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 believe that we have a moral obligation to ensure every student is provided a high quality education while spending taxpayer dollars wisely.
My experiences in the classroom as a public school teacher, as a bullying awareness advocate, and during my Masters and Doctoral studies in Health Law and Policy, helped me to realize the intricate link between an educated society and a healthy society.
An educated and healthy society translates into financial success, upward mobility, lower crime rates, lower homelessness rates, increased numbers of citizens participating in their communities, a decrease in drug addictions and overdoses, an improvement of race/gender/sexual orientation inequalities, and many other positive metrics used to assess quality of life.
To end the cycle of poverty, systemic racism, implied bias, and income inequality, and disparities in health care, we must not only realize, yet also forcefully implement, the ideal that education can be the key to overcoming these challenges.
We must also recognize the unique circumstances of each individual student, teacher, and parent. This will allow us to develop personalized solutions rather than continuing to implement a “one-size fits all” institutionalized approach.
I am committed to revamping the discipline process. We currently use the discipline process as a means to punish students for behaviors that are most likely symptoms of a larger problem. Rather than labeling students as “problem kids,” it makes more sense to determine and address the underlying cause of the behavior issues. This will not only save money, it will also allow us to work with students who we have previously discarded as unimportant. This is no longer acceptable. Teachers, parents, and students need our support and our commitment to this problem.
I have never met a student who said that he/she did not want to learn. I have never met a parent who said that he/she did not want for their child to learn. I have met many parents and students who are simply overwhelmed or are facing significant challenges outside of the classroom. Once we help to address those challenges, we will find that all students want to learn and to be successful.
Bullying, harassment, and inequality in our schools is a problem. It must end. Students are afraid to attend school because they are being tormented due to ethnicity, gender, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, special needs, etc.
I saw first-hand as a teacher: if a classroom is not a safe and welcoming environment for all students, no learning is taking place. I will not stop until all students are comfortable attending school without that sick feeling in their stomachs, anticipating what type of bullying and tormenting will come that school day.
Bullying policies are paramount, but they are only as effective as their implementation. Administrators will be held accountable for not only implementing bullying policies, yet also assessing whether said policies are working, rehabilitating offenders, and making modifications for their unique environments.
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
My opponent has never been in a classroom as a teacher. In her one term on the Board, my opponent has overseen a drastic increase in the APS budget, massive tax increases, and declining results in our schools. Teachers and other essential employees have been repeatedly kicked to the curb in lieu of making responsible budgeting decisions. Students are shuffled through the APS system, treated as a number rather than as a young people with great potential. The quality of APS’ education has suffered and we cannot afford to give her another term.
In addition to having been a metro-Atlanta public school teacher, I am an Atlanta business owner and taxpayer. In 2009, I came close to winning the Atlanta School Board District 3 seat from the incumbent.
After graduating from the University of Missouri in 2006, I moved to Atlanta to teach in the public school system.
During my teaching career, I taught 3rd Grade, as well as 9th & 10th Grade English Literature.
While serving as a public school teacher, I also attended Georgia State University, where I earned a Masters Degree in Public Administration.
I’m proud to have served in numerous education leadership roles including, Bullying Awareness Coordinator, Faculty Sponsor of H.O.P.E. (Hispanic Organization Promoting Education), and Debate Team Coach.
After completing my 5th year of teaching, I went back to school full-time and obtained a Doctorate of Jurisprudence in Health Law and Policy from Loyola University New Orleans.
I continued my education by successfully completing further doctoral studies in Health Law and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.
I have been a committed and passionate advocate for equality and accountability in public education. In addition to my work as a teacher, business owner, and advocate, I have also:
• Testified as an expert before the Georgia General Assembly in support of anti-bullying legislation;
• Served on the Board of Directors of AID Atlanta, the largest HIV/AIDS nonprofit organization in the Southeast;
• Assisted legislators in multiple states with crafting and passing anti-bullying laws;
• Served as an Analyst for the Chair of the Missouri House of Representatives Judiciary Committee;
• Worked in the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia Health and Professional Regulations Division;
• Volunteered for numerous nonprofit organizations including, AID Atlanta, YouthPride, Interfaith Legal Services for Immigrants, and College Mentors for Kids.
3) What do you think is Atlanta Schools’ greatest strength?
I believe that APS has done an effective job at overcoming the significant challenges faced by the “cheating scandal.” APS also avoided a state takeover and maintained its accreditation. Highly qualified and dedicated teachers have continued to flock to the Atlanta Public Schools. We continue to have the best and brightest students.
4) What do you think is Atlanta Schools’ biggest challenge?
The District has much room for improvement. Specific areas are:
1. Recruiting and hiring a superintendent wiling to stay for a long-term contract;
2. Reducing Central Office bloat;
3. Increasing accessibility and transparency to the public;
4. Spending monies effectively and wisely;
5. Ensuring that all schools are safe and welcoming learning environments;
6. Changing a one-size fits all approach;
7. Recognizing that all students face unique challenges and that students and parents should be met where they are;
8. Parity between charter and non-charter schools;
9. Address budgeting challenges through efficiency, accountability, and effectiveness, not on the backs of teachers and school employees;
10. Improve and rebuild the relationship between the Board and City Administration/City Council officials.
5) How would you address what you feel is Atlanta Schools’ biggest challenge?
