She also asked for personal hygiene kits and meal kits for students facing hardship.
Afterward, Superintendent Kamras received the proclamation for Black History month. He mentioned how “Richmond Public Schools employs thousands of Black teachers, administrators, and support staff who lead, teach, and serve with love, supporting the learning and growth of all 22,000 RPS students, approximately two thirds of whom are Black.”
He then welcomed a RPS student who performed with his violin.School board chair Harris-Muhammed joked that she would have prepared her breakdance if she knew this performance would happen.
Public comments began after this.
Emma is an ESL teacher at Huguenot High School. She was reprimanded for not using curriculum given to her, as she wanted to put together a different curriculum. She is frustrated as she got her Masters degree to learn what is best for her students, it is her job. She ended with a quote from the book “Demoralized.”
Mary is a parent of a student from J.L. Francis elementary school. She said that carpets need to be replaced and other structural issues. She also asked the School Board to consider having meetings closer so travel is not as difficult for people in the southside.
The other comments had to do with the potential of the fine arts specialist being eliminated. Many art teachers came to be on the importance of the arts to life and students. Taking the position away would be a disservice to students and teachers. Student’s are not not just graduation rates and test scores, and yet the arts are continually cut out because those two aspects are prioritized. The arts serve to destress students and teachers to better their mental health. Students can look forward to going to school because of the arts. One teacher began to tear up because she sees how much Superintendent Kamras truly cares for and appreciates the arts.
Then, a public hearing was opened, in which more speakers lined up to speak. Many of the comments urged for more support to the office of engagement department. The Family & Community Engagement department has community hubs in the East End, Southside, the West End, and Northside with family liaisons. One speaker asked for full funding, as the work for family liaisons is not easy. They are the bridge between family and schools.
Some speakers also spoke to support the need for Spanish speakers at schools and other resources to support families. Maria is in a Latino family and shared how difficult it is to be in the United States when not fluent in English. One woman mentioned how at George Wythe high school, no one in the front office speaks Spanish, only one school counselor. That is not enough support for the Spanish-speaking families and students in RPS.