Election to reshape Richmond School Board with nine seats up for grabs

George Copeland Jr. | 7/4/2024, 6 p.m.
Richmond’s highest education authority is set for a significant political shift with the upcoming general elections for the Richmond School …

Richmond’s highest education authority is set for a significant political shift with the upcoming general elections for the Richmond School Board in November. Sixteen candidates are seeking the public’s approval for the nine representative district seats of the Richmond Public Schools system, with four candidates running unopposed. The candidates bring a wide array of experiences and perspectives to the table, including educators, parents, business leaders and community activists.

The election comes at a critical time for RPS, as the district faces numerous challenges including the need for full accreditation across all schools, addressing infrastructure concerns and ensuring equitable resources for all students. Here’s a look at the candidates running for each district and the key issues they’re championing in their campaigns:

For the 1st District seat, Matthew Percival is running unopposed to succeed Elizabeth Doerr. The two previously competed for the seat in 2016. Percival is an RPS parent and works in IT. Kathryn Ricard, a former teacher, assistant principal and RPS parent who previously served as president of the William Fox Elementary School PTA, is running to represent the 2nd District. Open, transparent board communication, safe school environments and multiple avenues for success in education are major issues of her campaign. For more information, go to katie4rva.com.

Competing against Ricard for the position is incumbent Mariah White, formerly the leader of the  PTA  and mentor for Carver Elementary. Equitable resources for students and staff, reducing overcrowding and better communication for parents, teachers and stakeholders are among the priorities White previously highlighted as part of her bid for office. For more information, visit voteformariah.com.

With 3rd District Representative Kenya Gibson seeking a seat on the Richmond City Council, the race for the position is made up entirely of newcomers to the School Board.

These include Ali Faruk, an RPS parent, senior policy analyst at the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services and former public policy director at Families Forward Virginia. His platform centers on three key principles: community engagement, transparent governance and accountable leadership. For more information, go to alifarukrva.com.

Faruk is competing against Kevin Starlings, a business owner, RPS parent and chair of the Richmond School Health Advisory Board who previously ran for the seat in 2017 and lost to Gibson. His platform mentions preparing students for college and work, infrastructure and mental health as some of his priorities. For more information, go to kevinstarlings.com.

RPS parent Charlene Riley is also running for the 3rd District seat, with a focus on safety, accountability and transparency as part of her platform. For more information, go to www.instagram.com/charlenerileyforschoolboard.

The 4th District seat was also vacated after the previous representative, Jonathan Young, resigned from his post in April following an investigation of inappropriate conduct toward a student. He was cleared of any policy violations.

In Young’s place, CEO of Sawyer HR Consulting Garrett Sawyer was appointed by the School Board to serve on an interim basis, leading him to drop his candidacies for Richmond mayor and City Council. He has made campaign commitments of full accreditation for all schools, resources for teachers, administrators and staff, school infrastructure and enhancing School Board operations. For more information, go to garrettsawyerforrichmond.com.

Henrico County teacher Wesley Hedgepeth is also seeking the 4th District seat, bringing experience inside the classroom and beyond, with roles on the Virginia and National Council for the Social Studies. Among his priorities are school support, inclusivity, fully accredited schools and making RPS more accessible to families. For more information, visit wes4rva.com.

Angela Fontaine is the third candidate for the 4th District, a mother of a student at Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts, coach and consultant. She has made increased school funding, collaboration between parents, students and teachers, teacher support and transparency and accountability pillars of her campaign. For more information, go to fontaine4thefourth.com.

Former School Board Chair and incumbent Stephanie Rizzi will seek to retain her seat in the 5th District. She is leaning on her decades of work and accomplishments in education, including instruction at her alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University, and her work on the School Board. The latter has been marred by recent criticism of her conduct by other board members, leading to her resignation from the chair position. For more information, visit facebook.com/StephanieRizzi5thDistrict.

Challenging Rizzi for the seat is former School Board member and teacher Mamie Taylor, who helped develop policies for teacher salary, school equity and tests for kindergarten entry during her previous tenure from 2013 to 2016. For more information, go to twitter.com/mamietforthe5th.

Shonda Harris-Muhammed will run unopposed as the incumbent representative for the 6th District. She has previously served as board chair, and put her support behind educational equity, school rezoning and improving early childhood education. For more information, visit vote4shonda.weebly.com.

Cheryl Burke will also run as the unopposed incumbent for the 7th District seat. She is a multigenerational educator and former principal of Chimborazo Elementary School with nearly 40 years of service with RPS. For more information, go to instagram.com/cherylburkerva.

The 8th District School Board seat is up for grabs, as current Representative and interim Chair Dawn Page has decided not to seek reelection. This has created an opening for two newcomers to vie for the position.

Emmett Jay Jafari is running to represent the 8th District, following previous attempted runs for the seat and the position of Richmond Circuit Court clerk. He is the owner of African American Tours of Richmond and has promised improvements in education and treatment of students while promoting his campaign on social media. For more information, go to facebook.com/EJJafari

PH Cruz Sherman is also seeking the 8th District seat. He is CEO and founder at Cruz Inc. Media and Cruz Inc. Radio. His campaign platform emphasizes creating safe learning environments and improving the overall quality of schools in the district. For more information, go to facebook.com/Cruz0074.

Shavonda Dixon is running unopposed for the 9th District seat, after being unanimously appointed to fill the vacancy left by Nicole Jones when she was elected to City Council. An entrepreneur who founded and runs the Jesus Groupie Clothing company, Dixon is also a motivational speaker, mentor and preacher. For more information, visit shavondadixon.com/home.