There are few financial management scenarios which are more complicated and troublesome than the budget of the Atlanta Public School System. Below is an outline of the steps I will immediately call for to address the BOE fiscal matters once elected:
1. Complete accounting of all financial activities by APS through an independent auditing agency;
2. Immediate market research survey to ensure that teacher, support staff, and other personnel are being paid salaries and benefits which recognize the value and importance of their jobs;
3. Suspension of raises and further hiring of any non-essential central office employees. All Administration job descriptions will be modified to include minimum direct interfacing with students and teachers. Once a financial accounting has been completed, based on recommendations from said third party auditor, an immediate reduction of central office staff and a relocation of many central office employees into schools will likely occur;
4. Undertake a complete audit and accounting of all ESPLOST monies, capital commitments, and proposed/ongoing infrastructure projects to ensure that all clusters and all students are receiving fair treatment;
5. Establish a joint education commission consisting of members of the Atlanta BOE, Atlanta City Council, Atlanta Mayor’s office, parents, teachers, and other stakeholders to develop a desperately needed plan of action to repair a tarnished relationship and to move forward in the best interest of our students and taxpayers.
6) What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on during your term as an elected official?
1. Parity for ALL Public Schools:
Financial obligations to pensions, teacher salaries, benefits, capital costs, etc. should be realized equally by both charter and traditional schools. The Board should require that charter school teachers receive the same level of pay, benefits, employment protections, and retirement contributions as traditional schools. Students, parents, and teachers should receive the same level of commitment from the Board, regardless of the legal designation of the school.
The allocation of infrastructure and other capital improvement monies should be distributed to schools and clusters equitably, taking into account the financial advantages that many charter schools have over traditional schools.
The Board should authorize overtime pay for teachers and/or other school employees willing to work after hours and on the weekends to meet with parents, tutor struggling students, etc.
Develop accountability metrics and improvement strategies based on a recognition that not all schools start on the same level. Metrics focused on the degrees of progress and achievement, not arbitrary test scoring, is important. All schools start at different places and we should make sure that our goals are designed to encourage students and teachers to succeed, not set them up for failure.
2. Student, Parent, Teacher, and Stakeholder Support:
We must recognize that all students, parents, teachers, and schools have unique challenges. The first step will be to end our philosophy of a one size fits all approach. Instead, we will seek input and guidance from those stakeholders on the ground and on the front lines. We will no longer push institutionalized policies from Central Office. Instead, we will listen to what our teachers, students, and parents tell us that they need. The Board will become responsive to these needs.
Once we recognize the unique challenges faced by our students, we can start to develop and implement policies tailored for these needs (eyeglasses, supplies, dental care, health care, nutrition, safety, shelter, mental illness, language barriers, etc.). Having been a teacher in a Title I school for 5 years, I absolutely believe that addressing each individual student’s needs will accomplish a great deal toward closing the achievement gap.
The Board will work to serve the teachers, students, and parents. Our policies will be designed to set students up for success, not failure. Teachers will have our support. Parents will have confidence in the Board and Administration. Students will know that we not only want them to succeed, but we are committed to giving them the resources needed to do so. The discipline process will be overhauled to focus on the root causes of behavior problems, not as a means to dispose of students who are seen as “disruptive.”
The Board must rebuild trust and confidence. Once we have this trust and confidence back, compassionately and equitably distribute resources, use realistic accountability standards, and reaffirm our commitment to being the world-class school system we should be, our performance and education quality will undoubtedly improve.
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 Board has a mandated responsibility to ensure that the Superintendent and/or other top Administration officials are doing his/her jobs competently, fairly, and appropriately.
The Superintendent works for the Board of Education. The Board of Education works for the students, taxpayers, voters, and all other stakeholders. These roles are intricately linked and must operate smoothly for productivity to occur.
8) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?
Yes. I am a representative of the community, with the important job of serving as a bridge between the interests of all citizens and the bureaucracy of the school system. This may only be accomplished if the voters, taxpayers, teachers, students, parents, and all other stakeholders are confident that I am operating with transparency and at the highest ethical level.
To ensure accessibility and transparency, I will advocate for the following:
1. Staggered and Alternating Board Meeting Times: Most of our parents work one, if not multiple jobs. Students may want to attend Board meetings, yet are expected to be attending classes during the day. Taxpayers also deserve more accessibility to Board actions. By staggering and alternating meeting times including weekends and evenings, many more stakeholders will be able to participate without having to sacrifice income or arrange child care.
2. Launch an Interactive Online Portal: The Board should implement an online portal through which stakeholders may communicate with Board members and participate in the meeting process. This online portal should be free of charge and be compatible with both computers and mobile devices.
3. Relocate Board Meetings to School Buildings Across the City: It is difficult for many parents, students, teachers, and taxpayers to find transportation to the Central Office Building. If transportation may be found, parking is almost non-existent and expensive. We will end the philosophy that constituents must come to the Board and instead, take the Board to the constituents. Board meetings should be held regularly moved outside of the Central Office Building and held in school buildings across the City. This allows more stakeholders to participate. It also puts the Board “on the ground” to view first-hand the results of policies it is making.