In an effort to help voters prepare for the Nov. 7 elections, Atlanta Loop sent questions to candidates running for Atlanta City Council, Atlanta Mayor and Atlanta School Board. Early voting begins Oct. 16. To see district maps, click here.
1) Why are you running for Atlanta School Board?
I am running for the school board because I am a parent of children in Atlanta Public Schools and I am invested in the best interests of Atlanta. As a physician, I engage people of diverse socioeconomic, cultural, and education backgrounds each day. In that capacity, I work with the effects of education differences and limited resources each day. Examination rooms become classrooms as I help people make informed life choices. In those moments, I witness first-hand that differences in education attainment limit the opportunity for socioeconomic advancement that is part of the promise of our nation. These differences also have larger effects related to inequalities of health status that become public health issues, which are burdens we collectively bear. Low education attainment is associated with greater levels of chronic illness resulting in increased health spending and negative impacts on the size, competitiveness, and productivity of our workforce. Simply, a society with poor education attainment gets less for more.
I recognize the role of quality education in addressing social problems on local and national levels. Addressing social problems begins with our children. Quality education for our children is an investment in the well being of our city for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, in 2016 Atlanta Public Schools received a grade of D from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) that is not a quality outcome. Our school system received a poor grade despite a budget exceeding $685 million dollars for 50,399 students that equates to $14,242 per student. The average expense per student for the state of Georgia is $8,686. Despite this high-level spending, achievement gaps and differences in educational outcomes per academic performance and graduation rates persisted. The continuation of different educational outcomes indicate the school system is not meeting the education needs of significant numbers of our children as evident with only 41% of APS graduates being college-ready. Poor system outcomes at significant financial expense are not an acceptable trend.
As a parent and proud resident of Atlanta I am invested in our city. If our city thrives then we thrive. If our children thrive then our city thrives. I seek to partner with EACH OF YOU and offer my experience in public health, research, and advocacy to develop effective, evidence-based solutions to current education problems that will be sustainable. Our children and our city are depending on us.
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
I am the only candidate who has experience working with evidence-based methods to identify and approach challenges to preferred outcomes. I have the professional training and qualifications to identify problems and find solutions at the individual and larger population levels. Among the candidates seeking the school board seat for District 3, I have a unique combination of characteristics that include physician, educator, researcher, and public policy advocate.
In addition to these characteristics, I have public health training that includes evaluating and interpreting the suitability of data to formulate effective policy impacting our children. We live in age of information, wherein data impacts nearly every aspect of our lives from placement of traffic lights to funding of services. Data also influences the policies and programs impacting the education of our children. Thus, it is important to have a school board member with my expertise and qualifications to guide decisions that protect the interests of our most vulnerable population. I look forward to working together as an advocate for children.
3) What do you think is Atlanta Schools’ greatest strength?
The greatest strength of Atlanta schools is the surrounding intellectual wealth and diversity within Atlanta. Our city is affluent with resources that include academic institutions, major corporations, and a prospering entertainment industry that can be leveraged to invest in the education of our children. Further, our city has the busiest airport in the nation and has become an international center with the potential to cultivate the cultural competency necessary for our children to emerge as future leaders on the world stage.
4) What do you think is Atlanta Schools’ biggest challenge?
Overcoming persistent differences in education outcomes in relation to student spending is the biggest challenge of Atlanta Public Schools (APS). Our school system has received a grade D over a three-year period (2014 to 2016), spent more per student that the rest of the state, and had lower CCRPI scores compared to Georgia. During the same period, the budget for APS has grown to its current $777 million that is greater the budget for the City of Atlanta ($605 million).
5) How would you address what you feel is Atlanta Schools’ biggest challenge?
I would embrace a multi-faceted approach to identify factors limiting the consistent delivery of education, address those factors, and investigate strategies to decrease spending while providing quality education. The purpose of the school system is to educate our children. However, education must also occur in the context of fiscal responsibility. I provide an approach to factors limiting performance of the school system in question #6 as it details my focus as an elected official.
Promoting fiscal responsibility first requires comprehending the APS portfolio for its capability to meet short-term needs without compromising long-term growth. However, balancing short and long-term needs may not be a straightforward endeavor. Although, APS has an asset management department, the City of Atlanta owns the deeds and titles to APS properties and they accordingly are managed by the mayoralty. Budget review to trim non-essential spending along with education funding through business partnerships are possible approaches to fiscal responsibility without sacrificing quality education. Establishing collaboration with professional partners has the potential to ease dependency on the property tax structure for education funding. Developing creative and flexible frameworks through stakeholder engagement can stabilize communities, keep businesses intact, and protect the long-term investment in our children’s education.
6) What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on during your term as an elected official?
A. Reduce education differences (academic performance, dropout rates, and graduation rates) within a district and APS as a whole.
B. Increase the impact of existing programs for students and families by: 1) formal program evaluation to assess effectiveness, 2) develop models that capture social barriers to achievement within clusters and associated communities, and 3) increase cultural competence that has been shown to narrow achievement gaps.
C. Leverage industry and business to invest in Atlanta by funding education and community initiatives to lessen the reliance of education funding on the property tax structure.
7) What is your opinion of the current superintendent? Are you happy with her leadership or do you want the school system to go in a different direction?
The role of school superintendent is not an easy position. It is a job subject to the scrutiny and ire of parents and communities concerned about decisions impacting their children and stability. I recognize the demands of the position and appreciate the dedication of the current superintendent in moving APS forward following the cheating scandal.
Beyond the effort and dedication of any individual, the mission of APS is for every student to graduate prepared for college and career. However, success in achieving this mission is in doubt when only 41% of graduates were ready for college in 2016 and the system consistently receives a grade of D from the state over a three-year period. Differences in education with unequal outcomes remain as some schools perform well while others consistently perform poorly. The superintendent does not bear the responsibility of educating our children alone. I opine the most effective strategy to be a collaborative approach that adapts evidence-based methods to design policy meeting the needs of our children and communities.
8) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?
Yes. As a physician, I know the importance of abiding by the highest ethical standards. I currently abide by ethical standards of practice. Transparency is important because it can encourage trust among people working towards a common goal. In this case, it is the successful education of our children. Recently, a question of unethical conduct by an Atlanta school board member was presented. Although the matter closed, the mention alone can create lingering concerns among constituents that damage trust and potential gains from working together. If elected, I promise to continue conducting myself with ethical regard and transparency.