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?
When I was eight, my mother faced one of the most difficult decisions a young parent could make. She believed that schooling was the key to improving our quality of life and escaping the cycle of poverty. But attending public school in our New York City neighborhood was no guarantee that I would attain a quality education. And, the cost of a private school education proved prohibitive for a single parent without a college degree.
My mother refused to lose hope. She carefully researched alternative scholarships and support programs until she found the Milton Hershey School in Pennsylvania. I left our home in the projects of New York City to pursue a quality education and a brighter future at MHS.
Today, MHS is a cost‐free, K‐12 coeducational boarding school that serves thousands of students from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. I believe no parent should ever have to choose between their child’s education and keeping their family together. I know that the best way to repay what MHS has done for me and so many other students is to work towards making such schools unnecessary.
A fair shot at the American Dream depends on access to an excellent education. While APS have made significant strides recently, Atlanta is currently one of the most inequitable, least socially mobile cities in America, and this is partially due to our chronically failing schools.
But I believe that with high-quality early learning programs, strong leadership, teacher support, and resources we can transform students’ lives and propel them toward a life rich with opportunities. I know this because I live it.
As a teacher at KIPP STRIVE Primary (KSP) school, students and I work toward this vision each day. KSP is just one of many schools, both traditional and charter, that are creating transformational outcomes for students in Atlanta. These students are acquiring the academic and social skills they need to successfully navigate the path to and through college, but many other students in APS are not.
District 3 contains a diverse mix of schools with an even more diverse set of challenges ranging from school closures and underenrollment to annexations and overcrowding. Our district needs an experienced educator and leader who create and advocate for policy that will put our kids first.
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
As the only teacher, education advocate, or former elected official running, I am uniquely qualified to represent our district because I know first-hand how policies created in the boardroom impact our students in the classroom. Everyday, I walk into the schoolhouse and witness at a granular level how an excellent education can transform a child’s life. I have seen kids enter school without basic phonemic awareness (one of the strongest predictors of later reading success) and walk out at the end of the school year reading above their grade level. This classroom experience coupled with my past tenure as an elected leader in the city of New Haven has prepared me to serve as a school board representative. All students should benefit from talented teachers and rigorous curricula. I will fight to make this a reality.
3) What do you think is Atlanta Schools’ greatest strength?
One of APS’ greatest strengths is its dedicated community of leaders, students, families, and educators. Together we can transform students’ lives and propel them toward an opportunity-rich life, and it’s this strength that has stabilized APS over the past five years. Graduation rates have increased from around 60 percent to 72 percent. We have begun to offer social and emotional learning for our students. We support local governance teams so parents, community stakeholders and teachers can come together to make recommendations about how to improve their schools, which are then pushed to principals who can implement them. But of course there is room for improvement.
4) What do you think is Atlanta Schools’ biggest challenge?
One of APS’ biggest challenges is educational equity; a lack of consistent high-quality instruction in many schools across the district and uneven access to early learning programs.
5) How would you address what you feel is Atlanta Schools’ biggest challenge?
To address these challenges I would prioritize implementation of the following initiatives:
Teacher and School Leader Recruitment, Training, and Retention. In order to ensure all of our kids have access to an excellent education, we must ensure our classrooms are led by the very best teachers. While teacher turnover is a not a problem unique to APS (47% of all Georgia teachers leave their schools within five years), we must improve our system of recruitment and retention by taking a close look at our incentives to keep our best teachers at APS. If elected, I will make sure that APS executes a talent strategy plan that provides meaningful professional development to returning teachers and grows new teachers who are eager to drive student achievement. We should bring in the voices of our best teachers as we examine our efforts to recruit new teachers and retain our high performing educators.
Expanding Early Learning Programs. Cities and localities around the country are expanding access to early learning programs because they know a rigorous educational experience before kindergarten can dramatically improve a child’s learning outcomes. But access to this opportunity is uneven and not uniformly accessible in our district. We must fix this by creating public and private partnerships that will fund pre-k programs so underserved communities can access high quality early learning.
Increased Local Control and Autonomy. We must support the empowerment of APS GO Teams for budget decisions and school board policy recommendations. The needs of our schools vary greatly, and those closest to the issues should be empowered to address them. I will work to leverage our local governance teams by creating a more comprehensive structure of collaboration; a chain-of-command that ensures we hear the team’s ideas well before policy comes before the board for a vote. We must also train GO Team members in the intricacies of the board so they are prepared to serve and be most effective in this role.
6) What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on during your term as an elected official?
There are three major issues that I would work on as a school board member.
The first is recruiting, training and retaining teachers. We need to attract high quality teachers, implement professional development programs that will help them grow, and retain them. Since good teachers are the key to good schools, we must meaningfully invest in their growth.
Second, we must expand access to early learning programs. Data continues to prove that educational interventions in the first five years can drastically improve learning outcomes for kids from less affluent families. I would work to expand access to pre-K programs and do so by creating private-public partnerships.
Third, I would work to amplify the voices of community members and local leaders. The needs of our schools vary enormously and the people closest to the issues should be empowered to address them. I will work to help lift up their voices.
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 current superintendent has worked hard to stabilize APS in the aftermath of the cheating scandal. She has taken bold steps and made some unpopular decisions to drive student achievement and help repair a broken school system, and the data reflects that APS is making progress.
8) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?
If I elected, I promise to conduct myself in an ethical and transparent manner befitting a public servant and advocate for our kids. Our communities deserve to have input in decisions that affect them, so it will be imperative to make sure they know and understand our proposals before they’re enacted and implemented.