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The Superintendent For Richmond Public Schools Has A Plan For His Students


School districts in the U.S. are juggling a lot right now. They're trying to figure out how and when to safely reopen, how to spend COVID relief funds that are on the way. And they're looking for new ways to fill the learning gaps worsened by the pandemic. In Virginia. Jason Kamras, the superintendent of Richmond Public Schools, has a plan. It could help about 20% of the district's most at-need students.

JASON KAMRAS: We feel like we have to start somewhere.

DETROW: If approved, it would bring big changes to the next two academic calendar years.

KAMRAS: We have put forward a version of a year-round calendar which really has at its core the idea of equity. And when you boil down equity, it's about giving the kids who need the most the most. And we would have them in very small groups with our teachers to provide intensive support, enrichment and advancement.

DETROW: You know, prepandemic, I feel like I would make a joke here about how the idea of summer school is pretty unpopular.

KAMRAS: (Laughter).

DETROW: But I wonder if students are eager for something like this after the past year. What has the feedback been like?

KAMRAS: The feedback, actually, has been fairly positive. Obviously, you know, not every student is excited about more weeks of school.


KAMRAS: But I have a high school student advisory council. And I was really happily surprised. They were very supportive of this, in part because they do want to be back. They want to see their friends. They want to have an opportunity to socialize, to be face-to-face with teachers. So I've actually seen a good amount of support. Families have been more supportive than I initially thought with something as big of a change like this and teachers, as well, because when you work those extra days, they wouldn't be required. So if you volunteered to work, of course, we would pay you. And our teachers could earn an additional $10,000 per year by working these additional weeks.

DETROW: There is a lot of federal money on its way now to school districts through this latest COVID-19 relief bill. Has your district decided on how to spend it yet?

KAMRAS: Yes. So we just finished up our spend plan for the last round of stimulus. And a lot of it is going to facility upgrades and technology support but also to something like this calendar that we've proposed, which is expensive. And so we have a once-in-a-generation, if not once-in-a-lifetime, opportunity to do something bold and different like this. And so we're hoping to spend a good chunk of that money on these kinds of extra time for our students. We also have notoriously underfunded facilities here in Richmond. So we're also pouring a lot of that money into HVAC upgrades, bathroom upgrades, things of that nature.

DETROW: I wonder what your conversations are like right now with superintendents around Virginia around the country. There are so many huge problems you're trying to figure out - how to get everyone back in person safely, how to make up for these gaps that have happened because of the past year. What are you focusing on when you talk to your peers?

KAMRAS: You know, everybody is facing the same challenges. They just play out in different ways, depending on the politics of a particular state or a particular city. And I think everybody is struggling with, how do we do the very best for our students and our teachers, knowing that there are just very strong and very different opinions about how to achieve that right now? I think everybody has the best intentions at heart. I think it's just a matter of trying to bridge these very strong feelings.

DETROW: Jason Kamras, the superintendent of the Richmond School District, thank you so much.

KAMRAS: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.